The Ghan and the Indian Pacific are Australia's two iconic long
distance railways, famous as much as anything because they cross the
vast continent from one side to the other. Whereas the Indian
Pacific travels from east to west, The Ghan travels north to south,
providing a rail link between Darwin and Adelaide. Today's Ghan is not
the first train to carry that name, however the original Ghan took a
The Ghan is a great way to see Australia's Red centre. The
two-day trip allows travellers to get a real feel for the scale of the
Australian outback, which you simply don't on a plane.
That having been said, you may be aware that some people who have
made the journey believe it to be overrated and question the claim that
The Ghan is one of the world's great train journeys. As with the Indian
Pacific, what must be remembered here is that it is an epic journey
across a desert, therefore one must not be surprised or disappointed
that for most of the journey, the view out of the windows is of an arid
Therein is the beauty of the Australian outback, and if you do not
see it as beautiful or appreciate the vastness of it all, then you
might be well advised to make your journey by air. It's much quicker,
often cheaper but gives you no time to read a good book, or the
opportunity to stroll around and chat or have a game of cards with your
fellow passengers, not to mention the opportunity to see Australia's
heart at such close range.
Alice Springs Stopover
Doing the journey from Adelaide to Darwin in two sectors, with a
stopover in Alice Springs, is highly recommended. You do the
Adelaide-Alice Springs leg on one train, get off at The Alice and spend
a few days there, then continue your journey to Darwin on the next
train. In northern Australia's dry season there are two service every
week in both directions, so you have the choice of a three-day,
four-day or seven day stopover at Alice Springs.
The same can be done at Katherine if you want to spend a bit of time
exploring the various natural attractions in the region. Katherine is
on the Alice Springs to Darwin leg, so if you are travelling by train
in both directions, there is wisdom in doing an Alice Springs stopover
in one direction and Katherine in the other.
Like the Indian Pacific, The Ghan is run by Great Southern Rail, and
has the same classes of accommodation & facilities: Gold
Class sleepers, lounge & restaurant, Red Class sleepers, reclining
'day-nighter' seats, lounge & self-service restaurant, see the
section above. Most departures of the Ghan now have an additional
class of accommodation, the new super-deluxe 'Platinum Class' complete
with double (or twin lower) beds.
Two services per week operate in each direction during peak season.
At other times there is one service per week in each direction.
Trains leave Adelaide for Darwin at 12.20pm on Sundays and
Wednesdays and arrive in Port Augusta for a short stop at Port Augusta.
Late that night, The Ghan reaches Tarcoola, where the line splits - The
Ghan turns north and heads towards Alice Springs; the Indian Pacific,
which shares the line with The Ghan between Adelaide and Tarcoola,
continues west onto the Nullarbor Plain. The Ghan passes Woomera and
Coober Pedy (25 km east of the line) during the night, but
unfortunately it stops at neither place. Alice Springs is reached at
1.45pm during the second day of travel.
A stopover of around five hours at The Alice allows passengers
travelling to and from Alice Springs to leave or board the train. It
also gives other passengers time to take a Whistle Stop Tour of Alice
Springs should they so desire.
At 6pm, The Ghan continues on its journey north. Through the night
it passes Tennant Creek and Newcastle Waters. At 9am The Ghan pulls in
to Katherine where passengers have the opportunity to take one of a
number of Whistle Stop Tours on offer. These include cruises of
Katherine Gorge, canoeing the Gorge and a tour of the town. The train
pulls out at 1pm and arrives in Darwin 4 hours 30 minutes later. The
return journey follows a similar schedule, leaving Darwin at 9am or
10am and arriving in Adelaide at 1.10pm two days later.
History of the old Ghan
The idea of a railway from Adelaide into the far north was suggested
in the 1860s when railway building in Australia was at its peak. Up
until that time, Australia's outback telegraph and pastoral stations
relied on camel trains to bring their supplies, no matter how isolated
or far away they were. These camel trains worked the Queensland road,
which later became known as the Birdsville Track, as well as the
Oodnadatta and Strzelecki Tracks.
Afghan camel drivers went as far as Wyndham and Newcastle Waters to
cart supplies to stations which had no other means of fast and
efficient transport. Their camels plodded down the many tracks,
bringing supplies on their outward journey and returning with wool or
any other product. It was the Afghan cameleers who did so much to open
up Central Australia. The camels brought everything -pianos, motors,
furniture and supplies. The arrival of these beasts of burden was a
time of high excitement. Mail, newspapers and long-awaited clothes and
cosmetics orders also came this way.
The new railway commenced at Port Augusta by the South Australian
Government and headed north-east via the Pichi Richi Pass via Quorn,
Hawker and Parachilna. By 1881 it had reached Beltana. Within two years
it passed through Copley and reached Farina. As the line to Farina was
completed, work was beginning on a southern line from Palmerston
(Darwin) that was intended to join up with the southern line when they
both reached Alice Springs.
By 1888, Pine Creek was reached, but no further work was carried out
on the extension of this line until 1926. By 1884 Hergott Springs
(Marree) had become the railhead of the southern line. After some years
the line was pushed further north past Callanna, Alberrie Creek,
Curdimurka, Coward Springs, Strangways Springs, William Creek, Anna
Creek, Box Creek, Edwards Creek, Warrina, Algebuckina and Mount Dutton
until it finally reached Oodnadatta in 1891. Oodnadatta remained the
railhead for the next forty years.