Sue Mauger recently jumped on The Ghan for a week-long trek across Australia from Adelaide to Darwin and back. More than just an interstate train journey, The Ghan Expedition provides stops along the way for sunset feasts, tours and more.
The Ghan is one of the world’s longest passenger trains and has been serving as a link between South Australia and the Northern Territory for more than 90 years. It is named after the Afghan cameleers who helped to explore and build the railway infrastructure through the desert heart of our country during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Sue boarded The Ghan on 11 October 2020 and has shared her experiences and some stunning photos with Glam Adelaide below. If you’d like to experience the journey for yourself, speak to your travel agent for some great deals, or visit the Journey Beyond Rail or Discover Australia websites.
After having 3 overseas holidays cancelled this year, I, like many South Australians, was looking for an alternative getaway in our own State. The Ghan has always been a bucket list item but seemed out of my price range until some great deals came up. I jumped at the chance.
My friend and I chose Gold Class tickets as the size of the room was not particularly important to us and the price difference between that and Platinum was quite hefty. We knew our room would be small so luckily, we packed the barest minimum and set out on a Sunday morning for our “trip of a lifetime”.
Meeting us at the terminal was a group of friendly staff, live music, and champagne. We boarded The Ghan very excited to be on our way. Our room, as expected, was extremely small. Not much space to move and the shower was almost over the bath but nonetheless, it was one of the nicest showers I have experienced anywhere.
During COVID, movement along the nearly 900m train was strictly limited to 3 sleeping carriages, the dining car and the lounge car. Meals were timed to allow three sittings with two at each booth. The printed menus were a work of art. Each meal had a different menu with a beautiful water colour painting and a map of Australia showing our position on the journey while eating that particular meal.
The food was excellent, comprising Australian produce including kangaroo, crocodile and buffalo. All dietary requirements were catered for as the food was prepared fresh on the train.
All drinks were included in the ticket price, all day, and the barman was happy to mix up assorted cocktails according to taste. If you happen to still be hungry after a three-course meal, snacks were also available.
The trip to Darwin is two nights/three days and the journey home, three nights/four days.
On the way up, we stopped at Marla to watch the sunrise, drinks in one hand and a breakfast slider in the other. Full breakfast was, of course, available once back on the train.
Then it was off to Alice Springs for a choice of off-train excursions. I chose the Simpsons Discovery Walk with lovely views of the West MacDonnell Ranges. Katherine was our next stop where I did the Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise with spectacular views of cliffs. The contractors who met us on the way were all smartly dressed in The Ghan uniforms and everything was expertly planned. Water was available everywhere and fruit offered before boarding the boat.
We had one night in Darwin, (we took advantage of the deckchair cinema) then it was back on the train to come home again. (We had decided this trip was about the journey not the destination).
On the way back to Adelaide, we were able to try a second excursion which we had wanted to do on our way up. The rock art in Katherine Gorge is exquisite. Apparently, the Katherine Outback Experience was hilarious, but we wanted to see the amazing artwork done thousands of years ago by Indigenous Australians on the walls of the gorge.
Alice Springs was definitely a highlight. We had a wonderful half-day excursion to the brilliant Desert Park (highly recommended), a fabulous ploughman’s lunch in Alice, a walk through the town, then back to The Ghan to ready ourselves for a dinner under the stars at the Old Telegraph Station. It was truly a night to remember: music, dancing, fine food and excellent company. There were even a couple of lovely surprises, but I won’t spoil it in case you decide to go!
Coober Pedy saw us going on the all-day Explore Coober Pedy excursion around the town and then out to the Breakaways with more lovely surprises at the top of a hill. Lunch was underground at the Quest Opal Mine. When we eventually arrived back at The Ghan, drinks were being served next to the train and we sat and watched the sun go down on our last evening.
I cannot fault the program, staff, food, cleanliness or care. Being on The Ghan was indeed the trip of a lifetime, but it was more than that. To be able to see our beautiful country from the train as it changed from farm land to desert, to tropical forests scattered with termite mounds, was a gift. But I also felt immensely proud that this trip is quintessentially South Australian and I couldn’t help but think of those overseas tourists who have already been, and those yet to go, who will see Australia at its best.
And for those of us who are lucky enough to live in this amazing country, it is a perfect way to indulge yourself and get a small glimpse of what is outside our back door.
Sue Mauger is a regular book reviewer for Glam Adelaide. All photos in this article were taken by Sue.