Updated: 29th July 2015
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When we think of travel in the bygone days it’s hard not to conjure up thoughts of romance, luxurious long journeys and donning your Sunday best as you enjoyed the privileged experience of seeing something new. Travel was not just about getting there, but the magical journey which transported you to your chosen destination.
With the decommission of Concorde, the loss of many luxury providers and air travel becoming a bargain busting affair of getting from simply A to B, it is harder than ever to imagine what these days were like. Of-course, first class flights and luxury cruises still exist but what about those history making journeys dreams were made off. Those which took us over land. The train.
The Ghan however remains one of these. But is it Australia’s answer to the Orient Express?
Crossing the country from the top to bottom, this journey from Darwin to Adelaide with a handful of stops in between is not one to be sniffed at. Taking 54 hours to complete the full route you can easily start to grasp the size of the country. It’s name honours the Afghan Camel Drivers who arrived in the 19th Century.
But what is this dated age of travel really like and can it actually cross over to the younger, more modern generation. With a flight from Alice Springs to Adelaide taking around two hours and being far more affordable than the 23 hour train journey it’s a question you have to ponder. This part of the journey takes you from central Australia in the Northern Territory to Adelaide in South Australia.
At $469 AUD just merely for a seat for less than half the journey (as a solo traveller you can forget a cabin, unless you of course have money to burn) how would this compare?
Rail Passes are however available from $495 for two months, for those who love long train journeys this a winner I guess.
The experience in economy
As a digital nomad how would I survive with no Wifi, no space to roam bar two carriages and just a few plug sockets to go around my fellow travelling crew. Oh yeah, and I suffer from claustrophobia. The Ghan Review, was it going to be pretty?
I suppose the obvious thing to state at this point is there is little glamour. You’re on a train. With a cafe attached and a couple of showers. Unless you are coughing up the big bucks for a cabin and the full-blown experience remove any notions of romance or passion from the image. There is none. The cafe sells sausage rolls. There are backpackers. I’m writing this in a singlet, my dinner shirt still rolled neatly in my bag….
Checkin is a simple affair. Bags in the hold, on board and you’re gone. There is a lot to be said for skipping any airport difficulties (although in Australia, so far, I have suffered none)
The journey itself is impressive enough for a while. I meet people who have been travelling for days who tell me perhaps once you have seen one day of the outback, you really don’t need to see it again but for me the time goes fairly quickly. The view is repetitive but to a European still unique enough for me to enjoy for a while. Wildlife is dotted sporadically along the route and I was lucky enough to see the desert after a heavy down pour. A truly unique view.
In the ‘Red’ carriage (the seater only service) there is no frills but there is plenty of good company. The cafe doubles as a lounge where people of all ages and walks of life laugh, share stories, read books, play cards and chew angrily on nicorrete gum (Yep, no smoking stops for a whole day you puffers!)
Everyone here is killing time and waiting to arrive. It’s certainly not about the Journey once the sun has set.
The crew is a friendly bunch and the lights dip down in the sleeper carriage by 10 for those who want some shut-eye. The chairs recline, the leg room is plenty and they make for a comfy ‘bed’. The cafe offers good priced food and drink…
The lack of wifi didn’t bother me. There was no problem keeping charge and doing work whilst pausing to gaze out on nothings for long breaks in-between.
Would I do it again? No. It wasn’t an experience enough to lose a day of my life for. Travelling through the Outback is something you will never forget but if you have done Uluru and Kings Canyon then you have already seen it. You can’t enjoy the silence on a locomotive nor are the stars as bright for you to love.
I’d fly hands down.
What about in Premium?
How would it feel if you had plumped for the luxury cabin. Maybe rail travel still has some romance? Maybe if you’re willing to spend….
I was able to peek into what I had dreamed off. Wood panelling was fringed with bronze and gold door numbers, each with a light to call attention. The cabin toilets seemed spacious with silver fittings. The stained dark wood beds turned down for you whilst you are at dinner and fixed up again whilst you enjoyed breakfast.
On arrival I watched these people being whisked away for champagne in their lounge whilst I shelled out for a Nescafe coffee at the cafe.
The food and wine were included, chefs were on board and the crisp white lining table cloths decorated the dining cart.
Romance may not be dead. But I’m not sure how much living it’s got left to do at this rate. Unless of course you have that golden ticket…
I know what you’re all saying. You get what you pay for and hell I couldn’t agree more. For that journey of a life time save up and pay
a little bit a lot more and enjoy The Ghan in all its glory. For as everyone who I spoke with in the cabins told me, ‘it was a trip of a lifetime’
I guess the question you have to ask yourself, is the price worth the experience? That’s a lot of fancy white cloth restaurants you could be dining at instead.
The Ghan is operated by Great Southern Rail with prices ranging from $469 for a single seat Alice Springs to Adelaide up to $1709 for a Gold ($3229 Platinum) cabin crossing country wide North to South, Darwin to Adelaide – Current pricing can be found here.
*Every effort is made to ensure all prices are correct on this site, however they should only be used as a guide. Always refer to the linked official and up to date prices for further information.