The Ghan – Epic and Iconic
Written by: Jovanka Ristich
Date: 15th February 2016
There are arguably two words which best sum up The Ghan – epic and iconic.
The Ghan not only provides Australia with one of its two trans-continental rail experiences, but every single one of the Ghan’s 2,979 kilometres conjures up echoes of Australia’s fabled spirit and hard edged history. There are tales to be heard of pioneering settlers and determined explorers. There are Aboriginal Dreamtime stories which has been passed down across the generations for thousands of years.
The Ghan’s name itself and its emblem have their own story. They both pay homage to Australia’s indomitable pioneering spirit and proudly honour the contribution made by the early Afghan cameleers in making the inhospitable Outback accessible to the rest of Australia.
When the Ghan first departed Adelaide in 1929, it travelled just to Alice Springs following the route of explorer John MacDouall Stuart, and it would take another 75 years before the Alice Springs to Darwin section was completed in 2004. Only then did this three-day rail crossing qualify for its ‘epic’ label.
This is the coast to coast journey that puts Australia’s most spectacular and diverse landscapes in the spotlight – there are golden sandy beaches that fringe alfresco Adelaide on the Southern Ocean; the verdant vineyards of the Clare Valley; the rusty reds of the MacDonnell Ranges that surround a town called Alice; the lush tropical escarpments of Katherine’s Nitmiluk Gorge; and Bohemian Darwin as it gazes sleepily out on the Timor Sea.
But there is more. Last year saw the introduction of the four-day Ghan Expedition which due to its sell out inaugural season returns this year with a series of 13 special departures – 3rd August to 26th October.
This extra day on the Darwin to Adelaide leg sees the inclusion of another pioneering Australian icon, namely the underground opal mining town of Coober Pedy where most of the residents live underground when they’re not producing 75% of the world’s opals. There’s even an underground church and hotel.
Train lover Stanley Johnson, the politician, author and father of Boris, was one of the first people to travel on the inaugural Ghan Expedition. He summed up his experience by saying it was ‘one of the most enthralling trips I have undertaken in my life’. Whilst of Coober Pedy he said ‘I have been to some amazing places in my life, but Coober Pedy takes the biscuit’.
The Ghan Expedition also offers extended touring options in Alice Springs, river cruising or canoeing at Katherine’s Nitmiluk Gorge with the option of a scenic flight, tour and lunch at Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Ayers Rock and the Olgas).