Let me tell you folks, there are some amazing train journeys in the world today, but right here in Australia we have a few that rate up there with the best of them. Today I’m talking ‘The Ghan’, a train that runs down the middle of Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. I took it only about halfway, to Alice Springs, on my way to see Uluru, but there’s no doubt it was one of the best train journeys I’ve taken in my life.
The journey is some 1,420 kilometres and takes around 25 hours. That sounds quite slow, I know, but the train stops for a number of hours in Katherine and there is the option to take a boat trip (yes, it’s extra!) into the Katherine Gorge which is definitely worthwhile. Katherine is just a little way from Darwin, and the train leaves in the morning from Darwin so this is about lunch time.
Trains only leave every 3-4 days, and book up in advance, at least for the cabins and so forth. However, if you go at the right time of the year (I went in October) and the cabins are not fully booked, attendants will walk around and offer upgrades from seats to cabins. From memory, I paid an extra $90 (this was a few years back mind you) and although the seat was comfortable enough, it was still pretty basic. The sleeper cabin was nice, comfy, if small. I had one to myself and I got a good night’s sleep. All I could ask for.
Looking online today, the basic seat fair appeared to be pretty steep at around $349 for an adult, and that was me trying to book for July. Their listed price is $449! However, the good news is that if you are a student with a card or a YHA membership holder, you get serious discounts! From $449 down to $269. So it’s worth taking out a YHA membership just for the discounts on the rails in Australia, really!
The journey was epic, turning from the tropics, to rocky gorges to eventually desert as you come closer to Alice Springs. The train was a hive of activity, with people walking up and down and through the carriages. I met some other backpackers on board and we played card games for hours and drank at the bar. The restaurant car was quite roomy. The boat trip at Katherine was very memorable, and the 25 hours really flew by.
The long train was pulled by two strong, red diesel locomotives through Australia’s north. It was magnificent. There really isn’t that much more to say, it’s simply one of the world’s great, epic rail journeys. If you are seeking more information, do check out the website that links the epic rail journeys of Australia together here –
Tomorrow sees the second in my series of ‘Gateway Countries’. What do I consider the best starter country for the Middle East? Do have a read!
And – who has taken a rail journey or two in Australia? Please write your impressions in the comments!