These are memories created from watching the sunrise on Uluru, being introduced to the indigenous culture, soaking in the dry heat I so love, watching stars so vivid and clear they stretched from one horizon to the other, falling asleep to dingos howling in the distance and enjoying some incredible hikes through fascinating geological landscapes with new friends.
The Ghan takes its name from the ‘Ghans, or pioneering cameliers who used to roam the Australian outback – many of which were from Afghanistan. Today the train runs for nearly 3000 km between Adelaide in the South and Darwin in the north. It takes about 54 hours to complete this one way journey. The train can be over a kilometer in length.
The early riders of the Ghan had a different experience than riders today. Back then the train was often significantly late, the cars were somewhat primitive inside and the journey took much longer. Today if you have a private room and bathroom you can enjoy luxuries such as a hot shower (yes the wheat protein lemongrass infused shampoo is part of the experience!), fine towels and a variety of excellent food and drink.
And the service in the premium classes is impeccable. Stop in the lounge car for a drink before heading to your room. You are greeted by your first name, your bed is made up while you are at dinner and then taken down while at breakfast. This is the type of service that can spoil someone fairly quickly.
Yes you can fly the same route and yes it is cheaper. But there is something romantic and peaceful about taking a train on a journey of this length. You can’t help but look around and enjoy the passing scenery – you are not going anywhere fast. You can’t. It encourages you to fall into the rhythms of the rocking on the rails. It relaxes you. This is a good thing.When you board the Ghan you pack an excitement (partially fueled by the fine selection of spirits on board) and another type of spirit – that of exploration which is a nod to the history of this great train. It carried its first passengers to Alice Springs in 1929.
With plenty of down time, this ride is actually a welcome relief from the non stop go of travel that the country demands of visitors who want to get as much out of their time here as possible. Time on board is perhaps spent with eyeballs to the page of an engaging book stopping every now and then to gaze up and out over a countryside that visually has no people in front of you – a bushland that if has been fortunate to receive some rain that year is remarkably green in the summer months. If not, the outback is a dramatic layering of orange and reddish colors. They don’t call this part of the country the Red Centre for no reason.
There are visually no marks left by people as far as the eye can see outside of the immediate train tracks for much of the journey. This is the country’s great interior and inhabitants are far and few between.
Or perhaps it is socializing – meeting someone at lunch or dinner – asking the obligatory where from and how long questions before delving into subject matter of greater depth. Forging bonds (often over the shared topic of travel) with fellow passengers is a great way to pass time on the Ghan. And it is enjoyable to do so.
The Ghan is certainly one of the more epic Australian experiences. One does not have to ride the train straight through – there are a number of off train excursions offered in the towns of Alice Springs and Katherine – take a few days for sightseeing and then jump back on board.
On board options range from seats only to rooms with a bathroom and beds and inclusive meals and select drinks. For more information and pricing visit: www.greatsouthernrail.com.au
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