It's a steel and sparks epic, spanning Australia's sunburnt interior from Darwin to Adelaide. The sheer dimensions of The Ghan command respect. Spanning 2979km, this is the longest north-south transcontinental train trip in the world. My train was over 700m long, comprising 26 carriages, 400 passengers and a marathon 54-hour journey ahead of us.
Ensconced in Gold Class, my compact wood-panelled cabin housed an en suite toilet, handbasin and shower and a couch that converted into a bed at night. Did I sleep well? You bet.
There is a therapeutic percussion to the train which lulled me into the land of nod with rhythmic ease. An extra-special touch is being able to order a wake-up coffee that is delivered to your bed at an appointed time, which you can enjoy from bed while admiring the break of dawn across the Outback.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the exquisite Queen Adelaide restaurant car. A choice of dishes is offered at each setting and although The Ghan succeeds in delivering a fine-dining experience, the quantity of food is adequate without being plentiful. (I noticed many passengers brought their own snacks, to tide them over during the day.)
Pulling out from Darwin, the green of the tropical Top End soon give way to the ochre-red desert sands and spinifex plains of the Outback. Katherine heralds a stark terrain change and the train stops in town for several hours, enabling passengers to stretch their legs and take in some sights. The only other whistle-stop is 24 hours later in Alice Springs. From Katherine, as the train cuts deeper into Australia's sprawling, empty interior, I witnessed my first Outback sunset. Slumping ever lower on the horizon, the great orange orb turned an angry fireball red before disappearing out of view, leaving in its wake an ethereal haze of purple. The passing natural pageant is The Ghan's big draw. Burnished earth tones against a canvas of endless blue sky, interspersed with a smattering of ghost-white tree trunks, rugged ranges and low shrubs is the searing view I will remember from the train. The journey enhances your appreciation of Australia's immensity, her far-reaching horizons and her red and brown heart. And you'll enjoy trading tales over a beer at the onboard bar with your fellow travellers. The Ghan is a great way to experience the enormity of the Outback and the majesty of rail hospitality.