The mighty Ghan too long for the camera lens
In the cabin, small but comfortable.
It’s expensive, but a lot of fun and something well worth experiencing – that’s the Great Southern Rail’s train trip on the Ghan.
The Ghan runs weekly from Adelaide through to Darwin via Alice Springs, from the bottom to the top of the country through the red centre. The full trip takes three days, with two nights on board.
But this was a bucket list trip for my wife with Alice Springs, Uluru, Kakadu, and Darwin as added extras, so at a cost of $2,718 for a Gold Class cabin we opted for the ride to terminate in Alice Springs. The more expensive and larger Platinum Class carriages were all full when I booked; in fact our cabin was the last vacant one on the train, which is usually booked out a year ahead.
The price included all meals and drinks and an off-train excursion at Marla, a spot in the middle of nowhere.
So, after a night in Adelaide we boarded the train at 11.15 on Sunday morning and began weaving our way across the plains to the centre of the country.
The Ghan (named for the Afghan camel drivers of history) is a mighty train and it is impossible to get the entire length in a camera shot, but with a highly efficient and friendly staff it never seemed crowded.
The cabin of course is tiny, a fairly comfortable bench seat and table, a toilet and mini-shower and at night it converts into two comfortable bunk beds. It was very similar to the set-up on the last big train ride we did on the Paris-Barcelona Elypsos overnighter a few years ago.
It was fascinating to stare through the windows at what was meant to be the Red Centre and see masses of wild flowers and greenery brought on by recent rains. We were lucky on this trip to see such a rare sight.
But the cabin was not built for fun – the lounge carriage and bar were for that. And it was there the fun really did begin.
The lounge car is not large, but somehow, with staggered dining there were always a few seats available. Our fellow passengers were a gregarious lot of varying ages, mostly retired though and practically all were very well travelled, so the carriage abounded with tall travellers’ tales as the open bar was fully utilised.
The staff members were friendly and knew their job as they mixed complicated cocktails and served everyone with quiet efficiency.
The occasional traveller got a little excited on the first afternoon on board, but it soon settled into a cosy club-like atmosphere. The wine and beer flowed and then it was time for an excellent and cheerfully served lunch. We were some of the last with a 2.45 sitting.
There was only one problem: toilets. There were none in the restaurant or bar. In fact the nearest out-of-cabin loo was three carriages away – and that was a long wobbly walk.
Dinner in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant came from a menu that included Top End salt-water barramundi, locally-produced beef and lamb, Margaret River cheeses, Barossa Valley smallgoods and native Australian fare including kangaroo, saltbush and wild rosella flowers. I chose the barra and my wife settled for the lamb. We both declared it excellently prepared, cooked, and presented.
Then after a few after-dinner wines and cocktails, it was time for bed.
The cabin had been converted into sleeping quarters with upper and lower bunk beds nicely clad in crisp sheets and duvet. They were surprisingly comfortable and, despite the rocking and clicking we both slept well.
However it was before dawn when the train stopped at Marla for a sunrise viewing. I had seen one sunset at Uluru the night before and I am not a morning person so I gave it miss and grabbed some more sleep. But my sunrise/sunset addict wife was there and described it as “beautiful”.
The following morning, on the run in to Alice Springs breakfast was a long brunch, with again local produce and for me something special – gammon rashers with eggs
They are a race memory from a UK childhood and gammon rashers are hard to get in Australia. The meal was delicious.
Then after a couple of farewell drinks we rolled into Alice Springs ready for another adventure.
We both enjoyed the experience so much that we are contemplating a cross-country Indian Pacific journey from Sydney to Perth.
The Club Car
Sunrise at Marla
Safe and sound in The Alice