Australia’s Greatest Rail Journey: Travelling On The Ghan

The Ghan exceeded our expectations in every single possible way. There’s simply no other way to put it.

From the moment we arrived at the Darwin Berrimah Terminal and checked in for our trip, every minute of our journey on The Ghan was incredible. Although we have travelled up and down Central Australia before on the road, this was a completely new and different experience, that gave us the chance to see this central part of the country in a whole new way.

We were booked on the The Ghan Expedition, which is a 4 day, 3 night journey from Darwin to Adelaide. The Ghan has only just restarted operations, after the longest break in it’s 91 year history, due to Covid. But they are back, better than ever, and there’s never been a better time to embark on this iconic rail journey.

the ghan

About The Ghan

The Ghan has been running from Adelaide since 1929, when it was known as the ‘Afghan Express’ steam train and was a mixture of passengers, livestock and goods being delivered to Alice Springs. It was named after the pioneering cameleers, many of whom were Afghans, who created a permanent trail through the Red Centre in the 1800’s.

These days the Ghan is considered one of the world’s greatest rail adventures, with visitors from all over the world coming to travel through the centre of Australia. It gives you a perspective of the outback that is completely unique to train travel. Even though we have already spent a lot of time in Central Australia, and driven ourselves from Adelaide up to Darwin, completing this journey by train was just such a different experience.

the ghan

Travelling on the Ghan during Covid times: Due to the border restrictions in place around Australia at the moment, it is important to highlight that it is your responsibility to organise your border crossing permit for both the Northern Territory and South Australia, and ensure you haven’t been to a Covid hotspot in the 14 days before you travel.

We applied for our SA permit a couple of days before our journey was set to depart, and it was immediately approved and emailed to us as we had not been to any hotspots. At the train station in Darwin, there were police officers at the platform to check everyone’s ID and take your border permit number to make things easier when you arrive in SA. They might ask you a couple of questions about where you’ve been in the last couple of weeks, but they were all very friendly. It made the process so much easier when we arrived at the train station in Adelaide – we just had to show our ID at the terminal and then we were free to go.

the ghan

What’s included on The Ghan?

The Ghan is an all-inclusive rail journey, so once you’ve paid for your ticket you can really leave your credit card at home if you want, because unless you want to purchase gifts and souvenirs, you won’t need it.

All meals, both on the train and off-train dining experiences are included, as well as snacks in the lounge if you want a little extra. All drinks are covered, including beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks. And of course, all the off-train excursions are covered, including the transfers to get you to and from the train.

But bring a little bit of spending money for the merch stand, they have some great things to remember your journey!

the ghan gold service cabin

Inside The Train

This is no ordinary train. With an average length of 774 metres, but reaching lengths of almost a kilometre long during the peak season, the Ghan is an icon of Australia. And it’s definitely the most luxurious way to travel through the outback.

For our journey we were booked in to Gold Service in a twin cabin. Our room was actually more spacious than we thought it would be, with a long three-seater lounge suite taking up one wall of the cabin, that converts into bunk beds at night. During the day our cabin was set up with a lounge suite and then each night while we were at dinner our lovely hospitality hosts would come and pull out our beds for us. Each morning when we were having breakfast they would put the beds away and our room would have extra space again!

There is plenty of space to store your bags, with a cupboard to hang clothes if you wish, and plenty of overhead storage. The window was as wide as the wall, so the whole room feels even larger. We also had our own bathroom inside our cabin, with a toilet, sink and shower (with plenty of hot water and good pressure I might add).

It took us a minute to adjust to sleeping in bunk beds, but it was the perfect little home for our journey on the Ghan, we actually felt really comfy and cosy in there.

outback explorer lounge on the ghan

Our carriage was then connected to the Outback Explorer Lounge, which is the perfect place to have a couple of drinks, to meet other travellers, or just to hang out and relax while on board the train. At the end of the lounge we met Lachie at the bar, who kept everyone in our section very entertained throughout the journey. This is also the first place you should head if you’re looking to buy merch or souvenirs when you get on the train (definitely my first stop!).

