The Ghan Train

March 10-21, 2023

In March 2023 my mother and I took the Ghan train from Adelaide to Darwin.

This was a ‘bucket list’ destination for my mother; she (and I) had never seen Uluru. The Ghan tour lasted 12 days. My mother and I took lots of photos, many more that could be fitted into the webpage, so this only the highlights of the tour.

My mother and I flew from Sydney (bottom right) to Adelaide (bottom centre-right), on the bottom of Australia, about a 2 hour flight. After two days, we boarded the Ghan train, which after 11 days took us to Darwin (extreme top left) on the top of Australia. We went via Alice Springs (centre left), Uluru (old name Ayer’s Rock but nobody in Australia calls it that anymore, not shown), and Nitmiluk Gorge near Katherine (3 hours south of Darwin, not shown). We stayed 2 nights in Darwin, then my mother flew back to Sydney, while I flew the other direction to Bali, Indonesia.

I found a YouTube clip that follows the trip. It’s about one and a half hours long, and goes into detail about the mechanics of the Ghan trip. I recommend it.

My mother. She is 80 years old, but doesn’t look it. I took this on the flight from Sydney to Adelaide.

We spent two days in Adelaide, riding the trams to Glenelg and back. The photo above is taken at Glenelg at the jetty there, a short walk from the tram line terminus.

The hotel in which we stayed was only a block from the main Adelaide train station, but the the Ghan departs from the Adelaide Parklands train station (above), too far to walk – we took a taxi.

The Ghan train was already at the station. Above is my mother and I posing in front of the Ghan, taken by train staff.

The compartment on the train. We reserved the higher Platinum class. There was a Gold class below us, which had bunks, but my mother and I were unsure of whether we could actually get in them.

Once we left Adelaide on the train, the country quickly dried out; I think this was cattle country, with big skies.

The scenery became drier and drier, until (above) we ambled past mulga shrub, spinifex grass, and naked red earth, with temperatures I estimated to be in the high 30’s centigrade. We were in the Outback.

The Ghan train attendants gave us an amazingly delicious meal in the dining car; overeating were to be a feature of our tour. When we returned the beds were ready. I really appreciated being in Platinum class, as the stroke moderately handicapped me – but not so moderately that I didn’t get a full night’s sleep.

We stopped before dawn in Marla; double train tracks, a sign, a big shed, and that was it.

The train attendants had built two bonfires, although the temperature was 22 degrees. We ate nibbles (above) as the sun came up.

The Ghan train crossed from South Australia to the Northern Territory; the drivers slowed down so we could get a picture (above).

The Northern Territory is the odd one out among States. It’s not a State at all, although I think in practice it doesn’t make much difference; I believe the Territory wants to become a State in future.

The Ghan train stopped at Alice Springs (above) where we got off. Alice Springs is approximately the same latitude (distance from the equator) as Taipei – but ‘the Alice’ is very different.

Alice Springs from atop ANZAC Hill. The MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja) is in the background. Out of this photo to the left is Heavitree Gap, forming the southern access to Alice Springs; the Todd River, the rail line and the road all use this narrow gap. The Alice is in the middle of a desert, albeit with trees and wildlife – I was told the rainfall in the Alice is just 150mm a year.

Foreign travel advisories are warning tourists against visiting Alice Springs, but this is only one part of the story. It is similar to warnings about Aborigines in Redfern, Sydney. I used to live in Redfern, and the warnings were true – but the area is also home to prestigious Sydney University where I studied, convenient access to the city, and a vibrant night-life.

I was going to link to some information on the Aborigines, but after a few days in the area I realised that I was hopelessly ignorant.

We joined the tour group and headed west for King’s Canyon and Uluru. The tour director, Karin, was thoroughly capable, but adept at impromptu organisation; when Ormiston Gorge was unexpectedly closed, we were driven to a lookout overlooking the Finke River (Larapinta) and given lunch. The view from the lookout (above) was absolutely stupendous.

However there is another side to the Outback. I photographed this sign in Standley Chasm on the Larapinta Trail (after the river). The sign says carry an emergency personal locator beacon, walk with at least two others, and be prepared for the heat.

We drove to King’s Canyon (above). The photograph is true to life, it was that stunning. The dry heat was already ferocious.

Pip (Phillipa) at the start of the walk to King’s Canyon. She is wearing a head net; afterwards we both bought one, a very useful accessory.

My mother on the walk. The temperature was approaching 40 degrees. She suffered.

Uluru, the “heart of the ‘Red Centre’”. Most tourists assume Uluru is near Alice Springs, but there are 460 kilometers between them. We stayed in Yulara, which is the closest place; it even had an airport.

Another view of Uluru, with some of our tour group taking pictures. I didn’t get off the bus since it was too hot.

We drove around the base of Uluru, photographing frantically.

I photographed the above notice in the hotel at Yulara. The maximum temperature sign was obscured, but it read 43 degrees. Note also the closures of the tracks. This was relentless, punishing heat, so much that I took a rest day. The extreme temperatures last five months every year. It would be very hard to live in a climate like this.

On the way back to Alice Springs we saw emus (above). As with kangaroos, the other animal on our coat of arms, emus are delicious! I’m not kidding.

After a night on the Ghan train we awoke to forests and ponds beside the railway line (above). I could feel the humitidy. This was immediately before reaching Katherine, pronounced by the locals “Kath-rhine”.

At Katherine we de-boarded, were bussed to Nitmiluk (old name Katherine Gorge) and boarded ferries to tour the gorge. My mother took several of the photographs below.

The ferries were like the above picture.

The gorge lived up to its reputation – it was stunning.

We were hot and sweaty on the tour, but I checked my mobile phone and it was ‘only’ 31 degrees. The humidity makes a huge difference.

We re-boarded our Ghan train, and half-a-dozen hours later we were in Darwin, where the tour ended.

Darwin harbour from our room in the hotel. We have travelled from ocean to ocean.

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