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Published: February 11th 2018
The Ghan 1
Drinkies in the terminal.
Today is the day that we built the whole itinerary of this trip around! Today we travel on our second iconic train journey of this adventure, the first, of course, being the Tranzalpine Express in New Zealand. But, today is a train journey on another level altogether.........today is the mighty Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs! This train experience actually travels all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, but we were 'onot' going about half way, about 1,000 miles, to Alice Springs, pretty much the centre of Australia. The train only leaves Adelaide twice a week, hence our need to fit the itinerary around it and it would be a journey for us that woud be taking around 26 hours and, what's more, although we were travelling almost due north, somehow we would also end up gaining another hour, leaving us nine and a half hours ahead of the UK.
More about the train itself later, but first we needed to get to the station. The main Adelaide train station was very close to our hotel, but The Ghan has a station all of it's own and that was a taxi ride away. We tried to get a large taxi
The Ghan 2
The name says it all!
for the four of us, but on a Sunday morning that was proving a problem, so we set off in two cabs for the 10 minute ride. On arrival, we were met by Ghan staff as our taxis pulled up, helped with trolleys for our luggage and then shown inside to check-in. Boarding passes obtained, we then waited in the lounge area with our 360 odd, other passengers. Complimentary sparkling wine or juice was provided while we waited to board, scheduled for 11.00 am and there was, of course, the obligatory gift shop to look around. They also provided live music, in the form of a young guy on guitar and very good he was too.
The Ghan is a massive train, with 42 carriages (including the engine and power units) and is almost a thousand metres long. It is so long, in fact, that the train is initially split into two sections, on two separate platforms. Passengers then board on either platform 1 or 2 and when everyone is safely on the train, the section with the engine pulls out of the station and then reverses to join up with the other section. Not quite your average commuter
The Ghan 3
The 'Outback Explorer Lounge' for general use.
We were travelling 'Gold Service', one down from the top drawer, 'Platinum Service', but still really fabulous. It's not quite the Orient Express, but it does gives the OE a good run for its money. Mandy and I were allocated cabin J6, with Tim and Sue in J5, but 'Rachel' our Hospitality Attendant, was able to find an alternative, empty cabin for Tim & Sue in H1, which was actually a disabled cabin with more room, which made life easier for Sue and her knee, especially with this cabin being next door to the passenger lounge/bar and restaurant allocated to our cabins.
The Gold Service cabins are excellent, with a seating area during the day, which converts to bunk beds at night and completely separate and unconnected beds at that, so you didn't bounce around when your partner turned over at night! They also had a cosy, but fully functioning en-suite, which was effectively a wet room when showering - a good tip, is to remove the toilet roll from its holder when showering otherwise it might get pretty soggy, if you don't pull the shower curtain round far enough ; we didn't have a problem, but
The Ghan 4
The restaurant car.
some did. All food and drink is included in the price and very good it is too..........and with plenty of it.
Every two or three carriages had their own general lounge area (kitted out with lots of books, games and jigsaw puzzles) and also a restaurant car, with each meal in a number of different sittings, which you could book to suit your taste. The whole look of the place could have very easily passed for the train used in the film 'Murder on the Orient Express' and at any point, you kind of expected to see a moustachioed Hercule Poirot, striding his way down the corridor!
We pulled out of Adelaide at 12.15 pm and were scheduled to arrive in Alice Springs at 1.30 pm the next day, so as I said, a journey of 26 hours including the time difference. Spending over a day on a train might sound like hell on earth for many people, but the time actually went amazingly quickly. The free availability of alcohol may have been a factor of course, coupled with regular food intervals to pass the time, but it really wasn't an issue, because the overall experience was just
The Ghan 5
How the bunks look made up, although this is not one of my photos.
Lunch was at 1.30 and the two courses each had three options to choose from, in addition to four or five different red or white wines - Australian, of course. The food was excellent, although the pumpkin and sourdough bread was a touch unusual, tasting pretty good, but having the texture of melba toast! After a very enjoyable lunch, we retired to our cabins for a couple of hours, either to catch up on a fews Z's, or in my case star in the latest Sid James and Kenneth Williams' epic, 'Carry on Blogging'! There is no wifi on the train, but I was, at least, able to type up the blog in Word, to upload when we returned to the Electronic Age!
I haven't mentioned the views so far and, to be honest, there isn't terribly much to say. The Outback and Bush have there own real beauty, but over 26 hours, can become a bit samey and in any event, taking pictures is always a challenge through train windows. Wildlife was also at a premium, although we did see a group of wild camels, apparently a rare sight on The Ghan, so much so that
The Ghan 6
A shot of the engine as we go round a curve. Our carriage would have been about a third of the way along the train!
even the staff were taking snaps. There were a couple of points where the train actually went round a curve as opposed to going arrow straight most of the time and we were usually warned in advance that these were coming up, to give us the opportunity to get an idea of the length of the train, being able to see both front and back.
We were also warned about the 'Northern Territory' State border sign and the 'Iron Man' monument structure (dedicated to and built by the workers who built the railroad) as they were approaching. But don't hold your breath..............both are pretty small and I failed miserably to get any photos, although Tim did manage to catch one of Iron Man. It sounds as though I am being very critical here, but it's really not the case. This journey is all about the train experience and any views are a complete bonus.