The lounge then leads you through to the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, where you are served any meals that are had on board the train. In our rooms we had a little card that let us know the times we had been booked in for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, so there were never too many people in the restaurant at the same time. Breakfast would have to be my favourite meal in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, when the sun was shining brightly through the windows as it rose over the horizon.

breakfast on the ghan

Other journey options

We absolutely loved travelling in Gold Service, but there are a couple of other options for your journey.

Platinum Service: The Ghan also has a Platinum Service, which is like the first class of the train. The Platinum cabins have either a double bed or twin beds side by side, and the rooms are almost double the size of the Gold Service rooms. Platinum guests also have access to the Platinum Club for dining and socialising while on board, as well as a few added extras, such as continental breakfast and drinks served in-cabin and transfers at the start and end of your journey to get you where you need to go.

Gold Service Single: If you’re travelling alone there is also the Gold Service Single Cabin option, with rooms built for just one person. The single cabins have a bed that converts to a comfortable seat by day, with shared toilet and shower facilities at the end of the cabin.

breakfast on the ghan

The Food

Oh my god.

What can we say about the food onboard the Ghan?!

It was absolutely delicious. Amazingly creative menus, offering a variety of different dishes to cater to everyone, with dairy free, gluten free, and vegetarian options. Every single menu on the Ghan was different, no two days or two meals were the same. And at every single meal a three course menu was offered, so if you want dessert with every meal, you’ve got it.

In the Gold carriages, meals are served in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, which was only two carriages down from our cabin. There was a 14 person limit for people eating at any one time, so we were given scheduled times to eat throughout the evening.

The menus were so diverse, offering all kinds of unique food combinations, from buffalo curry to saltwater barramundi, grilled crocodile tail to a South Australian seafood tasting plate. The meals were all tailored to where we were travelling through at the time, giving you a taste of the local delicacy and offering some amazing dishes.

alice springs telegraph station

During the off-train excursions the food was just as amazing, with unique dining experiences you can’t have anywhere else. There was a beautiful dinner under the stars at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, as well as a very unique underground lunch in Coober Pedy. The Ghan have thoughtfully designed these experiences to offer you a once in a life time experience, and they have done it so well.

We want to give a big shout out to Shannon and Bec, who were the chefs for the Queen Adelaide Restaurant for our section of the train. Every single thing we ate was absolutely delicious! I’m normally quite a picky and difficult eater, but we literally loved every single meal we had during our journey.

katherine outback experience

Off-train Excursions

One of the questions we have been asked a lot about our time on the Ghan is ‘didn’t you get bored just looking out the window all day?’ NO GUYS, WE HAD NO TIME TO BE BORED! The Ghan has packed the journey with heaps of amazing and incredible experiences to really get to know the very best of Central and Outback Australia,

We had three stops along the way on the Ghan Expedition, at Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy. At each stop there was a selection of different excursions you could choose to jump on, giving everyone on board their own custom itinerary.

katherine outback experience

1. Katherine

On the first day of the expedition journey we set off at about 10am and it was only around 4 hours later that we had reached our first stop in Katherine, where we chose to go to the Katherine Outback Experience. We had already experienced Nitmiluk Gorge on our first time through Katherine, so we wanted to try something completely different.

The Outback Experience is really an insight into what it’s like to be living and working in the outback of Australia. Tom Curtain has made quite a name for himself in the Top End, singing on horseback, breaking in horses and training his many many dogs, while taking the audience along for the ride. After the show they even give you a chance to cuddle some of their VERY cute little puppies, and meet some of their other animals.

Other excursion options in Katherine include: Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise, Nitmiluk First Gorge Rock Art Cruise and the Nitmiluk Gorge Helicopter Flight (additional upgrade for $200).

alice springs

2. Alice Springs

We have spent a lot of time in Alice Springs this year, so when it came to choosing an excursion we decided to go with the Alice to Off Road day trip, which takes you mountain bike riding through the rocky Alice Springs landscape. The ride starts right from the heart of Alice Springs at Todd Mall, before taking you out to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and then around the biking trails that line the Todd River.

