Train Travel: The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide – Day Three

by Nora Dunn on November 25, 2010

Almost 48 hours after boarding The Ghan on Day One in Darwin, and with only a few hours to go to Adelaide, I was surprised to wake up and discover that we were still very much in the Australian outback.

Outback

However, as the minutes and hours rolled by, increasing signs of civilization became evident. One of the more impressive (natural) sights of the morning was Flinders Range, a beautiful row of mountains in the distance, and one of the “not-to-be-missed” sights in Australia according to many.

This being my third day, I now had something of a routine on the train: wake up around 7am, get dressed, and enjoy a cup of coffee in my cabin while taking notes and enjoying the view from my bed.

However, this morning, more of my coffee ended up sloshing around in the saucer and on the table than it did anywhere else. Although not uncomfortable, the train track south of Alice Springs was noticeably rockier than the track between Darwin and Alice Springs. This is because the northern part of the route was only complete in 2004 in comparison to the southern part which was (re)built in 1980.

An announcement came through just before my 8:30am breakfast that we were one hour behind schedule, but that it was expected we would make up this time over the next four hours. Considering on my train trip across Canada we were four hours late after the first 48 hours of travel, I was suitably impressed at the time we were making. I’ve come to expect trains to be generally tardy, but so far my Australian rail experiences had proved to be quite the contrary.

I was starting to get antsy about not having any internet connection for what seemed like ages, wondering how many emails were waiting for me, and what online chores I had to do. Only then did I realize that I’d only really been on the train for two days (the entire journey from Darwin to Adelaide is 54 hours).

The Ghan

I reveled in the feeling that this journey (which was coming to a close) felt both lightning fast and epically long. Although the whistle stops in Katherine on day one and Alice Springs on day two were wonderful, they interrupted the rhythm and pace of riding the train that I had anticipated…the marathon journey that I expected traveling from the top to the bottom of such a large country to be. Between the whistle stops, meals, conversations with fellow passengers, and receptions, there seemed to be relatively little “down time”.

When you board a train for a three day/two night journey, you expect to have heaps of time on your hands; you prepare for boredom to set in and bring various tools of entertainment to ward it off. I didn’t even need one of my boredom-conquering tools. Instead, I found myself wishing the trip was longer.

To that end, I look forward to my next train trip, which will be across the Nullabor desert to Perth on the west coast. That particular route doesn’t have as much in the way of whistle stops, and as such I expect to get into a different rhythm during that journey.

Adelaide

We pulled into Adelaide right on time at 12:30pm. I felt a surge of emotion when I got off The Ghan; bringing to an end a world-class experience that had been a desire of mine for years. There really is nothing like taking the train, in my books.



Editor’s Note: I received a complimentary Ausrail pass from Great Southern Rail, and a free upgrade to Gold service.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Buzz November 25, 2010 at 11:20 am

You got comp’d AND bumped to Gold Service? Now I’m impressed! The Ghan is great.

Am shocked however that you didn’t get off in Alice; it’s a very expensive place to reach, and Uluru is one of the classic destinations of the natural world (although not nearly as interesting as Utah), so being that close I thought you would have had a look.

http://adventurerun.wordpress.com/2009/02/21/uluru/#more-403

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Joost November 25, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Three hours at a airport between aircraft and security is boring, long on a ship or train is never boring ’cause a train or ship moves straightforward and hanging on a airport between security check and aircraft is entirely the opposite of moving

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Dave from The Longest Way Home November 25, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Just wanted to stop by and say well done on an excellent series. It’s certainly been an eye opener into Rail Travel in Australia as far as my own planning is concerned.

For my own trip to Australia I’m certainly edging towards rail over air. I think long term with extra cash and I’d go car etc.

But there’s a lot of hidden expenses with a car, especially if you are traveling alone, or even with two.

I’m looking forward to your next installment!

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Andi November 25, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Agree! Nothing like a train ride… Loved these posts!

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Paul November 26, 2010 at 12:18 am

Stumbled upon your site via, err, stumbleupon & see that you’ve just stumbled into my old home town. May I suggest popping into the Exeter Hotel on Rundle Street? It’s a good authentic pub, with good. authentic people.

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theprofessionalhobo November 26, 2010 at 4:05 am

@Buzz – Although I got off in Alice Springs for the whistle stop, as you know Uluru isn’t remotely close to Alice. And since time is of the essence on this trip, I had to choose the train trip (ie: the journey) over some of the destinations. However, I reckon I’ll be back…sometime…

@Joost – Indeed! Train travel is never boring….I’m testing that theory right now on an 8 day trip from Sydney to Perth – and back again! (Stay tuned – I’m almost halfway through, and not bored yet!)

