Riding The Ghan Railway
The Ghan and the Indian Pacific are Australia's two iconic long distance railways, famous as much as anything because they cross the vast continent from one side to the other. Whereas the Indian Pacific travels from east to west, The Ghan travels north to south, providing a rail link between Darwin and Adelaide. Today's Ghan is not the first train to carry that name, however the original Ghan took a different route.
The Ghan is a great way to see Australia's Red centre. The two-day trip allows travellers to get a real feel for the scale of the Australian outback, which you simply don't on a plane.
That having been said, you may be aware that some people who have made the journey believe it to be overrated and question the claim that The Ghan is one of the world's great train journeys. As with the Indian Pacific, what must be remembered here is that it is an epic journey across a desert, therefore one must not be surprised or disappointed that for most of the journey, the view out of the windows is of an arid landscape.
Therein is the beauty of the Australian outback, and if you do not see it as beautiful or appreciate the vastness of it all, then you might be well advised to make your journey by air. It's much quicker, often cheaper but gives you no time to read a good book, or the opportunity to stroll around and chat or have a game of cards with your fellow passengers, not to mention the opportunity to see Australia's heart at such close range.
Alice Springs Stopover
Doing the journey from Adelaide to Darwin in two sectors, with a stopover in Alice Springs, is highly recommended. You do the Adelaide-Alice Springs leg on one train, get off at The Alice and spend a few days there, then continue your journey to Darwin on the next train. In northern Australia's dry season there are two service every week in both directions, so you have the choice of a three-day, four-day or seven day stopover at Alice Springs.
The same can be done at Katherine if you want to spend a bit of time exploring the various natural attractions in the region. Katherine is on the Alice Springs to Darwin leg, so if you are travelling by train in both directions, there is wisdom in doing an Alice Springs stopover in one direction and Katherine in the other.
Like the Indian Pacific, The Ghan is run by Great Southern Rail, and has the same classes of accommodation & facilities: Gold Class sleepers, lounge & restaurant, Red Class sleepers, reclining 'day-nighter' seats, lounge & self-service restaurant, see the section above. Most departures of the Ghan now have an additional class of accommodation, the new super-deluxe 'Platinum Class' complete with double (or twin lower) beds. Two services per week operate in each direction during peak season. At other times there is one service per week in each direction.
On the northward journey, trains leave Adelaide for Darwin at 12.20pm on Sundays and Wednesdays and arrive in Port Augusta for a short stop at Port Augusta. Late that night, The Ghan reaches Tarcoola, where the line splits - The Ghan turns north and heads towards Alice Springs; the Indian Pacific, which shares the line with The Ghan between Adelaide and Tarcoola, continues west onto the Nullarbor Plain. The Ghan passes Woomera and Coober Pedy (25 km east of the line) during the night, but unfortunately it stops at neither place. Alice Springs is reached at 1.45pm during the second day of travel.
A stopover of around five hours at The Alice allows passengers travelling to and from Alice Springs to leave or board the train. It also gives other passengers time to take a Whistle Stop Tour of Alice Springs should they so desire.
At 6pm, The Ghan continues on its journey north. Through the night it passes Tennant Creek and Newcastle Waters. At 9am The Ghan pulls in to Katherine where passengers have the opportunity to take one of a number of Whistle Stop Tours on offer. These include cruises of Katherine Gorge, canoeing the Gorge and a tour of the town. The train pulls out at 1pm and arrives in Darwin 4 hours 30 minutes later. The return journey follows a similar schedule, leaving Darwin at 9am or 10am and arriving in Adelaide at 1.10pm two days later.