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An introduction to the Ghan Rail Journey

story by: Tom Ricketts

Australia’s interior is a harsh and unforgiving land. Only Aborigines with tens of thousands of years’ experience have ever mastered it. Even decades after colonisation, a crossing from north to south had yet to be made by Europeans. Many tried. Some returned, defeated, but bursting with rich tales of adventure and exploration. Many others never returned at all. It wasn’t until 1862 that John McDouall Stuart, on his sixth attempt, finally succeeded in conquering the Australian outback. Stuart toiled through the early vineyards north of Adelaide; persevered over the vast lunar-like deserts of central Australia, with more than a little help from his entourage of camels; he battled hostile Aborigines near present day Alice Springs and Uluru; and trudged through crocodile infested mangroves, before finally reaching the Timor Sea near Darwin. It took Stuart and his party nine months to make that perilous journey. But today you can retrace his heroic steps in mere days aboard Australia’s legendary train, The Ghan.

A HISTORY ALMOST AS LONG AS THE TRAIN ITSELF
The Ghan is believed to have received its name as a shortening of the ‘Afghan Express’, another nickname that was given to the large convoys of merchants and their camels that used to supply the various villages and outback stations throughout South Australia and the Northern Territory. Increasing population and the discovery of many valuable minerals in the desert called for a proper railway connection from Adelaide to Alice Springs, and on to Darwin. Construction kicked off just north of Adelaide in 1878 and reached Alice Springs in 1929. The section to Darwin however, wasn’t completed for another, rather leisurely, 75 years. That’s over 125 years of railway history (for the enthusiast, or non-enthusiast alike) to learn right there.


A SCENERY OF LUSH VINEYARDS, PARCHED DESERTS, AND PERILOUS SWAMPS
Central to any good rail journey, is of course, the scenery. And The Ghan has some of the most unique in the world. Adelaide is well known as a great city for wine lovers, and as you pass through the surrounding countryside you’ll certainly see why, with miles and miles of land dedicated to vines of predominantly red grapes. But it doesn’t take long to get to the dominant landscape of this journey, the rich red and orange sands of Australia’s deserts. It may sound monotonous, but it’s actually quite mesmerising taking in the desert views as you speed along impossibly straight stretches of rail. It’s not devoid of life either, there are plenty of kangaroos and wallabies to be seen. And there’s quite possibly no sunset as stunning as a bright red one that lights up an already red desert landscape. The greenery starts to return as you approach Darwin. Here the deserts have been violently carved up by unrelenting rivers to form deep scarred canyons and good ol’ Aussie ‘billabongs’, or waterholes. The mangroves come next, and the twisted knots of tree roots and rotting mess of foliage seem the perfect place for prized barramundi to hide from local fisherman. But something else lurks here too, and they’re much more dangerous than fisherman! Crocodiles sunbathe on exposed sandbanks, and float by, deceptively peaceful, in the water. Finally the air becomes uncomfortably humid and you know you’ve reached the tropical city of Darwin.


AMAZINGLY UNIQUE EXPERIENCES
All along this journey you have the opportunity to have some truly unique experiences.

The ancient Nitmiluk Gorge at Katherine is a highlight of any Ghan itinerary. You can trace millions of years of history in the soaring sandstone cliffs on a leisurely river cruise.

Alice Springs delivers a quirky Outback charm to the journey. Hike through the stunning formations of Simpsons Gap, learn more about the iconic Flying Doctors Service or get up close and personal with some of Australia’s native animals at this Red Centre stop. On the four-day Ghan Expedition journey (available May-October 2017), Alice is the stop-off for an optional flight and tour of the incredible Uluru. The Ghan Expedition also takes in the adventure of Coober Pedy, an Outback opal mining town where most residents live underground to escape the searing heat.

ENJOY ALL THIS, IN THE LAP OF LUXURY
There are two levels of service available aboard The Ghan – Gold Service and Platinum Service. With Gold Service, you have your own private cabin equipped with a three seater couch, large window, and best of all, a private ensuite including toilet and shower. At night the couch converts into bunk style bedding with all pillows and ‘doonas’ (Australian for duvets) provided. For the ultimate experience, upgrade your travel to luxurious Platinum Service. Platinum Service cabins are double the size of Gold Service so have ample room to get up and walk about. You couldn’t swing a kangaroo in them, but possibly a wallaby. Of course you have your own private ensuite with toilet and shower, but the best feature is the bed which converts to a proper double or twin configuration.

Whether it be freshly caught barramundi from the Northern Territory, a nice oaky Barossa Valley Merlot, or even a succulent kangaroo steak, you’ll find it aboard The Ghan. Only the best locally sourced ingredients are used, and all your meals and drinks are included in your fare. Everything from a simple continental breakfast to five course culinary extravaganzas are whipped up by the talented on-board chefs daily. Gold Service travellers have access to the ornate Queen Adelaide Restaurant, this car is decked out with gorgeous décor reminiscent of old world trains. It’s a full a-la-carte menu service, so sit back, relax, and let the waiters and chefs do their thing while you sip on a flute of bubbly. Afterwards, perhaps retire to the Outback Explorer Lounge, a casual bar-style car, and get to know some of the other travellers over a night cap. Platinum Service guests have access to all of the above, but with the added advantage of having their own exclusive Platinum Club dining car with full fine dining service.


> READ ABOUT THE INDIAN PACIFIC JOURNEY FROM SYDNEY TO PERTH HERE
> VIEW HOT DEALS TO AUSTRALIA HERE


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