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 Review

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.

Reviews of the Ghan

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.

Review the ghan

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.

9 replies
  1. Peter Miles says:

    World’s worst rail journey? My 80 year-old father and I travelled “1st Class” (so-called) on the Ghan fom Adelaide to the Alice. I had misgivings about the quality of service when, while boarding at Adelaide, we were asked by a steward with a clipboard whether we wanted tea or coffee, with or without milk & sugar, with our breakfast the following morning. My father elected tea with milk, without sugar. Two hours later, mid-afternoon on day 1, (not the already mentioned breakfast on day 2) same steward came through offering tea or coffee. My father asked for coffee. Coffee was duly brought, but my father, asking for sugar, received the surly rebuke: “you never said anything about sugar before you got on the train!” We were appalled at this crudeness, and from then on felt uncomfortable and intimidated at every sight of this man. After a good dinner in the dining car we settled in to the lounge car to have a drink and some quality time together, but after one drink, just after 8 pm, we were told the bar was closing due to the small number of patrons. We were told we could not remain in the lounge car after the bar closed. Thus retiring early to our bunks, we soon found out why these were fitted with straps. The bunks were arranged longways, as opposed to transversely, as in every other railway sleeping car I have seen. Due to poor track quality the train rocked side to side for almost the entire journey, so the straps were to prevent the traveller from falling onto the floor. The discomfort of constant rolling side to side made sleep impossible. The Australians seem not to have worked out that this problem (and the straps indicate their awareness of it) would be eliminated by installing bunks across the direction of travel, as they are in every other night train I have seen elsewhere in the world. All in all, we paid a lot of money for a pretty awful experience, which has permanently put me off Australian long-distance rail travel.

    Reply
  2. The Barefoot Backpacker says:

    Yeh …

    I took the train from Perth to Adelaide, the Indian Pacific, in the ‘Red’ carriage (on a backpacker fare, so quite cheap) – 40-odd hours in a plain but comfortable seat, in a fairly standard carriage. I took the trip precisely to experience the adventure of it, and to say that I’d crossed the Nullarbor Plain. Was an interesting journey, but can’t say much more about it than that.

    Wouldn’t do it again. But I’m glad I did it once.

    Reply
    • danflyingsolo says:

      Yeah – I felt so similar. It certainly felt a big ‘long’ for what the experience was in the red carriage.

      Ah well, its all about the journey right :) Safe travels!

      Reply
  3. Daniel James says:

    True that! The backpackers pass actually let’s you travel from say Sydney to Perth (included) though anyone who would spend three days on a train is crazy in hmy experience but I guess its cheaper. But, nah I wouldn’t do it again. I’m not saying its a anything more than a waste of money from my point of view but I guess if you have the cash its a nice option. Personally, I’d rather drop the money on a real experience or trip

    Reply
  4. Michael says:

    That’s a minimum price of more than 300 Euro for a day on the train. Two words – “NO WAY”. I don’t see a reason to book this journey expept being able to brag how you have so much money you can throw it away.

    Reply
    • Daniel James says:

      I personally agree on it being a lot of money, but I have had to pay the same for a two hour flight in the middle of Europes summer to get me some where more than once. I suppose its the ‘experience’ some people go for. When you think of 300 Euros for the backpackers pass which they also offer however which can take you across all of Australia it then becomes the cheapest (and longest) way to get around the country.

      Reply
      • Michael says:

        I don’t know the exact local situation, but its 1500 km from Alice Springs to Adelaide. About 100 liters of petrol will take you there – for less than 100 Euro. If you’re not travelling solo, the train is not really a budget alternative (and judging by your experiences there, its not an ‘experience’ worth having).

        Reply

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