Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Ghan Adventure - Australia's Great Train Journey

Excited!  A dream come true.
 I've always had this romantic idea of traveling one of the great rail journeys of the world and had talked about taking The Ghan for years but never quite got around to doing it. At last I got my act together and booked a trip for a few weeks ago which, unbeknown to me, was the Ghan's inaugural four day adventure trip from Darwin to Adelaide. Although this was the first "adventure" the iconic Ghan has rumbled through Outback Australia since 1929 - between Adelaide and Alice Springs and between Adelaide and Darwin since 2004. 

  I was literally bubbling with excitement when the shuttle bus arrived at my hotel to take me, along with a number of others, on the 15 minute trip to the railway station.  And there she was, The Ghan, all 700 plus metres of her, sparkling silver in the dazzling sun.  The train, which takes its name from Australia's early pioneering Afghani camel drivers, is so long that the shuttle bus drives along beside it dropping passengers off at their respective carriages where they are each greeted by their personal carriage attendant.

Once aboard a very warm welcome and tea and biscuits awaited in my cabin plus information on the various off train tours available.  The beauty of this adventure trip is that all food, drink and off train tours are included in the fare meaning that in  the four days I was aboard I never spent another dollar.  The cabins are immaculate, compact and very well designed so that there is a place for everything including a tiny, but thoroughly workable, en suite bathroom.  I sat in my room, happily sipping my tea and reading the tour information until, once all were aboard, we moved off.  Then it was time to explore the lounge, a wonderful place to meet fellow passengers.  With a glass of bubbly in hand I sat and chatted to all sorts of friendly, interesting people.  They were mainly Australian but there were a fair few New Zealanders, some Americans, Canadians and a couple of young tourists from France and Germany.  Everyone was happy and excited and looking forward to their Out Back adventure.  The barman was pretty busy I can tell you!

Meal times were allocated in shifts and Robyn, the restaurant manager, was a
magician, skilfully organising tables of four for every sitting.  One of the things I most enjoyed was dining with different people at every meal. It was an opportunity to have great conversations over a meal and a glass of wine, something I often miss as a solo traveler.   The food, prepared by on board chefs, was superb and the service friendly and efficient. I dined on all sorts of wonderful Australian food over the four days including crocodile, kangaroo, barramundi, and a desert of roulade with wattle seeds. After dinner most guests retired to the lounge carriage for more drinks or coffee and lively conversation. The passing scenery is not exciting, the outback is vast and flat dotted with scrubby bushes but the sunrises are spectacular.  We saw a few ant hills at the start of the trip and then just very similar scenery for hour after hour but I don't think the passing scenery is the point of this trip.  It is the on board life, the food and the tours arranged at each destination which make it marvelous.  Because this was the inaugural four day adventure trip a camera crew from an Australian television station traveled with us for the whole trip as did a still photographer.  Many people were interviewed but I managed to avoid it, thankfully.

My lounge seat converted to a bunk
Back at my cabin at the end of each evening I found there had been a transformation.  My day time lounge seat had been converted into a very comfortable single bunk, complete with chocolate on the pillow.  So it was off to sleep to the gentle rocking and clacking wheels of the Ghan.  Sweet dreams indeed.
The Ghan stretches into the distance