"" Writer's Wanderings: Australia's Ghan Railway

Friday, March 26, 2010

Australia's Ghan Railway

Early in the morning we caught breakfast at McDonald’s or Mackie as the Aussie’s say. Then we explored the historic walkway that the rental car clerk said we would have to take to the train station where we would catch the Ghan Train to Adelaide. We decided it was too rough and too hot a walk to drag suitcases and backpacks later. But we did get to the station to learn that the train would be arriving in about 45 minutes. That was enough time to hustle back to the hotel, grab cameras and be there to see the train come in.

The Ghan Railway is very historic. The first Ghan train started out on August 4, 1929, as a connection between Adelaide and Alice Springs which was then called Stuart. The track was moved and modernized in the 1980s with termite proof concrete sleepers. In 2004 the rails were extended all the way north to Darwin. It’s a two-day train ride from Darwin to Adelaide. Our stretch was only one day which it turns out was enough.

We boarded the train about 20 minutes before it was due to leave and found our cabin with berths #11 and 12. The cabin was very small with about enough room to almost stretch your legs out completely from the seat to the wall. There were two very shallow closets that could hold a pair of pants and a shirt. We were only allowed a very small piece of carry-on luggage each which for us were our backpacks.

The bathroom was like a small square closet. The whole of it was a shower with a curtain that pulled all around the interior to keep towels and the small toiletries shelf dry. It worked well. The sink was above the toilet and both folded into the wall like a Murphey bed. They were stainless steel and I found them a little freaky to use on a moving train.

The train was quite long (34 cars) and had several levels of accommodation. Platinum was top with larger accommodations, then Gold which was ours, and from there it went to Red with a sleeping berth and Red with just a seat on the train. Meals were served in two shifts in our dining car section. Lunch was our first and it was very good. I had a quiche with a small salad. The other choice was chicken.

We watched the countryside roll by and change constantly from heavy vegetation to almost nothing but dirt and sand. The train did a lot more bumping and swaying than other trains we’ve been on and I wondered how I would sleep (on the top berth) with all the motion. After a dinner of kangaroo, which was delicious and tasted like a mild beef, I found out I would not sleep much at all.

The best way to describe our night aboard the Ghan is to say you would get the same effect sleeping in the bed of a pickup truck as it moved along country roads. The section of track we were on between Alice Springs and Adelaide was quite old and considering the range of temperatures it endures, was probably warped a bit.

Along the way, there were several taped commentaries on the places of interest that we passed through. And a morning tea with fresh fruits and pastries was almost like being on a cruise—well, maybe not.

We arrived in Adelaide about 1:30 in the afternoon and retrieved our luggage to head off to our next adventure on Kangaroo Island. Looking back at the train and its emblem with someone riding on a camel, a representation of how people traveled and goods were delivered in earlier times, I guess I counted myself lucky to have had a bed rather than a bumpy ornery camel to ride to Adelaide.

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