Take a look at a map of Australia.
What do you notice?
Well, you might notice that it is a BIG country. You might also notice that most of the cities and towns hug the coast line. So what is in the middle of Australia? One thing that might come to mind is Uluru – the giant red rock which rises from the desert. But how does one get to the red centre?
Well there are many ways to get to the centre of Australia. You can fly – but most flights are very pricey, and you miss all that amazing scenery that the outback is famous for. You could drive – but that option isn’t for the faint of heart or short on time (or the non 4WD’s).
So how can you experience the red centre of Australia, in comfort, in good time, while experiencing as much of this unique landscape as possible?
I chose to take the train.
Crossing The Red Centre With The Ghan
To understand the Ghan, you first need to understand a little bit of history behind the Australian outback. For years this vast unexplored interior was rumoured to hold in it’s depths all sorts of wealth. Intrepid explorers would set off into the outback (often quite ill prepared) never to be seen again. Eventually though, the land was slowly discovered. And it wasn’t by ill prepared Europeans who preferred to pack as much luggage as possible into the most ill suited vehicle they could find. The land was opened up by Afghan camel drivers, and their very well suited desert beasts.
The Ghan is actually named in honour of these Afghan explorers. Without their assistance, it would have taken much, much longer to explore the interior.
The Ghan runs between Darwin in the Northern Territory, and Adelaide in South Australia – cutting right through the middle of the country. It offeres a great way to see the country side, and makes significant whistle stops in Alice Springs and Katherine in the Northern Territory.
Boarding The Train In Darwin
It was already getting hot and steamy early in the morning in Darwin, as the hot and humid season was now coming upon us. Luckily, I didn’t need to go very far with all my luggage as the shuttle to the train station picks up passengers at the Darwin transit centre, which is on the same street as all the budget backpacker accomodation.
Upon reaching the station I was assigned my carriage and checked in my luggage. On my first journey with Great Southern Rail, one the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide, Lauren and I were in red day/nighter seats. Although very comfortable (much more so than we were expecting), those seats were nothing compared to the cabin I was going to have on the Ghan.
The Red Cabin
When the train was ready for boarding, I was directed to my cabin. Although very small (I was still in red service after all), the whole thing was extremely delightful. Everything was arranged to provide the maximum comfort, while taking up the minimum of space. There were two plush seats facing each other with a small table between them. This table folded down, so that the full length single bed could fold down from the wall behind.
Once the first bed was folded down, the second bed which was currently up by the ceiling, could be pulled down and locked into position as well.
A small wash basin folded out from the wall underneath the mirror, and a little luggage and coat cupboard was on the opposite side as well. I even had electricity!
Each train car had it’s own shared bathroom and showers as well. The showers were massive, probably actually bigger than the cabins themselves, and everything was in place to make showering on a moving train as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. I’ll never get over the novelty of showering on a moving vehicle.
I was on my own during this part of the trip, and luckily did not have to share my cabin with anyone. I was able to sprawl myself across the little cabin and spend time working on my writing while the scenery began changing from that of tropical Darwin, and progressively became drier and more barren as we went inland.
The journey between Darwin and Adelaide has two main whistle stops; Katherine and Alice Springs. I had already spent some time in Katherine in Nitmiluk national park. One of the whistle stop tours offered at this point of the journey is a river cruise down Nitmiluk gorge. Although the dinner cruise that I did is not available on the whistle stop tour, I still highly recommend the boat cruise just for the natural beauty of the region.
The second main stop is in Alice Springs. Again there are a plethora of whistle stop tours available. I actually disembarked the train at the point, and would later rejoin it in a weeks time. Due to my extra time, I got to sample a variety of the whistle stop tours that are on offer, and I will write about them more in detail at a later date.
Alice Springs to Adelaide
The Alice Springs terminal is conveniently located very near to the town. I didn’t even need to take a shuttle to get to my destination. This made it also very easy when I was coming back to the train, to go to Adelaide – the last stop on my Great Australian Overland Adventure.
As the train pulled out we quickly left behind the oasis of human settlement that is Alice Springs, and were back in the nothingness of the outback in no time. As we passed notable spots of interest, the announcer on the train would tell us what were were looking at.
“That river bed to your right is the largest river in Central Australia…. of course… at the moment it doesn’t have a drop of water in it”
I split my time between working away in my cabin, relaxing in the lounge, and stuffing my face on the delicious and surprisingly reasonably priced food in the cafe as we sped towards Adelaide.
When I woke up in the morning the views had changed drastically. Gone was the red sand and withered trees, we were now crossing the fertile plains near Adelaide. My journey through the outback was now over, and my journey with Great Southern Rail would also soon be over.
Connections In Adelaide
Adelaide seems to be a central hub for Great Southern Rail. After disembarking from the Ghan, you can either chose to stay in Adelaide, or you can instead jump on the Indian Pacific heading for either Perth or for Sydney, or even hop on the Overlander for train travel to Melbourne. To see options and scheduled, visit the Great Southern Rail website.
My train travel was sponsored by Great Southern Rail, but all opinions are my own.