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Journey Across the Outback – Australia’s Ghan Train

There are so many people who are passionate about train travel. It gets in one’s blood and there are people all over the world who endeavor to ride every train around the globe. Rene’s Dad was with Canadian National Railway (CN) and Rene also worked with them for a period of time in summer jobs. He too has some die hard train blood in him as well. We’ve previously travelled on the Rovos Rail in South Africa and a special Rocky Mountain train experience from Calgary to Vancouver as well through the Canadian Rockies. We also did some treks from Ontario to New Brunswick (and return) and within the province of New Brunswick as well so we’re no strangers to rail travel.

As many of you may know, Rene and I just returned from Australia a couple of weeks ago and part of our trip included traveling for 2 nights/3 days on the famous Ghan Train. This is a train that travels through the central part of Australia from north to south or return through the Outback. The journey goes from Darwin to Adelaide or the reverse through the heart of Australia, including Alice Springs.

The Ghan’s history dates back to 1929 when the train was dubbed “The Afghan Express”. It was named after the ‘pioneering Cameleers who blazed a permanent trail into the Red Centre of Australia more than 150 years ago. These camels were imported into Australia and carried supplies for the early explorers through the intensive conditions of the desert. They made a significant contribution to the economy helping in the development of the major infrastructure projects. They carried on up into the early 1900’s but their legacy lives on in the name given to the train that travels now, that is The Ghan.

It's one of 4 train experiences in Australia including the Indian Pacific that runs from Perth to Sydney via Adelaide and return; the Great Southern that runs from Brisbane to Adelaide and return; and finally, the Overland that runs from Melbourne to Adelaide and return.

The Ghan is a much sought-after experience that many have found to be very rewarding from the standpoint of romance, adventure, and comfort. It gives one the ability to see the heart of Australia including the ability to spend some extra time there with various options of journeys available. They have 2-, 3- and 4-day options enabling additional stops with the lengthier journeys that include everything from Katherine, Alice Springs, and Coober Pedy. You can even experience a helicopter flight over the famous Uluru or Ayers Rock.

You can even choose to venture part way from Darwin or Adelaide to Alice Springs or reverse and stay over in Alice Springs to spend more time there and enjoy Uluru more extensively.

Rene and I did the middle option, with 3 days, travelling the full distance from Darwin to Adelaide and thoroughly enjoyed being able to get to the lovely Katherine with a cruise through the Nitmiluk Gorge as one of our stops and a very interesting visit to Alice Springs Desert Park. We also had a stop literally in the middle of nowhere for a quick nightcap, bonfire and view of the stars which was very special.

Photo above of the lovely Katherine Gorge

Photo above from Alice Spring Desert Park's very entertaining "Flying Bird Show"

There are other experiences to consider vs. the ones we chose such as a trek through the Simpson’s Gap area or the “Alice Explorer” that includes visits to the Royal Flying Doctor service base, the historical Alice Springs Telegraph Station and a visit to the Reptile Centre for an encounter with a saltwater crocodile and many other Australian reptiles.

There are 3 categories of service including Gold single, Gold double, and Platinum double. The single supplement for the Gold carriage is very reasonable considering it’s an all-inclusive experience with amazing food and a fabulous open bar pretty much at all times of the day. I have to add that when we boarded the train in Darwin at 10:30 am, the bar was bustling with people drinking every kind of alcoholic beverage, in spite of the time of day. I might also mention that there were many Australians on board which was fun to relate to my fellow Aussie cousins and my parents too! Australians sure know how to have a good time. LOL!

We did the Gold Service vs. the Platinum since the latter wasn’t available. This is an important note to consider in that one does have to book early as these train journeys sell out quickly. The Gold Service was good but the Platinum would be so much better with much more spacious accommodation and a double bed (or 2 singles) vs. a twin bunkbed in the Gold. The Platinum is almost double the size of the Gold cabin. They also have their own smaller group land experiences vs. traveling on the larger coaches with the rest of the Gold passengers.

Here's the Platinum service for comparison - photos courtesy of 'Journey Beyond Rail'

The Platinum includes both transfers at the start and end of the journey while the gold only includes the transfer at the embarkation point. Refreshments and continental breakfast can be served in the Platinum cabins and they also have their own bar and dining cars separate from the Gold patrons. Quite a few perks for the added pricing in the Platinum category. Don’t get me wrong though, the Gold was still very special too!

Photos above of 'Gold Class' on The Ghan

I mentioned the amazing food that includes a great range of quality, culinary choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food truly was outstanding, and they handled my gluten allergy brilliantly! The breakfasts were hearty, the lunches had 2 courses and the dinners were 3 courses (4 courses in the Platinum). No one goes hungry or thirsty on these train journeys, that’s for sure!

Example of dinner menu on The Ghan - changed for each meal

All in all, it was an experience that both Rene and I would highly recommend. It’s a wonderful way to see a part of the interior of Australia and a great way to get from the northern coast to the southern coast (or reverse) in a very comfortable, leisurely manner with outstanding customer service and a top notch quality culinary experience too! And, if you LOVE train experiences, then you’re sure to LOVE this one!

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