Sofia Levin, Guest Writer & Photographer
Sofia Levin, culinary travel journalist and founder of Seasoned Traveller, shares her experience on The Ghan, one of the world’s greatest rail adventures.
Most Australian travellers have heard of The Ghan, but what’s it actually like to travel by train through our Great Southern Land?
Named after the Afghan cameleers who first traversed Australia in the 1850s, The Ghan is hailed as one of the greatest train travel experiences in the world. On average the carriages stretch to just under a kilometre long and travel nearly 3000 kilometres between Darwin and Adelaide (or the reverse).
On board, effortlessly welcoming staff know your name and drink preference within hours, while every meal surprises and delights. Off The Ghan, the pioneer spirit mixes with Indigenous Dreaming stories during excursions that allow you to not just see Australia, but experience it.
There is truly nothing else quite like The Ghan, so it’s unsurprising that it features on so many bucket lists. Unless you’ve been on it before, it’s difficult to imagine exactly what the journey looks like. Here are six insights that lift the veil of the rail.
1. Sleeping on a train is pure bliss
Going to bed on The Ghan is the adult equivalent of being rocked to sleep. During dinner, turndown service transforms the seats into beds, complete with a little chocolate on your pillow.
The rhythmic sound of wheels on tracks is a built-in white noise, and if you’re feeling dreamy, you can sleep with the blinds open and search for shooting stars. The only thing better than going to sleep on The Ghan is waking up on it: the rising sun paints the landscape pastel as it morphs each morning from arid red soils to fertile hills and vibrant yellow canola fields.
2. You can eat and drink as much as you like
There’s no need to open a bar tab on The Ghan, with every sip, slurp and snack included in the journey. There’s a minimum of three courses served every mealtime, and you get to choose between as many entrees, mains and desserts.
Each menu is decorated with a watercolour of a native Australian ingredient that you’ll spot in a dish, whether karkalla beach succulent served with grilled crocodile tail fillet or a Spencer Gulf prawn as part of a South Australian seafood tasting plate. Better yet, if you can’t decide between two dishes, staff don’t bat an eyelid if you opt for both.
3. Not all meals are on the train
In fact dinner at the historic Alice Springs Telegraph Station could be Australia’s most underrated dining experiences (think Sounds of Silence in Uluru, but more intimate). Musicians welcome The Ghan guests, who make their way past staff with trays of bubbles and wine, and wheelbarrows of beer and soft drink. White linen-laid tables are set among the heritage stone houses, beneath soaring gumtrees.
A complementary poncho is hung over the back of each chair for when the temperature drops with the sun. As well as dinner, there’s live music, camel rides, blacksmith demonstrations, marshmallow roasting stations and guided stargazing. And let’s not forget the opportunity to have a boogie in the dust.
4. Each day brings a new adventure
The Ghan’s daily experiences take you off the train and into the depths of Australia and its diverse landscapes. Each day there are three to choose from, plus optional add-ons, including a helicopter flight through the Top End and a scenic flight above Uluru. You’ll cruise down the Katherine River exploring Nitmiluk Gorge and its breathtaking, ancient rock formations, and learn about the deep, spiritual connection to the land of the Jawoyn people.
In Alice Springs, you might hear Dreaming stories as you walk through Simpsons Gap, get up close to native wildlife at Alice Springs Desert Park, or head off road on a heart-pumping mountain bike adventure along the Todd River.
5. Coober Pedy could be Australia’s weirdest, most wonderful town
One of The Ghan’s most unique Off Train Experiences is to Coober Pedy in South Australia. The town produces up to 90 per cent of the world’s opals, but less than 20 per cent of it has been mined. The Ghan pulls into Manguri, where guests are transferred through a barren landscape punctuated with mounds of dirt, where mining hopefuls have drilled in search of the precious stones.
A 15-year-old boy was responsible for discovering the first opals during a camping trip with his dad in 1915. Since 1986, mining has been banned from the township, where more than half of the locals live in “dug outs”, homes built into the ground to avoid the heat. On The Ghan Off Train Experiences, you might drink champagne overlooking the Breakaways, (ancient, flat-topped mesas once surrounded by inland sea); visit a subterranean Serbian Orthodox Church and opal museum; dine in an old opal mine; and even try your hand at noodling (fossicking for opals among discarded pieces of rock).
6. The Ghan is suitable for all ages
Whether you’re an adventure seeker or prefer organised tours, The Ghan has something for everyone. Honeymooners sip champagne in the Outback Explorer Lounge.
Staff double as babysitters while new parents dine together, uninterrupted. Sisters bond in shared rooms. Grey nomads relax and let someone else steer. But the one thing all travellers have in common is the ability to finally tick The Ghan off their travel bucket list.
All images taken by Sofia Levin who experienced The Ghan Expedition 4 day/3 night adventure courtesy of Luxury Escapes.
Looking for more bucket-list adventures: 7 Reasons Why Sails in the Desert Should be on Your Bucket List