WRITTEN BY DENNIS & ROSAMUND KILL
So here we are at Darwin Station about to board the legendary Ghan. Our destination Adelaide and the beginning of a 2979km four-day journey from the top of Australia to the bottom end of Australia through some of the most isolated and rugged parts of this vast continent. Its fierce and uncompromisingly barren out there and by and large untouched. This is a harsh place, if not droughts, its fires and blistering heat painted in bright red.
Our 5-star hotel on wheels is the end result of a celebrated history that all began in the 1850’s when the first Afghan cameleers opened up inland Australia to European settlers ferrying goods and supplies with their ships of the desert. The Ghan takes its name from those early tenacious pioneers and follows their tracks through the Red Centre.
Today it’s all about splendour with the train divided into two classes of travel, Platinum and Gold. We’re travelling Platinum class which is a lot cosier and more spacious. Cabins include a fold-away writing desk, coffee table, built-in-wardrobes, four music channels, Wi-fi, safe, double or single beds with quality linen and bathrobes, an ensuite with a toilet and separate shower stacked with towels and high-quality complimentary bathroom amenities. Gold is a little more compact with cabins transformed into sleeping berths with fold down bunks at night and a separate shower and toilet. Whatever your choice or whatever your budget can afford the experience will not disappoint
We’re escorted to our elegant surroundings and with luggage quickly unpacked and stored Isabela greets us with chilled champagne and a booklet full of daily off train experiences to choose on-route to Adelaide.
On cue, 10.00am and its time to travel. The wheels begin to turn slowly and as we pull away from the station a strong crowd of well-wishers are waving off friends from the platform. We sigh, settle back and sip our champagne as the train slides gracefully out of Darwin.
Size goes with territory in Australia and The Ghan is no exception with 44 carriages stretching 1.1km’s pulled by two powerful 4.400hp locomotives. On board there are 348 passengers and 45 crew including 30 Platinum class serviced exclusively with a crew of six and four chefs.
Relax and be invigorated with pre-dinner drinks and vintage wines served with dinner by a team of professional wait staff. Australia has a wealth of food ingredients and the cuisine on board offers an astonishing rich regional selection from a galley that takes pain with details that will not disappoint. Tables settings are immaculately laid with white linen, heavy silverware and vases of fresh flowers.
First stop Katherine the 4th largest settlement in the Northern Territory. Full of gorges and misty waterfalls, thermal springs and ancient cultures we opt for cruising the Nitmiluk Gorge. Winding our way through the gorge we experience dramatic ancient scenery, century old aboriginal paintings and the shrill of the cicadas reverberating off the cliff faces while the tour guide gives a commentary on the indigenous Jawoyn people and their spiritual connection.
After a gourmet breakfast the following day we arrive at Alice Springs the 2nd largest town in the Territory and gateway to the Red Centre. Nestled between the MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs is famous for its desert landscapes, strong aboriginal culture and home to the 150-year-old Overland Telegraph Line that once linked Darwin to Adelaide.
We sign up for the Simpsons Gap tour a 4-hour leisurely discovery walk and one of locals most favourite places to visit. One look at the spectacular landscape and it’s easy to see why. Located in Tjoritja National Park this scenic oasis of gorges and towering cliffs encapsulates the best of Central Australia’s natural landscape
Time to freshen up to rejoin our fellow passengers before our coach transfers us to the historic Alice Springs Telegraph Station for an extravaganza BBQ dinner under a million stars. We are treated with a selection of fine wines while a trio of musicians entertain us in the background. The soft night air was hauntingly beautiful making this a night that no one would ever forget.
Day three starts with admiring the early morning colours of central Australia. We were fortunate to observe a mob of kangaroos engaged in Mexican stand-offs and a pair of emus streaking across the plains. After breakfast we drive along the red dusty roads bound for Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world and where the locals live underground. Famous for its mine shafts and “that’s one small step for man” lunar-like landscape, quirky history and labyrinth of underground houses, hotels and shops. After a morning of discovery and a determination to find the biggest opal, we lunch in three enormous underground caves.
Enjoying brunch on our final day it suddenly dawns how time has passed so quickly. After four wonderful days as we edge towards civilisation, we observe a dramatic change in the landscape as the rich ochre tones of the vast outback make way for green fields and scores of wind turbines. As we pull into Adelaide Station our suitcases are packed the cleaners are waiting to board as the carriages empty. We are feeling a little sad as we say our goodbyes to the train staff and our new friends that we met along the way. Another journey ends and another begins!