The Ghan

The Ghan

Adelaide to Darwin on the Great Southern Railways

In October 2014, I shouted myself a trip on The Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin and it was a journey full of wonder, excitement, food, and wonderful people to talk to.

My trip began with a sightseeing tour of Adelaide for two days and came with some interesting facts. Did you know that what was once the city of churches has now become the city of pubs and nightclubs? Most of the churches operate as either restaurants, night clubs or Karaoke bars – with one restriction! Owners can renovate inside in whichever way they need to but the facade must remain in its original condition.

As usual the Adelaide Hills and Mt Barker were cold, it was winter. If you go to Adelaide it’s a must do visit to the Mt Lofty Summit for the spectacular 360 degree views, and Hahndorf which is an extremely busy tourist hub where you have to try the traditional piece of Black Forest Cake and Hot Chocolate.

The Ghan awaited and the sight of this beauty filling up the platform bought a tear to my eye. With 260 passengers and crew, 40 carriages measuring almost 1 kilometre in length – all pulled by 2 engines - was jaw dropping. Since 1929, The Ghan has taken travellers on the ultimate adventure through the heart of Australia and it was taking me on mine.

There are three levels of travel, Platinum Service offering you luxurious travel in spacious private cabins, each with a full ensuite, Gold Service for a once in a lifetime experience, and for the budget conscious the Red Service Day/Nighter Seats are two-abreast very comfortable and spacious reclining chairs.

Because I was on my own, I chose to travel Gold Class in a single berth and when I was allocated my compartment the first thing that hit me was the size. Even though there was limited space, the room by day was a perfect if you wanted peace and solitude but by night when the bed was turned down it became a compact, comfortable sleeping unit made up with fresh crisp white linen, soft pillows and lightweight duvet. Fortunately for me I had the room right next to the shower so had to try it – and it was quite spacious - the only downfall was there was nowhere dry to get dressed.

If you are sharing your journey, the compact Twin Berth Sleeper Cabins offer a comfortable three seater lounge during the day, converting to an upper and lower sleeping berth at night which includes fresh sheets, bath towels, pillows, doonas and complimentary toiletries. Some Twin Berth Sleeper Cabins have private en suite facilities with a hide-away compact toilet, wash basin and shower.

As part of my travel package deal I got the opportunity to not only visit Adelaide and spend some time in Darwin but I could see the outback of this great land at its most beautiful with inclusive off train excursions at iconic Outback destinations including Alice Springs and Katherine Gorge.

For the 26 hour journey from Adelaide to Alice Springs there was no mobile phone or internet service so everyone actually had to rely on conversation. Due to the configuration of the compartments, the single sleeping cars appeared like a serpent and I had to wind my way back and forth. It was good exercise.

A friend who had just done the trip before me, said the food was to die for and she wasn’t wrong! I could well have died and gone to heaven every time I sat down to eat. The Queen Adelaide Restaurant offered five star restaurant meals, three times a day, and with three courses to choose from that included Kangaroo or thick Beef Fillet steak cooked to perfection what else could you do but eat. And the desserts were deliciously delectable. I just had to try the Blueberry Bread for breakfast – and was so pleased I did.

Between Adelaide and Alice Springs, the changing scenery was spectacular with dry water beds where the only sign of life was camel tracks, flat expansive desert with shrubbery dotted here and there and a stunning night sky laden with twinkling stars. The closer we got to Alice, the more life came into view and it was exciting to actually see a cow on the outskirts of town! Civilisation at last. After 26 hours it was nice to breathe the crisp fresh air.

Alice Springs and it’s spectacular Flinders Ranges and their ever-changing colours, a river that hasn’t seen water running through in a decade, memorable Anzac Hill, the nostalgic Telegraph Station where life seemed to just go by at its own pace, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service station were inspirational.

Next stop Katherine Gorge. After a 14 hour overnight trip I have to say the Gorge was the highlight of the journey for me. Stunning seems an inadequate word to describe the splendour that forms the Gorge. The ambience gave me time for reflection and with the variance in rock formations and colours one could only be in awe of the wonderful hands nature played in creating such beauty. Between the two gorges there is a walking track accessible by most people young or old, however it is not suitable for wheelchairs.

Last stop and the shortest journey was Darwin. I had two days of free time. I arrived on Territory Day and Fireworks going off all over the place. The best way to see Darwin was aboard the Hop-On Hop-Off bus which took me to all the best tourist spots. It was $30 well spent and the ticket lasted for 24 hours. I paid a visit to the Darwin Harbour precinct where residential and retail meld together to create a vibrant area for beach picnics with safe swimming area and a skyway that takes you to the heart of Darwin City.

The Mindel Beach markets are famous for their size and their produce – and they stood up to their label. I have never seen so many market stalls in the one place. My friend told me we just had to go to the beach because it was a special place and she was absolutely right! There were hundreds of people lining the length of the beach sitting and waiting! I asked what for – she said “The Sunset”. And then as it grew darker the sky grew pinker and the burning red sun began its slow descent into the ocean – I was awestruck.

Quite a few passengers chose to share their train journey with a complete outback experience by taking their vehicle. The motor rail can take Cars, Campervans and Camper Trailers (subject to approval) and Trailers but there are strict restrictions in regard to height/width and wheel track size. This is an alternative option to give you more time to explore the country.