The Ghan Train: Adelaide to Alice Springs

January 14, 2012

As if one 24hour train journey wasn’t enough; a few days in Adelaide and we decide to get on another train and head up to Alice Springs and back within four days. So that is about 76 hours on a train journey in the space of a week.

The Ghan runs once a week in low season and twice a week in peak between Adelaide and Darwin, a two day journey if you go the whole distance. We chose to do the bottom half twice, which is just as well as the train wasn’t going to make it all the way to Darwin due to flooding, so was terminating in Katherine and travellers got bussed the rest of the way.

In my previous ‘trainspotting’ post I gave you all the details about the facilities on Great Southern Rail’s services. Guess what? They are exactly the same on this one, in fact half the crew were the same team that looked after us on the Indian Pacific. As you would expect the customer service was equally good. The only difference on the outward journey is that they make a little more of a little performance just before you set off with an introduction to the crew on the platform and then a blow of the train managers whistle and a cry of “all aboard the Ghan” (or Gaaan as the Aussies pronounce it). Nice little touch I thought.

In terms of the scenery on the journey, I have to say that the Indian Pacific offered more of a change and was more interesting. In ‘Train TV’ terms, the Indian Pacific is the action movie channel and the Ghan more like National Geographic. This favouritism may also be due to the Indian Pacific being our first long cross country trip in Australia who knows, do them both and you can make your own mind up.

Photography through a window

One thing you do get on the Ghan are some wonderful sunsets, sunrises and in our case on the journey up a pleasant moon rise. This is due to the fact that on the whole you are travelling North-South, apart from a few weaves along the way, so the sun is directly to your left or right.

Photography on these journeys is a tricky business. You are shooting from moving train at high speeds, through a double glazed window, have the internal reflections of the carriage to deal with, and for sunrises and sunsets the addition of failing light. It took me about 200 shots just to grab the few you see here.

Thankfully your own eyes do not have the same technical limitations, so you can enjoy the views as nature created them, when you finally put your camera down.

The Journey Highlights

If there are any highlights these are they, but on the whole just marvel at the vastness and the inhospitality of the landscape as it trundles on by you for a whole day.

• The train manager will announce your change in time zones as you move between the Northern Territory and South Australia

• You get to see the Iron Man – an underwhelming bit of bent train track in the shape of a man holding aloft the 1,000,000th sleeper to be laid along the track, (I managed to snap this – just)

• The salt flats at Port Augusta

• The Finke River Crossing – yet another dry river bed, I have picture – be prepared to be underhwlemed for a second time

On the way back to Adelaide I decided to sample the delights of the Gum Tree Lounge and handed over my $10. To my surprise it does offer a welcome change of scenery and most importantly for me a plug socket. We were heading straight to New Zealand after our train journey so it meant another 14hours on the road. Even my gadget backup planning would not have allowed my toys to be alive for that long without a top up.

The lounge also encourages more interaction than the seated carriages, and I listened in to a few jolly traveller tales. I was too busy to join in much catching up writing and trying to ‘photoshop’ pictures I could put on the blog from the rainy Uluru trip and the speeding train blurs.

Smokers note – while the Ghan stops at various places on the journey between Adelaide and Alice Springs, you are not permitted to leave the train so that is a whole 24hrs without a smoke. Our nicotine mints got us through this with only a few minor temper tantrums each.

Our Alice Spring Home

We arrived in Alice Spring and made our way to the fabulous Alice Motor Inn. The fixtures, fittings and decor may be stuck in the past, but the hospitality isn’t. The owners greet you with warm smiles and lots of information and generally make you feel at home. It is spotlessly clean with a great little pool and everything works and the facilities range from free wireless to a fully functioning kitchen with every utensil you could dream of.

Ghan Train Journey Trivia

  • If you do the whole trip from Adelaide to Darwin you will be on the train two nights and three days, 54 hours (with a few decent stops along the way between Darwin and Alice Springs)
  • Same average speeds as the Indian Pacific 85Kmph
  • The symbol of the Ghan is the camel and its handler who used to make the epic journey before the train tracks got laid and did them out of business.
  • The line was started in 1877 and took 50 years to reach Alice, it only found its way to Darwin in 2004 when the final northern section of line was built.

APC rail ticket for Australia

We did all this on an APC rail pass which you can purchase outside of the country and book in advance of your arrival. I would strongly advise doing this as the train gets booked up very early on.

There is no problem with cancelling train bookings as we did, as long as you do so at least 24 hours before traveling.  Please note that you now have to pay a fuel tax in Australia when traveling by train, this part of the booking is none refundable if you cancel that particular leg of the journey.  This ticket is extremely good value at aroud £250 to get you between Perth, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne,  Alice Springs and Darwin and is valid for three months.

Travel Tips – Adelaide Taxi

There is a shuttle service from the Parklands Train Station which will take you to town or the airport. Note: at this time it’s AUS$10 per person a taxis is about $12   to the airport and about $10-15 to town depending on where your going, so if there is more than one of you a taxis is definitely cheaper – checkout on the day the taxis rank is right next to the bus.  They all use the meter without question.

Filed in: Australia
Tagged with:

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anne & David says:

    Re: Australia

    We very much enjoyed your ‘reviews’ of your trip on the Indian Pacific, Adelaide and the Ghan.

    We have planned a trip very similar to yours and will also be staying at the Adabco hotel in Adelaide and the Alice Motor Inn (this was done before reading your blogs). After Alice, we will be going to Darwin – using the ‘red-class’ seats on each train journey.

    While in both Alice and Darwin, we will be going on a 3-day (2-night) camping safari to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Kakadu Nat’l Park near Darwin.

    We hope that we will enjoy our train experiences as much as you did.

Back to Top