The Ghan Expedition: One of The World’s Great Train Journeys
The Ghan train journey through central Australia is said to be one of the top 10 railway adventures in the world. It is also, we realise on arrival at Darwin train station, one of the most surreal. After all, how often do you get to board a train that’s more than twice as long as the height of the Empire State Building?
Standing on the platform, we can’t see the end or the beginning of what is, at 902 metres, the longest passenger train in the world. With its distinctive camel logo and red and silver colour scheme, the 38-carriage train is a veritable 5-star resort on wheels.
We’re about to take the three-night, four-day Ghan Expedition from Darwin to Adelaide – 2,979km all up – with stops at Katherine Gorge, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.
After initial formalities are completed we make our way to the Outback Explorer Bar to sample some of the beverages. It’s the perfect environment to meet some of the other 300 guests as the train begins rolling south.
It’s the beginning of an epic journey that will showcase the extraordinary colours and vistas of Australia’s spectacular landscape.
But first… lunch, which is taken in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant. The food is five-star delicious, all served with a selection of fine wines that continued to flow until they rolled us off at the end of the journey in Adelaide.
Not long after lunch the real Ghan adventure begins with the first of our daily tours to the Nitmiluk National Park Gorge in Katherine.
Our boat tour of the gorge starts in brilliant sunshine. First impressions are mesmerizing as we cruise quietly through the towering ochre sandstone cliffs.
The tranquility, though, is momentarily cast aside as we sight our first Katherine Gorge freshwater crocodile sunning itself on the bank. He’s not as big as his saltwater cousins, but nonetheless this is as close as I ever want to get to this 3.5-metre beast, with its hideous snout and multiple rows of intimidating teeth.
Our guide gives us a quick yet comprehensive talk on the indigenous history of the gorge, as well as that of the Jawoyn people, who are the custodians of the park.
The next day we arrive in Alice Springs where you get to choose between four excursions included in the price, but we decide to take a tour that isn’t included in the package – a once-in-a-lifetime flight over Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) via the MacDonnell Ranges and Pine Gap in an eight-seat plane.
I’ve never seen Uluru or Kata Tjuta, so to fly over and see them close up is an exhilarating experience. Everything we see this day will be etched into my memory – and memory stick – forever.
A thousand photos later and we’re landing. Soon we’re having lunch with Uluru as our backdrop before an afternoon walk to the Mutitjulu Waterhole. Close by we observe some ancient rock art before we continue our walking tour.
After our walk we drive part of the 9.4 kilometre circumference, astonished at the size of Uluru, and learn more about the spiritual and sacred parts of the rock.
We’re then driven to the airport for our flight back to the Ghan, where we quickly freshen up before being bussed to the historical Alice Springs Telegraph Station for dinner under the stars.
After dinner we’re entertained by an astronomy expert who points out the galaxy to us in a sky that is extraordinarily clear, before a band begins to play and we’re all up dancing in the red earth aisles.
The following morning our tour for the day takes us to one of the world’s largest producers of opals, Coober Pedy. Part of the town looks like a train wreck and there’s a very strange grass and tree-free golf course with sand-oiled greens.
All around the outskirts of town there are hundreds of thousands of mounds of soil left over from open cut mines. The obscure terrain surrounding Coober Pedy has featured in multiple movies where alien planets and devastated armageddon landscapes were required.
We sit down for lunch in an unused underground mine, then visit an opal museum and get shown techniques on how the rare and exquisite gemstones are mined.
Outside of town we get to see part of the 5,300km dog fence and, to top off an already extraordinary day, we are driven to the spectacular Breakaway Reserve, where the rock formations and colours are out of this world. The Ghan staff have set up an outside bar overlooking some of the most beautiful and striking Australian outback vistas. We grab a drink and relax.
Upon returning to the train, drinks and hors d’oeuvres await us among soothing campfires under the starry sky. This journey has exceeded all expectations tenfold. We savour once more the new friends we have made and reminisce about the last few days aboard one of the world’s greatest train adventures.
Great Southern Rail
Where to stay:
(08) 8982 0000
(08) 8217 2000
How to get there:
Vicky Gilden at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166