The first thing that strikes you about The Ghan is its staggering size.
Stretched out serpent-like, the iconic Australian train powered by two massive diesel-electric locomotives hauls more than 30 carriages - spanning almost a kilometre - as it traverses the red heart of the country between Darwin and Adelaide.
This 2979 kilometre journey is undoubtedly one of the world’s great rail experiences.
The Ghan Expedition is a wonderful four-day, three-night trip that includes sightseeing stops at Katherine Gorge, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.
This trip has proved so popular, the 2017 season has been doubled, running for the six months from May to October and the same schedule will go ahead in 2018.
On this journey, we review the Gold Service but for ultra-luxury, there’s also a Platinum Service level with extra trimmings including meals in your own private dining car, in-cabin breakfasts, extra space, access to the Chairman’s Carriage as well as private limousine transfers at both ends of the journey.
In the Gold cabins (available in single or twin-share), the comfortable day-lounge has retractable arm rests that fold-down to a bed in the evening. A second bunk style bed drops from the wall for a travel companion. Expect plush pillows and doonas, Appelles toiletries and twice-daily cabin service.
Other features included music channels, journey audio-commentary, a fold out table, a small closet and ensuite bathroom. Guests are permitted a whopping 60kg luggage allowance.
Four hours after leaving Darwin Railway Station, you arrive at the first stop, Katherine Gorge. Guests have a choice of included activities including a cruise along Nitmiluk Gorge, a stunning natural canyon forged over tens of thousands of years.
You’ll really notice the heat here as you leave the air-conditioned comfort of The Ghan. Before long though, you’ll find plenty of shade provided by the towering clifftops along this peaceful and stunning waterway.
Back on The Ghan a few hours later, we prepared ourselves for the allocated dinner seating in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant. Pre-dinner drinks were served in the Outback Explorer Lounge where we could select from the extensive and all-inclusive wine, martini and cocktail list.
Three-course menus offer seasonal and regional fare. Barramundi, rack of lamb, buffalo curry and sweet sensations like wild lemon myrtle and thyme cheesecake are just some examples of what to expect on board. Breakfast selections are just as impressive.
When your appetite’s sated, it’s customary to return to the bar lounge to mingle with fellow travellers.
And after a big day, the hypnotic rat-a-tat-tat rhythm of the rails is a wonderful way to drift off to sleep before waking in anticipation of the next day’s adventure, which on this itinerary is a visit to Alice Springs where an optional scenic-flight/day-tour (approx. $1,100 pp) to Uluru is an unforgettable indulgence.
As you’d expect, the scenic flight provides stunning views of Uluru and Kata-Tjuta and you’re also treated to a guided ground tour that takes you around the base of the rock. Local experts reveal ancient rock art in various caverns that have been protected from the elements over the millennia.
Upon return to Alice Springs, you’ll enjoy a sumptuous dinner under the stars at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. Live music and a star gazing presentation are included with this al fresco dinner. The delicious meal, coupled with a blazing night sky, great music and pleasant chit-chat make for a standout event of the trip.
The following day The Ghan crosses the border into South Australia arriving at the opal mining town of Coober Pedy.
The included tour here takes through the township and an abandoned underground mine turned museum, where you’ll witness first-hand how the town’s residents fossick for the treasured opals.
Another fascinating discovery here is that life is still lived underground. From family homes to churches, much of the town is located in ‘dugouts,’ with vertical shafts that poke through the surface for ventilation. While temperatures routinely soar over 35 degrees in summer and below freezing in winter, ambient temperatures in the dugouts stay constant at 23-25 degrees year-round.
The tour includes an underground bunker lunch before heading out of town to the Breakaways. While much of the land surrounding Coober Pedy is pancake flat, the Breakaways are a collection of small, multi-coloured hills that have provided a dramatic backdrop for many Australian films including Mad Max.
The Ghan Expedition is punctuated by thoughtful little touches along the way like the unexpected glass of champagne that arrived at the Breakaways lookout.
Finally, after almost 3000km on rails, you’ll arrive at the Adelaide Parklands Terminal where your next assignment begins - sifting through the hundreds of photos you’ve snapped during the past four days!
Published under license from Well Travelled.