Dissecting Australia on The Ghan

It may sound like a strange name for a train, but The Ghan has a very good pedigree. Its name celebrates the Afghani cameleers who were brought to Australia in the 1800’s to help build the telegraph line from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Adelaide in the south.

GhanDarwinWithout the camels, which could work in the arid conditions of central Australia, and their Afghani handlers, the country would have spent many more years in isolation.

Today the only hardship associated with The Ghan is to choose from the wonderful selections on its meals menu. The journey north, or south, normally takes three days and two nights to complete. It is a full service train with three levels of comfort. These are Red Class, which gives you a reclining seat, shared facilities and meals which you buy on board. Gold Class has single and twin self-contained cabins, and Platinum Class are larger cabins which have proper beds instead of bunks. In both Gold Class and Platinum meals, drinks and tours are included in the tariff.

At 882 metres in length, The Ghan must surely be one of the world’s longest passenger trains. The only time that I could see the train in its entirety was from the top of Anzac Hill in Alice Springs. One of the reasons for its enormous length is that all maintenance, passenger and staff facilities must be accommodated, and it is like a small, functional town on wheels.

Despite its size, The Ghan has a very intimate feel. This is because the train is divided into sections which are comprised of about five passenger carriages, which share their own lounge and restaurant cars. Whilst the cabins are very comfortable and private, the lounge cars are for socialising and are accessible 24 hours per day. This system allows passengers to form great relationships with the staff who serve them. Staff work in small, permanent units and do each trip together. It is this relationship between staff and passengers which is one of the great features of the journey as you really do form close associations with staff who look after you and who get to know your whims, likes and dislikes and who cater for you accordingly.

The other great hero of the trip is Australia itself.

This is a very ancient, noble and unique country and The Ghan neatly dissects the middle of it from top to bottom or vice versa. For the majority of the journey you are traversing desert.

Understandingly, many people consider desert to be boring. They are wrong! The Australian desert may indeed be dry, but it is ever changing. It may lack mountains, forests and substantial towns at which to stop, but it also has a grandeur and magnificence that should be experienced to fully understand and appreciate.

Normally, The Ghan has two stops where passengers can alight for tours, the price of which is included in the fare.

Alice Springs is almost in the dead heart of Australia. It is an iconic town that is built in a valley amid the MacDonnell Ranges, and is quite a unique place. There is a choice of three tours here, including a town explorer and a camel ride. I did the Alice Explorer and was quite taken by the history of the town, and the realisation of the hardships that the first settlers had to endure.

For instance, the woman for whom the town was named – she was the wife of the first telegraph operator – never ever visited the town which bore her name because to travel there meant a six week trek by camel from Adelaide.

The other stop is at Katherine, just 320 kilometres south of Darwin. Here passengers disembark to enjoy a cruise through Katherine Gorge, which is a tremendous journey that changes depending on the depth of the water. The gorge has been carved out over many millions of years, and apart from the scenic beauty of the gorge, you can also see aboriginal rock art on the walls and crocodiles if the conditions are right.

The best way to describe The Ghan is as a comfortable adventure. This is a journey which has all the luxuries of a modern, comfortable train, yet, still gives you a tremendous sense of adventure as you travel right through the centre of the world’s most ancient and unique continent. It is a trip which will burn an appreciation for this magnificent land right into your soul.

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