...it's the legendary train journey between Adelaide to Darwin making a stop at Alice Spring and Katherine!
04th, July 2014
Average train speed with a maximum of 115 km/h
Not as fast as our French speed train! 300 km/h
775 m / 1400 t
Average train length and weight!
Over 1km and 43 carriages when the train is fully booked!
2 nights and 3 days (stops & excursions along the way are part of the journey, it seems a long time but was actually too short!)
Journey length / Adelaide - Darwin
Video: The Ghan in 54 seconds:
The Ghan in a few dates
1929: inaugural journey Adelaide to Alice Springs, with 100 passengers, mail and fresh fruits!
2001: after almost a century of deliberation, construction of the rail link between Alice Springs and Darwin finally starts
2004: inaugural journey of the 1420 km new track with the longets passenger train in Australian history (over 1km in length, 2 locomotives and 43 carriages!)
Welcome aboard !
The Ghan: where does this name come from?
From 1839, camels were imported to carry goods for explorers venturing inland. Their handlers left families behind overseas to work in Australia.
Many cameleers were mistakenly thought to be from Afghanistan and were called Afghans or 'Ghans.
The cameleers played a vital role in the construction of the first track between Adelaide to Alice Springs, carrying food and supplies to the surveyors and builders.
Camels were ideally suited for the harsh landscape of Australia's Red Centre. Able to go without water for days, they can carry up to half a ton of weight.
11h20, Adelaide, South Australia, Max and I are overexcited to discover our hotel/restaurant/way of transport for the next 54h ( actually not for us as we have decided to stop in Alice Springs for a week before travelling onto Darwin).
The Ghan, one of the most legendary trains in the world, with its 40 something carriages and 800 metre long is standing in front of us on the platform,ready for a new transcontinental journey, direction Darwin, Northern Australia!
An hostess welcomes us aboard, we travel in class in Gold service :-) Our cabin is cosy with all you can need and imagine for a trip on a train! We already love our room with a view! The train starts moving and here we go !
The scene of rolling green hills flattens into wine country, which becomes vast farmland, then dry rugged terrain.
The land is soon stark and desolate, in the distance the Flinders Ranges appear. I recognise their jagged peaks, we were climbing a couple weeks ago. Their dramatic escarpments sit majestically in the haze. From the window it looks quiet out there...in complete contrast, the train interior is bustling. Passengers enjoy free-flowing wine and drinks at the Lounge, while others go through a three course lunch. We are still gazing out the window!
Travel aboard the Ghan is one of the greatest holidays of Australia but as it costs from $1600 per person for a single cabin (Gold service), this is a one very popular among the Grey Nomads. So no need to say that Max and I, two Frenchies, not even turned 30, are a pretty unusual profile. The atmosphere is convivial, counting and listening to travel stories is part of the journey.
A magazine in hands, well seated, I find myself dreaming staring through the window...The train goes slowly but surely and this is very relaxing. Jazz ambience in my cabin, the afternoon goes way too quickly in my opinion! Almost 500 km north-west of Adelaide, the lowering sun sets in a golden haze over the vast red landscape, while a few kangaroos stops still and watches the train as it passes. One of these typical Australian scenes we love!
After a delicious dinner at the restaurant, we find our cabins in a night configuration, they have done our bed! Rocked by the movement of the train, I imagine a legendary night!...
9pm, the train is getting very quiet, we turn off the lights, the moon is enlightening the rugged red country, it's spectacular...but it's time to close the curtain and say Good night!
At the end, we hardly slept during the first night because of the clanking noises, but just knowing we were moving through the heart of the Australian continent made it worth it.
To wake up in style, a generous brunch is awaiting in the restaurant. At the same moment, we cross the Northern Territory border and the majority of the guests rush to the window to capture the moment! The Finke River is announced, it's dry (as it is most of the time) but the site stays spectacular: a vast sandy river bed stretching as far as the eye can see. I look at the numerous red river gums and wonder how they survive in such a dry place. Australian nature will always impress me. We are told that the Finke is thought to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, dating back a few 300 million years!! The sand is turning more red (if this is even possible) as we approach Alice Springs, probably the most iconic outback town in the whole country.
1:30pm The train stops. While guests are going on a town tour or camel ride, we hop off the train and say good by to the lovely staff, we will see you all in a week! Time now to explore the Red Centre.
If you are looking for ideas, best tours and things to do while in Alice, click here :-)
Exactly one week later, 5pm, we are back to the train station, happy and more ready than ever to board again on the Ghan!
