Travelling on The Ghan takes you deep into the heart of Australia, on a trip that is widely regarded as one of the world's great train journeys
The name "Ghan" is an abbreviation of "Afghan" and refers to the camel drivers who were brought from Afghanistan in the 19th century. These cameleers helped provide transport throughout central Australia and were vital to the region. The importance of these camel 'trains' is remembered in the naming of The Ghan which travels from Darwin to Adelaide and vice versa.
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CHOOSE YOUR JOURNEY
It is possible to travel on The Ghan from one to three nights, depending on your budget and how much time you have available for the journey. Highlights include the comfort of a private cabin, stunning scenery, and the all-inclusive nature of the trip.
The Ghan travels from Adelaide to Darwin, via Alice Springs, in two nights. From May to October, there is also a three-night journey which includes a stop at opal mining town Coober Pedy and time to visit Uluru. If time or money is tight, you can also travel on The Ghan for just one night, from Darwin to Alice Springs or Alice Springs to Adelaide.
Passengers tend to be well-travelled and excellent company, with plenty of interesting tales to tell. Many are also younger than you might expect. In the past The Ghan had the reputation as a "must do for more mature travellers". However, these days it is simply a "must do". When I was in Darwin, I met a 23-year-old Danish tourist who had completed the journey as a solo traveller and loved it.
ALL ABOARD IN DARWIN OR ADELAIDE
There is a sense of excitement as people gather in the hotel foyer on the morning The Ghan departs and staff in Akubra hats tag everyone's luggage.
If you are staying at a centrally located hotel in either Darwin or Adelaide, you can request a complimentary pick up which takes you from your accommodation to the train station.
Checked luggage is whisked away before you get on the bus and made available for collection at your final destination. Experienced train travellers opt for a small day bag or carry on for the journey as there is nowhere to store a large case in the cabin.
It feels strange, albeit in a wonderful way, to stroll nonchalantly on to the train to complete a trip from one end of the country to the other without the security procedures, screening and stress associated with an airport departure.
While the train is marketed as a premier experience there is nothing stuffy about travelling on The Ghan. Smart casual is the most popular form of attire and striking up a conversation with other passengers is considered to be an integral part of the experience.
WINING AND DINING
One of the most popular spots to socialise onboard is in the lounge (bar) car, which is cosy and convivial rather than boozy. Even if you don't fancy a drink, the lounge car is a lovely spot to read or simply chat with like-minded fellow travellers as you watch the scenery slide by.
As Darwin slips away we head to the Queen Adelaide Restaurant dining car to enjoy our first meal on the train, a two-course lunch with matching wines. Menus on The Ghan focus on regional flavours from the surrounding area and native produce such as kangaroo, saltbush and wild rosella also feature, offering a delicious taste of Australia. The restaurant has window booths for four, which means single travellers are always seated with others and don't have to endure the dreaded "table for one".
As there isn't enough room for everyone to eat in the restaurant at the same time, your cabin attendant will tell you what time your lunch and dinner bookings are each day. These can be early or quite late, such as 2.15pm for lunch. If you have a preference, get in early to change your booking.
Breakfast is free seating so you can come in whenever you are ready to eat, anytime before 10am.
There are four different cabin categories available on The Ghan. Single travellers can book a single Gold Class sleeper cabin which has a bed that converts to a seat by day and shared shower/toilet facilities at the end of the carriage with a large modern tiled shower and brand-name toiletries. It's best described as compact but you are unlikely to spend much time in there anyway.
Gold Twin cabins have a small ensuite with toilet, washbasin and shower and twin bunk beds which convert to a three-seater couch during the day. If you can't agree on who has to climb up and down the ladder, flip for it in the bar over a drink.
There are also Double Gold cabins but the double bed in these is very small. Unless you and your partner are slim, you may be more comfortable in a twin cabin with bunk beds.
Most expensive are the Platinum cabins which have a separate lounge seating area, a table, two ottomans and are almost twice the size of the Gold cabins. Whichever cabin you stay in, the food is virtually identical, even in Platinum Class.
The Ghan isn't a high-tech speed machine like a TGV. There is a sense of history and grandeur that you don't find on modern trains, with the slower journey making the most of the stunning scenery. If you are worried about sleeping, a pair of earplugs can be useful to pack in your bag. Most travellers find it easier to sleep on the second night of the journey after they get used to the rocking motion of the train.
SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE
A selection of excursions on The Ghan are included in the cost of your fare. These range from bus tours to nature walks and a cruise up Nitmiluk Gorge at Katherine. Some are designed to appeal to the active younger travellers now embracing The Ghan.
Additional excursions are also available at an "add-on" cost, such as a scenic helicopter over Nitmiluk Gorge or camel riding in Alice Springs.
After a warm welcome from Marcus Williams, the owner of Pyndan Camel Tracks, it is time for our group's information and safety briefing before the ride. It is easy to see how camels earned the name "ships of the desert" as they roll from side to side like a galleon sailing across the ocean.
Out on the open plain, kangaroos and wallabies bound alongside us and lizards scamper across the ground. Iron Bark and Mulga trees dot the clay pan flat, adding splashes of green to a backdrop of bright red earth. An icy cold beer is waiting in the lounge car when we reboard the train and bid farewell to Alice Springs.
If you want a quintessential Aussie experience that celebrates the scenery, cuisine and culture which makes Australia unique, The Ghan is for you. This journey doesn't just link Adelaide to Darwin. It connects travellers to the rugged heart of Australia and the people who make it such a special place. Travelling on The Ghan is a journey that stays with you long after you return home.