The Ghan Train Journey
A short taxi ride from Adelaide Airport, we were dropped at Parklands Rail Station. Soon booked aboard, an Easter Bunny welcomed a very excited Bear.
The Ghan train seemed to go on forever as she idled ready for the off. At just shy of a kilometre in length I just had to use a promotional picture.
Minor repairs on a troublesome seat happened as forty eight of us settled in the Red Carriage. We chose to go ‘backpacker’ style as opposed to Gold or Platinum – why? Having done the Venice-Simplon Orient Express from Venice to Prague and three days later from Prague to Paris, switching the the English train from Dover to London, we wanted to do this journey the ‘real way’ and with no comparisons.
Next came a run down of our journey, safety briefing, toilet saddling and cafe talk from the lovely Wayne.
The old Ghan line followed the route of explorer John MacDouall Stuart. On Sunday the 4th of August 1929, an excited crowd gathered at the Adelaide Railway Station to farewell the first Ghan train, which carried supplies and over a hundred passengers bound for the remote town of Stuart, later to be called Alice Springs. The full journey to Darwin takes three nights and four days, coast to coast, one way 2,979 kilometres.
Originally dubbed the Afghan Express, The Ghan train was named for the pioneering cameleers who blazed a permanent trial into the Red Centre of Australia more than 150 years ago. Many cameleers were migrants from an area known as Pakistan. However, according to outback lore in the 1800’s, these men were believed to come from the mysterious outpost of Afghanistan and were considered Afghans – ‘Ghans.
In 1980, the old Ghan rail track was abandoned in favour of a new standard-gauge rail line built with termite-proof concrete sleepers. The track was laid further to the west to mitigate the flooding problems encountered along the old route.
It was always intended for The Ghan to one day travel from Adelaide through to the Northern Territory capital city of Darwin. With the completion of the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link, this dream became a reality. The Ghan embarked on its inaugural transcontinental journey on the 1st of February 2004.
Today the north-south cross-country journey covers 2979 kilometres and encounters spectacular and diverse landscapes from the pastoral hues of the South Australian plains. the rusty reds of the MacDonnell Ranges and the tropical greens of Katherine and Darwin.
The train’s whistle pierced the silence of the MacDonnell Ranges surrounding Alice Springs two days later. The train was steam hauled and the service had to contend with extreme conditions including flash flooding and intense heat. As such, it was often an irregular service. The old Ghan ran on a light, narrow-gauge track well to the east of the track it travels on today. As well as termite damage, the track was often savaged by fire and flood. Flash flooding, when the normally parched river beds spilled out onto the low lying desert plains, frequently washed away the track completely. Legend has it The Old Ghan was once stranded for two weeks in one spot and the engine driver shot wild goats to feed his passengers. Back to today. Whilst I sorted myself out Bear went to find Matilda – the next carriage forward.
Matilda cafe, ever thinking about his next meal..........
.............Bear came back and showed these pictures of menu choices on the camera to think what I may fancy for lunch......
Off we went, first attraction was the huge wind farms on the Burunga Range.
Soooooo exciting the first time we saw the front of the train on a right bend.
Lunch and scenery.
Our carriage from the rear, where there was another shower and toilet, towels provided. Behind our carriage were two more dedicated to staff quarters. During the journey drivers would change – once in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t see anyone or anything around, magic......... we were told these men earned a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, not much when you consider the ‘dead mans switch’ bleeps at them every minute and a half.
More scenery, now beginning to turn a little pink. The day passed easily, we chatted to neighbours, snacked in Matilda, read, dozed, supper in Matilda and finally settled in our reclining seats. I had to keep prodding Bear who flatly refused to put his snore ring on – well darn it, no sooner than he stopped, the lady behind started. Lights on at six ready for those who wanted to get off for the sunrise.
Wayne checked off those who wanted to watch sunrise. Back aboard we settled down for a fry-up breakfast, joined by Sarah and Rhiannon.
There we stayed in Matilda looked after by the wonderful Wayne (seated). Bruce the Train Manager would rush through every so often with some fabulous one-liners. Sarah (next to Bear, Brit, currently on a years working Visa and hopefully on our Uluru tour) and Rhiannon (car on the front transporter behind the engines, relocating to Darwin to work as a staff nurse in the chemotherapy unit – we wish her all the very best). A motley crew.
Daybreak. The scenery became very red.
Surprising amounts of water, then a very dry riverbed.
Bruce announced that we should look to our right, a memorial to the millionth cement sleeper.
A left bend.
It seemed we went round a bend – things red to – things green and there was the outskirts of Alice Springs.
An interesting rock and then we pulled in to the station.
The Memorial at Alice Springs.
Here we are.
ALL IN ALL A REALLY EPIC JOURNEY
BBT, A WOW TO BE ON THE BIGGEST PASSENGER TRAIN IN THE WORLD
(Locals fondly refer to the Ghan as the ‘Bloody Big Train’ and Bear is still mystified as to why we went round big bends across a flat desert)