The Ghan

Trip Start Sep 08, 2011
Trip End Jan 08, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Monday, October 17, 2011

The iconic railways of Australia are The Indian Pacific (Sydney – Perth), The Overland (Melbourne – Adelaide), The Southern Spirit (Adelaide – Brisbane) and The Ghan (Adelaide – Darwin). The latter was to be my latest mode of transport. I'd already arrived in Melbourne by plane; travelled to Adelaide by coach; now it was time to let the train take the strain.

To be clear, although this trip is iconic and something that a lot of Australians promise themselves to do at some point, it certainly is no picnic. Not unlike my flight from London to Oz, which was broken up with a week in Bangkok, this trip to Darwin will have a week’s break in Alice Springs. Even though Alice Springs is the approximate halfway point (and home to Uluru) between Adelaide and Darwin, it still takes 26 hours to get there from Adelaide! 11 hours on a plane to Bangkok, 10,5 hours on a bus to Adelaide. Ha! I laugh in the face of such short journeys! They pale into insignificance when compared with the Mighty Ghan.  Remember that Alice Springs is roughly the midway point? So, guess what? It’ll take as long again to reach Darwin after leaving Alice Springs. Never more shall I complain about lengths of journeys, whether it be in time or distance.

 I’m not a train buff, but I’d said it before when preparing my trip and I’ll say it again, "The Ghan is an impressive train." The exterior is similar to that of a train from an earlier era, similar to Silver Streak, whereas the interior is a little more modern. There are several ways to travel the Ghan, if you’ve got money, you can get your own compartment with a bed, your own shower, toilet etc. If not there’s the day/night seat, which is literally a seat for 26 hours. Can you guess which one I went for? Here’s a tiny clue, I’m a teacher!

Fortunately for me, the seats are among the largest I’ve sat in. No worries about comfort at all. In fact these seats are bigger than the ones in business class on Jetstar. Another small, but useful, detail is that all the seats in the carriage face forward  (like in an aeroplane), so there’s no fighting about not being able to see anything. In fact the whole experience seems geared towards comfort, even though I’m in the cheap seats. It would seem that another advantage of the budget end of the trip is that they take into account that the only people willing to put up with 26 hours to Alice (or three days if you're travelling straight through to Darwin) are the ones who don’t have more than a couple of bucks (*see how Australian I’m becoming? J*) to rub together, so food and refreshments are priced accordingly. It’s not cheap, but it could be a whole lot worse.

In case you hadn’t guessed already from my haphazard tenses (that’s the teacher in me), I’m writing this on the train. We’ve been travelling for eight and a half hours, which means there’s only seventeen and a half hours to go. “So, Fatboy,” I hear you ask, “how do you fill up that time?” Well, I’m glad you asked me that question, because I found out something about myself that I didn’t know. I can travel without having to listen to my iPod at all times. As you all pick yourselves up off the floor, be aware that I haven’t totally turned away from my iPod, I’m just a little more selective about when to use it. For example, even though I spent 2 or more hours just looking out of the window at the countryside (you have to believe that it’s impressive for it to keep me entertained for so long), once I tired of that, I found that my experience was enhanced by listening to Gangstagrass for another hour or two. Gangstagrass is an excellent soundtrack for this part of the journey as they play a mixture of bluegrass and hip hop which meshes well with the Australian bush/outback.

What’s so great about the bush/outback? Well, let’s start with I’m not sure with one ends and the other begins. Leave the city (and yes, despite evidence to the contrary, Adelaide is a city) and you are immediately in the bush.  About 4 hours into our journey, the ground turned red. This was unexpected. I thought this would happen in the Northern Territory (we’re still in South Australia), or maybe I’m just seeing things. What I expected to see was, at some point, red desert and nothing else – what I’m actually seeing (this part is not entirely true, as it’s now night and I can’t see anything outside) is lots of green vegetation, the occasional sheep and lots of red soil. Like I said; unexpected. So, I’m not sure if this is the bush or the outback, although one passenger has confirmed to me that we are, in fact, now in the outback.  He’s an Ocker from Darwin, so I’ll take him at his word.

9 hours into my journey and I feel it’s time that I turned in. The first stage of this mammoth train trip has gone well. Now, it’s time for stage two – sleep.
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Paul BB on

The redness of the soil is caused by ferrous (iron) oxide which is better known as "rust". After the turn of the (20th) century, considerable money was saved on the overland telegraph installation as no return wire was needed as the ground was so electrically conductive, messages could be transmitted using the soil as a common conductor.
Now there's a bit of trivia for you.

georgegoode on

Now, aren't you a mine of information, eh Paul?

Paul BB on

Just adding interest for you G!

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