We had dinner at 8.15 and this was a three course extravaganza, again with plenty of choice of both food and wine. A lovely evening, followed by a few hands of cards in the lounge and then off to bed because we had a
The Ghan 7
Our first 'snifter' of the journey!
very early wake up planned for the morning, more of which we shall hear later. While we were at dinner, our beds had been sorted for us and very inviting they looked too. Being a bigger room, Tim and Sue's bunks were actually on the same level in an L shape, whereas Mandy and I were in proper bunks, with me on the top deck. I think we all slept pretty well really, (the beds were actually extremely comfortable) with any noise of the train on the tracks, offset by the volume of alcohol imbibed, coupled with the gentle rocking of the train!
Our early wake up was very early! 5.45 am in fact, with the train stopped at a place called Marla, normally about as busy a place as Policeman's Point a couple of episodes ago, but today, swarming with train passengers! We had stopped to enable us to disembark to watch the sunrise at about 6.30; a lot of weary passengers were checked off the train by the staff (and checked back on later to ensure we hadn't lost anyone to packs of rampaging dingos!!) and congregated around a bunch of picnic tables and an open fire
The Ghan 8
Sorry, I forgot to photograph the lunch menu, so here's the beverage menu instead!
lit by the staff. Presumably the fire was to keep any wild animals at bay and give light as the temperature, even at this early hour was 20 degrees. In fact, the staff had obviously been very busy while we were at our slumber, with lanterns laid out along the length of the train to ensure people could walk safely in the dark. They also had tea, coffee and juice available with 'bacon and egg sliders' for everyone - basically, bacon and egg rolls. There were also vegemite swiss-rolls, but we gave those a wide berth!!
After being well fed and watered once again, seen a lovely sunrise and taken the chance to snap a few pictures of the train (but, not the engine, which was simply too far away!), we were back on board and, in fact, back in bed for a couple of hours, before meeting Tim and Sue in the lounge and going in for brunch - I told you that this journey was all about food and drink! Brunch was served between 10 and 1 and we went in about 11 ish and the menu choice was very good once again, with a choice of
The Ghan 9
Sunset on the move.....
either a standard cooked breakfast or a very fancy chicken and rice lunch option. Tim & I went for the cooked brekkie, while Mandy & Sue, being quite a bit more refined than us, went for the chicken! Either choice also included a dessert and toast - another lovely meal!
After finishing lunch and retiring to the lounge, we thought we only had about 90 minutes to go. But no. It turned out that, as we crossed the state border into Northern Territory, we gained another hour, meaning there were still two and a half hours to the finish! But, it really didn't seem that long before we reached the outskirts of Alice Springs and then pulled in to the station itself. After thanking (and tipping) the staff, we disembarked and took a few more pictures, while we waited a few minutes for our luggage to arrive. The girls caught the free shuttle bus to our hotel, the Mercure Chiefley Resort, while Tim and I took a taxi out to the airport, about 15 km away, to pick up our hire car for the next 5 days, a Mitsubishi Pajero. This was a proper 4WD, which could well prove
The Ghan 10
important over the next few days, as we venture further into the outback.
Once checked into the hotel, it was mid afternoon and after a very early start this morning, it was time to relax by the pool for a few hours, but with the sun beds taken, it was deck chairs for the girls! There are a limited number of sights in Alice, principally the high point over the town, known as Anzac Hill and the Royal Flying Doctor Service museum, both of which we planned to do on our return to Alice in a few days time.
After a bit of R&R, we freshened up for dinner and decided on a restaurant called The Overlanders Steak House, a really lovely place, albeit a touch pricey, 5 minutes from our hotel. It really wasn't very busy, in fact the whole town was pretty quiet and our hostess seemed very pleased to welcome us, to join the 4 or 5 other groups of diners in the place. When we arrived and before we were shown to our table, she wanted to know my name, nationality, hotel we were staying at and room number - she only needed my
Sunrise at Marla 1
I suppose you might call this a bush fire!
inside leg measurement and she probably could have run me up a new suit!! However, there were a couple of reasons why she wanted this info. Firstly, in case we left anything behind, it could be returned to us and secondly, so she could place the Union Jack and Cross of St. George flags on our table, something they apparently do for overseas diners. In addition to ourselves, there was a group from Canada and one from Austria, with the others presumably Australian.
We had a very good meal, although we passed on the opportunity to spend $90 each on their blowout special - after the food we had eaten on the train, the last thing we needed was a 'blowout'! As we left the restaurant, our hostess took a few pictures for us, together with one on her camera for their Facebook page - gosh, they must be desperate!
Then it was back to the hotel to bed before our long drive tomorrow, deep into the Outback, to Uluru. An absolutely amazing and memorable journey on The Ghan and a method of travelling from Adelaide to Alice that I would highly recommend. As for Alice itself, I
Sunrise at Marla 2
'Part' of the train in the early morning light!
will give you the lowdown here in my next episode.
So, that's another leg of the trip over and, believe it or not, we are three quarters of the way through our adventure AND.......we have really done so little!!! Before I go, a couple of teasers for this episode:
* Can you name 5 other epic train journeys around the world?
* A Town Like Alice is a famous book written by which Australian author and who were the two lead actors in the 1956 film based on the book?
That's all folks! TTFN
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