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DESTINATION: The Ghan

By JOHN ROZENTALS

TRAVEL: 14 APRIL 2017

JOHN ROZENTALS takes a trip on one of the great railway journeys of the world.

Many people make an obvious mistake when they look at a three- or four-day trip through Australia’s vast Outback. They tend to dismiss it as boring, or just ‘same same’.

I beg to differ. On a couple of journeys on the Ghan, I’ve found that the experience sharpens the senses, that it encourages you to look for the small changes which are always there. I wasn’t bored for one second.

Both my trips were from Darwin to Adelaide, both times in Gold Class double sleepers.

The first trip was long enough ago to be in days when meals were included but drinks and excursions cost extra.

By the time of my second trip, competition had forced Great Southern Rail to include drinks and excursions in the ticket price, something I reckon is quite appropriate given the premium standing of the product.

Also, both my trips have been two-night adventures, with stops at Katherine and the Alice — the latter very much the spiritual home of the Ghan, something signified by the statue on the platform there of an Afghani camel rider.

These days, there’s also the option of a three-night adventure, with an added stop in Coober Pedy on what is designated as the ‘Ghan Expedition’.

This visit includes exploring the underground town often designated as the world’s opal capital — and a gourmet underground lunch to follow on from dinner the previous evening under the stars at Alice Springs.

In exploration terms, the highlights of both my journeys have involved cruising the gorge at Katherine — or Nitmiluk to use the correct indigenous title — and clambering over a rocky shore to examine some really quite fantastic rock art.

The tours are run by the local Jawoyn people and I have to agree with the lad who was photographed beside our Indigenous expedition leader and assured him that the image would go onto his Facebook page captioned as “the best guide ever”.

But it’s for the quality of dining on the board the Ghan that the staff really deserve plaudits. They really do prepare and serve the most outstanding fare under conditions that most city-based chefs and waiting staff would deem impossible to work under.

The kitchens are tiny — and constantly rocking — and the dining spaces are constricted — and, well, constantly rocking — yet it all seems to work perfectly, even when we encounter a stray cow on the tracks. “Ah well, looks like steak for breakfast,” comes the droll announcement over the PA System.

As long as you remember you’re on a train rather than in a rock-solid city building, Gold Class accommodation on The Ghan is comfortable enough. During dinner, staff convert your lounge into double bunks and reverse the procedure during breakfast.

Wake-up call comes at about 6.30am through a friendly rap on the door and cups of hot tea or coffee. Then a quick shower in a bathroom that really is an absolute miracle of compaction. With door firmly shut, basin and toilet folded away, towels dry in their own waterproof cabinet, and curtain in place, it’s actually quite easy to have an invigorating hot shower in a seemingly impossible space. Thumbs up to the engineers.

And then it’s time for breakfast and another enthralling day on the Ghan ... truly one of the world’s great railway journeys.

IF YOU GO

For further information, contact Great Southern Rail (www.gsr.com.au).

The Ghan … one of the great railway journeys of the world.

Alice Springs … spiritual home for the Ghan.

We’re about to disembark in Adelaide and we’ve had breakfast … what else for the Woman with Altitude but a glass of bubbles for morning tea?

Alice Springs … rugged beauty in the centre of Australia.

Yes, they are out there … crocodile in Nitmiluk Gorge. It’s a freshwater, not a salty, so it’ll probably only nibble your toes. But keep your hands inside the boat.

The Ghan … the experience sharpens the senses.

Cruising Nitmiluk Gorge is a deeply spiritual experience.