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Long Distance Australian Train Journeys - Onboard Food and Drink
A guide for backpacker and budget travellers
If you are a backpacker or budget traveller riding in the Red Class carriages on one of Australia's long distance train journeys, there are a two alternatives when it comes to food and drink for your journey. Red Class guests have their own buffet car, called the 'Matilda Cafe'. This serves a variety of food and drinks, ranging from chips and pies through sandwiches and salads right up to a full sit-down meal, enjoyed whilst watching the every changing scenery of Australia fly past your window.
Alternatively, many passengers choose to bring their own food, either as supplementary snacks to meals bought on board, or as a full alternative to the train food. Although not expensive by Australian standards, a bill for three meals a day plus snacks can soon mount up, so a bit of forward planning and a trip to your local supermarket before the journey starts can help with the budget. The Matilda Cafe staff will provide boiling water suitable for your own drinks and noodles etc. for a nominal charge of $1 per item. The seats in the 'Matilda Cafe' are available to all, though they insist that you return to your own 'DayNighter' seat to eat your own food, rather than occupy the 'Matilda Cafe' tables, which are needed for their own customers.
The 'Matilda Cafe' is open for most of the day. Breakfast begins from 0700-0830, lunch from 1200-1300, dinner from 1730-2000, and the cafe itself stays open for snacks and drinks until 2200. These times may change when the train is due to break its journey at one of the stops enroute. The mainstay of breakfast is 'The Great Australian Breakfast' - scrambled eggs, bacon sausage, has browns and toast for $10.90. A vegetarian version is also available, and there are a variety of cereals etc. as well. Lunch features wraps, rolls, and salads, whilst dinner has a couple of different main dishes each day, with a vegetarian version always available. An example of a typical evening meal might be beef stew with vegetables and potatoes. Bought with a glass of beer, this meal will cost about $20.
A variety of drinks and snacks are available throughout the day: biscuits, chips (known to the English as potato crisps), and the ubiquitous Australian meat pie or pasty, usually of the 'Mrs Mac' variety. A paper cup of coffee is $3.50, and tea is $2.50. There are a large range of beers, wines, and spirits available too, with prices ranging from $6.50 to $8 per serving. Alcohol will be served 'in reasonable quantities', according to the train rules. It is forbidden to consume alcohol not purchased on the train, though as long as you are reasonably discrete and keep it in un-marked containers you are unlikely to be noticed. A party of elderly French tourists ended each day on the Indian Pacific with Cuba Libres and vodka with a variety of mixers, though if queried I am sure that they would have claimed a lack of understanding of the earlier announcements as few of them spoke any English.
If you are planning to bring your own food for the journey, you should bring mainly pre-prepared, pre-washed picnic items. Though drinking water is available in the chilled drinking water fountains at the end of the Red Class carriage, the water in the washroom hand-basins is NOT suitable for drinking, so you might not wish to clean fruit or vegetables there. As mentioned earlier, boiling water is available in the 'Matilda Cafe' so pot-noodles are a good idea. Apart from that, the usual picnic items of bread, fruit, cheeses and pates work the best, with a range of chips, nuts, and biscuits for snacking. A bottle of fruit cordial is a good way to save money, as it can be diluted using the train's chilled drinking water.
What happens if you need to replenish supplies during the journey? The number of places where you can do this is limited. Not all of the stops have convenient shopping facilities. On the 'Indian Pacific' train there are only two possibilities for stocking up with food or drinks: these are at Adelaide or Broken Hill. Although there is a reasonable halt in the tiny town of Cook, the only shop there is one selling souvenirs. On the 'Ghan' train, the only real chance to purchase supplies is at Alice Springs, where a 15 minute walk from the station will bring you to the usual Australian supermarkets. The railway station at Katherine is some 8km out of town, so unless you pay to ride the bus from the station to the centre, you won't be able to purchase anything beyond a few expensive snack items at the station buffet.
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