The Ghan - A Classic Rail Journey through the Australian Red Centre.

The Ghan -  A Classic Rail Journey through the Australian Red Centre.

This iconic Australian passenger train 'The Ghan' took over one hundred years of planning, $1.3 billion in resources, and its path now stretches from Adelaide through Alice Springs and onto Darwin. It travels North to South through the center of Australia covering 2,979 kilometres (1846 miles) in 3 days Its been one hell of a journey, the project began construction in 1878 and was completed 126 years later,  `The Ghan' now crosses the continent twice a week offering accommodation options rivaling the best in the world.

The History of the Ghan: Construction started in 1878 and followed the same path as the Australian overland telegraph line, which was originally mapped by explorer John MacDouall Stuart. Starting at Port Augusta (northwest of Adelaide) the tracks eventually made it to Alice Springs in 1929. In 1980 a mammoth task was launched to install new standard-gauge track replacing the original. It wasn't until  2001 that work began on connecting Alice Springs to Darwin with the first passenger train making its way all the way through in 2004. The name Ghan is an abbreviated version of its previous nickname “The Afghan Express”. The train's name honours the Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia in the late 19th century, they lead the camel train expeditions that helped in finding a way to reach the country's unexplored interior. The original journey was very unreliable, the sleepers were ravaged by termites, the tracks were savaged by fire and flood. Flash flooding happened when normally parched river beds spilled across the low lying desert plains and frequently washed away the tracks. The Old Ghan (Steam train) was once stranded for two weeks and the engine driver shot wild goats to feed his passengers. Up until the tracks finally reached Alice Spring in 1929, camel trains were used to bridge the gap -  a slow and arduous journey.

The Scenery Today the Ghan's schedule makes the most of the daylight hours, offering unsurpassed views of the ever-changing Australian landscape. The sweeping Adelaide Plains unfold to the majestic Flinders Ranges, then its all red earth and cobalt blue skies - the essence of central Australia that dominates. Finally as you enter the "Top End", the landscape mellows with subtropical flora staking its claim over the passing scenery.

Exploring Outback Towns The opportunity to explore the outback towns of Alice Springs and Katherine are available with a series of "whistle stop tour" bookable on board. Visit sacred Aboriginal sites around Alice  or take a scenic flight over Simpsons Gap. Cruise down the Katherine Gorge or canoe down Katherine River. May other options are available for consideration.

Travel In Comfort The Ghan offer’s accommodation options that rival the best world-class trains – with several travel options for passengers to select.

Timetable The Ghan runs from Darwin to Alice Springs to Adelaide, and vice-versa, over three days. It runs twice a week in each direction from June to August, and once a week for the remainder of the year.

The Three Day Itinerary

Day 1 – Adelaide – Alice Springs

Board Adelaide midday and settle into your cabin or seat and watch Adelaide’s gracious edges flatten into wine country, desert and scrubs. Pass through coastal Coonamia and Port Augusta. Cross over Dog Fence, the world’s longest fence and speed through Cadney Homestead at the gateway to the Painted Desert. Look out at the small, rustic railway towns and vast tracts of Aboriginal land, where communities have maintained their connection with the land for thousands of years. In the morning, you’ll cross the Northern Territory border and travel through the small bush town of Kulgera and over the sandy Finke River. Take in the multicoloured vistas with morning tea before arriving in Alice Springs.

Day 2 – Alice Springs – Katherine

Arrive Alice Springs midday. Explore Alice Springs on one of the many whistle stop tours. Learn about the area’s outback pioneers or immerse yourself in its Aboriginal history with a Central Arrernte guide. Visit a working camel farm or see the region’s birds and wildlife at Alice Springs Desert Park. Fly over Simpson’s Gap and the Larapinta Trail on a helicopter or go quad biking across the desert. To see the sights at your own pace, take the 70-minute shuttle bus with an experienced guide and hop off as you wish at the major attractions. Reboard in the late afternoon and watch the train pull out of Alice before the sunset flames on the horizon. In the morning you’ll race through the gold-mining town of Tennant Creek and into the historic pioneering township of Katherine.

Day 3 – Katherine to Darwin

Arrive Katherine morning. Hop off in Katherine just after breakfast and head off on one of the many half-day tours. You can cruise down Katherine Gorge past magnificent sandstone cliffs or fly over its interconnecting gorges on a helicopter. Get up close to the birds and animals of Nitmiluk National Park on a nature cruise or canoe down the Katherine River. If you just want to explore the town, take the shuttle bus and hop off at attractions such as the Railway Museum, historic Springvale Homestead and the local Aboriginal art gallery. Depart Katherine early afternoon. Pass through the old gold mining town of Pine Creek and Adelaide River, once a World War II military headquarters when the Japanese were bombing Darwin.

Arrive Darwin late afternoon

The dusty plains make way for tropical foliage as you roll into the capital of Darwin. Your Ghan journey ends here, but you can continue your adventure in Darwin’s parks, harbour, historical attractions and outdoor festivals and markets. This is also your gateway to the waterfalls and rock pools of Litchfield National Park and the colourful communities of the Tiwi Islands.

 If you require further information or would like to book the Ghan.



Brent Narbey
Brent Narbey
: 27 Nov 2009 (Last updated: 13 Sep 2019)

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