Next stop: Darwin. 1420 km left to travel, we are shown our way to our cabins. We are not lost as we are located in the same carriage as last week:-)
We meet the new crew and hardly left the Outback town that we are invited to dinner, what a spoilt life! I missed it J !
After a nice classic cocktail in the lounge and another exquisite dinner at the restaurant, we have no trouble to sleep (this time) like babies until the sun rises on the following day!
It is with a new landscape that we enjoy our breakfast, the vegetation is lush and green, welcome to Katherine! This morning, all the passengers are invited to board a boat cruise which explores the Katherine Gorge, renamed with its aboriginal name Nitmiluk National Park. We pass under towering cliffs, up to 70 metres tall. Camera ready to snap!
It's such a treat to travel with the Ghan, everything is well organised and thought. The bus is waiting us to take us to the Park, water and fresh fruits are for us to enjoy.
Among the different free tour options, we go for the cruise through the gorges. We would have loved to kayak the river but we are on a tight schedule. The boat is a quicker alternative :-) as the train is waiting for us!
Back on the train, we settle in for the last stretch, 320 km to go to Darwin.
Another lunch and a few drinks later, we are already in Darwin, disembarking. Yes already! Some people can say it's a long journey, for us it was just perfect and even too short! A experience we won't soon forget!
And a few hours later, we surprise ourselves talking of our next train expedition!
How to travel The Ghan?
A good deal for Backpackers: The Pass
The Ghan is more expensive than an ordinary flight however it is a unique experience. The good news is that there is some solutions for those who want to travel aboard without breaking the bank!
- During our trip with Wayoutback, we meet Maud and Nicolas, two French backpackers who have bought a Ral Explorer Pass. Maud's chosen the one for 2 months (495 AUD) whereas Nicolas prefered the 3 month one (595 AUD). Thanks to this pass, it is possible to travel aboard the Great Southern Rail trains as much as wanted for the time chosen! After the Ghan, you can go West with the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Perth) or travel with the Overland which links Melbourne to Adelaide.
With this pass, you will travel on Red service, which the cheapest class. No private cabin but a inclinable seat, no restaurant or off tour included. You are welcomed to bring your own food or there is a café – bar.
-If you want or have only the time to travel with The Ghan, then the cheapest fare will be the Ready Rail Fare, 398 AUD for backpackers.
-For those who don't have much time, you can also decide to travel only half way: Adelaide to Alice Springs (or vice versa).
More info here:
When to go ?
It's important to plan your trip well in advance, especially in the peak season which is between June to September. Australians book at least 6 months before!
2 trains are running weekly at this time of year, otherwise, it's only one per week.
The Ghan behind the scene!
> Meet Penny, Lounge Host for The Great Sourthern Rail
Drinking a limonade in the lounge, I wait for Penny, member of the staff. A few minutes later, she meets us and is happy to share her job routine, if only there is one ?!?
Penny is in charge of the guests' comfort on board. From preparing the cabins to organizing dinner and lunch timetable for everyone, she has an important supervision role to make sure that everyone has an unforgettable experience.
She was going to work in trains for a few months and 6 years later, here she is, still welcoming every week thousands of tourists travelling with The Great Southern Rail.
She likes her job, this is pretty obvious, her eyes are sparkling when she tells us her work life on board. Whether she is off to Darwin, Perth or Adelaide, Penny likes being part of people's holidays and make them a once in a life time experience! Some guests have been waited this journey for a long time and Penny feels fortunate to contribute to people's joy.
Don't think her job is an easy one, some days are more difficult than others.You get few hours sleep but you have to keep the same energy, smile and empathy nevertheless. Fortunately, the ambience between colleagues is very good, spending entire weeks together on rail helps creating strong friendship :-)
“Stress? Yes sometimes!” she said, thinking of some difficult situations where the train can be stuck in the middle of the bush because of flash floods or because another train has derailed a bit further ways blocking the way...Then you have to relocate urgently all the passengers on plane /buses /taxis to get to their home!!
Of course, we imagine that Penny has welcomed many people on board over the past 6 years but some must have been more characteristic? She mentions right away a retired couple who has been travelling aboard the Great Southern Rail 99 times in 50 years!!...And they are actually planning their 100th trip for next year! Such great ambassadors!
To learn more about Alice Spring and the Red Centre:
To learn more about Adelaide:
A Grand Merci to Melanie, Steve and all the wonderful Ghan's staff!
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