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Two journeys, one extreme country
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. Today you can retrace his heroic steps in mere days aboard Australia’s legendary train, The Ghan.
Alternatively, for passionate travellers with an equal amount of thirst for adventure, there’s also the Sydney to Perth route on-board The Indian Pacific; a four day odyssey which rambles along one of the longest stretches of railway track in the world.
Both are truly exceptional train experiences, providing a spectacular array of backdrops and a deliciously historic adventure.
History almost as long as the train
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. As for the route traced by the Indian Pacific. It’s an epic 4,352km trip, and one which will take you through the spectacular Blue Mountains, the Great Dividing Range, the salt lakes and sand dunes of South Australia, as well as the barren Nullarbor Plain and the Darling Ranges.
Scenery to write home about
Central to any good rail journey, is of course, the scenery, as well as a desire to experience a country from the inside out.
The Ghan has some of the most unique views 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. 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 in the form of 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. 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.
On the Indian Pacific an ever-changing scenery can be absorbed from the windows on both sides of the carriage. As you rumble between Sydney, on the Pacific Ocean, to Perth, on the Indian Ocean, the panoramas change to suit the mood of a body of water; dipping inland to a landscape of signature ‘Aussie red’. Scorched by relentless sunshine, the views are ones of red, honey, auburn and gold.
Each journey provides many opportunities 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.
Highlights of the Indian Pacific include exploring the Outback towns of Broken Hill, Cook and Kalgoorlie as well as Adelaide’s Central Markets – for delicious offering of fresh cheese, charcuterie meat, rich yoghurt, aromatic coffee and plenty more.
There are three levels of service available aboard The Ghan and the Indian Pacific. Gold Service, Platinum Service and Gold Service Superior. 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 have your own private en suite with toilet and shower, but the best feature is the bed which converts into a double or twin configuration. Gold Service Superior Cabins boast three-quarter double beds plus an additional fold down single bed. There’s also a lounge area with table, arm chairs and all the little luxuries that will make your journey truly memorable. Read more about Great Southern Rail services here.
Tastes of the terrain
Whether it be a nice oaky Barossa Valley Merlot, or even a succulent kangaroo steak, you’ll find it aboard these two luxurious trains. 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.
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