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theprofessionalhobo November 26, 2010 at 4:09 am

@Dave – In an expansive place like Australia, having a car or campervan is a very popular option, especially for people on finite trips. But I found it to be incredibly expensive. Here are some tips to keep costs low:
http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/articles/planning-a-camper-van-trip-in-australia.shtml

And stay tuned for my 8 day mammoth journey across the country on the Indian Pacific!

@Paul – Unfortunately these posts are slightly delayed from where I am at the moment, which is on another train journey! But I’ll be sure to check out the Exeter next time I’m in town…thanks for the tip!

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Joost November 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Nora, some more information about The Ghan: before 1980 was a trip on a winding narrow-gauge track from The Alice to Marree. Between 1957 and 1980, for a Alice Springs – Adelaide trip, you had to change twice – due to different gauges. That’s the biggest handicap of Australian trains, each state started its rail building with their own gauge. The first change was at Marree from narrow gauge to standard gauge and the second change was at Port Pirie from standard gauge to broad gauge. From 1983 a through standard gauge Adelaide – Alice Springs train was possible via the western route along Tarcoola. The old route via Marree was vunurable to flooding, delays of several days were common before 1980 – especialy during the raining season. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the track was laid without thinking of heavy rain who spooled whole sections away.

Alice Springs wasn’t connected by rail until 1929, and in 1957 an extra break-of-gauge was created due to the rebuilding and regauging of the Stirling North – Marree stretch to Standard Gauge. The Adelaide – Port Pirie stretch was broad gauge until 1983.

Before 2004, there was no track between Darwin and Alice Springs. However, a 500 km narrow gauge stretch from Darwin to Birdum exsist from 1929 until 1976. The first stretch of this line was opened in 1883. Loss of iron ore traffic due to decreasing steal prices in the 70s caused the closure of the Darwin-Birdum line in 1976 and track lifting in 1977. The narrow gauge line couldn’t compete with the Stuart Highway. It was not until 2004 rail came back to Darwin, now as standard gauge.

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theprofessionalhobo November 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm

@Joost – WoW! Thanks for the information! You’re a wealth of history! How did you come to know so much about The Ghan?

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Terez November 27, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Nora, I just want to say I LOVE your blog! My goal is to do far more traveling, and your travels are serving as inspiration for me!

Also, your vivid, engrossing posts about your train trips remind of the train rides I used to take with my late Grandmother as a child.

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful adventures – and Godspeed!

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theprofessionalhobo November 28, 2010 at 8:48 am

@Terez – I too, have fond childhood memories of taking the train..which is probably why I’m so passionate about it now! And if you enjoyed this series, stay tuned….I’m in the middle of an even bigger train journey!

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Joost November 30, 2010 at 6:21 am

Nora, you’re welcome, The IP (Indian Pacific) is the other transcontinental train of Oz, Sydney-Adelaide-Perth and I can recommend the following leg of your trip. Both Adelaide and Perth are very laid back cities of Australia. I’ve read much, very much in books, atlases, Lonely Planet and the Internet. And I’m very interested in trains. Feel free to visit my own site http://www.xs4all.nl/~jbmajoor/ (unfortunality in Dutch only)

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theprofessionalhobo November 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm

@Joost – I’ve actually just finished riding the Indian Pacific (in fact, I’m typing this as we’re pulling back into Sydney): I rode it from Sydney to Perth, then right back again! Eight days in all…what an adventure!

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Anne Humphrey December 2, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Nora, I am so glad you enjoyed your trip on the Ghan, & like us not in the least bored! But reading of the time you traveled makes me glad it was the dry season when we did the trip! The weather was just like hot summer days here in NZ.

To do the Indian Pacific trip is our next goal ( yet to read your account) so I look forward to seeing you over the break at Heathers’ so I can hear your experiences in person.
Safe travelling!

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theprofessionalhobo December 3, 2010 at 2:56 am

@Anne – Yes, I heard you were lining up a trip on the Indian Pacific! It’s magnificent, and different from The Ghan as well. You’ll love it! I look forward to telling you about it in person! Not long now…

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Joost December 20, 2010 at 7:02 am

Nora, railways are my passion, along with the country Australia and collecting road maps and road atlases, so I know very much of Australia and Australian railways and I read a lot about it.

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theprofessionalhobo December 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm

@Joost – Well then, you and I share a passion for the railways. I look forward to riding some more epic trains around the world as time goes on. It’s kind of a “bucket list” of sorts for me, I guess! :-)

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