Train Journeys – The Ghan (Darwin to Alice Springs)

ghan 3


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.

All Aboard!
All Aboard!

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.

From the Great Southern Rail website, the full route.
From the Great Southern Rail website, the full route.

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.

Two diesel engines pulling proudly and strong!
Two diesel engines pulling proudly and strong!

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.

From the back of the boat at Katherine.
From the back of the boat at Katherine.
At Katherine.
At Katherine.
Gorgeous. Sorry.
Gorgeous. Sorry.

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 –

Great Southern Rail.

Backpackers after a long night...
Backpackers after a long night…

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!

Alice Srings - Destination reached!
Alice Springs – Destination reached!

And – who has taken a rail journey or two in Australia? Please write your impressions in the comments!

16 thoughts on “Train Journeys – The Ghan (Darwin to Alice Springs)

  1. That must have been an amazing train journey. Look at this landscape behind the window. Absolutely amazing. Ok, I’m a bit scared of the prices though, but I guess it was absolutely worth the experience!

  2. Sounds enticing. We did Adelaide to Perth on the Indian Pacific, across the Nullarbor Plain, having driven the other way. Both were equally spectacular in different ways. I love train journeys.

    1. Agreed it took a while! If only they would build more railroads in Australia, like they do roads! Imagine being about to take a train from Brisbane to Darwin through that part of the tropics and outback. It would be sensational. Thanks for reading!

  3. I live in the U.S., which unfortunately doesn’t have extensive rail service as in Europe and other countries. Unfortunate because I think rail travel is a great way to see a country. When I was in Italy and Spain for three weeks each, I traveled exclusively by rail. The journey between Naples and the Amalfi coast is very scenic.

    I’m glad to hear there is a train to Alice Springs, because at one time I was under the impression that you had to fly in if you didn’t want a long drive. If I get to Australia again (I was in Sydney and Brisbane in the mid-60s), I will definitely take that tain to Alice Springs. I have a number of friends from my Manila high school who are Australian and now live in Brisbane and Perth.

  4. Andy, I think you need to come to Russia and take the Trans Siberian rail from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. It’s the longest in the world, I done some traveling by train here, it was very interesting.

    1. you are darn right I do! However, I also have a huge bucketlist of things to do. Perhaps, if it’s workable the next time I go to Europe (at least 2.5 years away) I will either come or leave that way. We will see. thanks for reading!

  5. Pingback: The Best of Train Journeys | Andy's World Journeys

  6. Pingback: Travel Itineraries – Australia Part Two | Andy's World Journeys

  7. Pingback: Some of my Favourite Rail Journeys – Andy's World Journeys

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