Unfortunately for me, it was on this ride that I realised I am quite terrified of mountain bike riding. Those rocky paths just make me so nervous. Thom was an absolute natural though, loving every minute of the bumpy journey. The guys from Outback Cycling who were taking the tour were so supportive and patient, which I really appreciated as I struggled along the way.

After the mountain bike tour we stopped for lunch at Epilogue Lounge in Todd Mall, which had an awesome menu to choose from, before heading to the Yubu Napa Gallery around the corner. They have a wonderful gallery of Aboriginal art work that you can look through and purchase if you wish, as well as a very decent gift shop with all kinds of different gifts and souvenirs to buy. We actually found some really beautiful face masks here, which was great because we needed some for our flight back to Darwin after our trip.

We had a few hours of free time in Alice Springs after the gallery, where you could either check out the shops and main streets or head back to the train if you preferred and chill out before dinner.

READ MORE:
The Best Things To Do In Alice Springs

dinner on the ghan

Dinner in Alice Springs was my favourite night of the whole trip, an outback BBQ dinner under the stars at the historic Alice Springs Telegraph Station. We arrived at sunset, and were greeted with a glass of wine, before spending a little bit of time exploring this important landmark. There were even short camel rides on offer for anyone who wanted, which is perfect if you haven’t had the chance to jump on a camel before!

As the evening continued we had a delicious BBQ dinner, while local band The Heartbeats sang classic Aussie songs throughout the night, with didgeridoo solos and the stars shining brightly overhead. After dinner we were treated to a Star Talk, where Tom from Earth Sanctuary showed us some of the constellations in the night sky and shared the different stories you can see in the stars. It only took a couple of people to start dancing and suddenly everyone was up and dancing the night away, it was such a magical night.

Other excursion options in Alice Springs include: Alice Springs Desert Park, Alice Explorer, Simpsons Gap Discovery Walk and the Uluru Fixed Wing Scenic Flight (additional upgrade for $1,259). No matter which excursion you choose in Alice Springs, everyone gets to attend the Outback BBQ Dinner, which was definitely a highlight for us.

coober pedy day tour on the ghan

3. Coober Pedy

We went to sleep in Central Australia and woke up the following morning in South Australia, heading through the SA outback to Manguri, an extremely remote train station about 40 minutes or so from Coober Pedy. Whether you’ve been to Coober Pedy before or it’s your first visit, the day trips planned by Journey Beyond give you such a great insight into the town.

We chose the Explore Coober Pedy day trip, which included a little bit of everything there is to see in this unique mining town. The Ghan bus picked us up from Manguri Station and we met Geoff, our driver and commentator for the day. Our first stop was the Breakaways, where you can see some of South Australia’s most unique landscapes. We had visited the Breakaways a couple of times before when we were here in February, but there was something about this visit that will be memorable, the colours were just so beautiful.

Geoff then took us for a drive through the Breakaways Conservation Park, out to the moon plain and the dog fence, and pointing out any and all points of interest along the way, including the road where Priscilla Queen of the Desert was filmed! We headed back into the main town of Coober Pedy where we visited the Serbian Orthodox underground church, before heading to lunch.

underground lunch in coober pedy

This is another of the unique experiences that Journey Beyond has perfectly created for their guests. We had an amazing lunch in their underground restaurant, before taking a quick tour of some of the tunnels of this old mine. On the tour we met Rudi, an 85 year old man who had been opal mining in Coober Pedy since 1960. He was such a character, with so many stories to tell and hilarious insights into mining life. Unfortunately our time with Rudi was cut short as the buses arrived again, we could have listed to him talk for hours.

The day in Coober Pedy finished with a short tour through the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum, where you can see some examples of the famous dugout houses that people in Coober Pedy live in to escape the extreme temperatures in the outback. They also have a jewellery shop with some beautiful pieces if you want to pick up an opal of your own.

The other excursion options are shorter versions of the Explore Coober Pedy day trip, that either focus on the Breakaways or an Opal Experience.

manguri bonfire on the ghan

Back at the train the crew had set up a huge bonfire, and we had drinks in the outback as the sun began to set. It was such a peaceful and lovely afternoon, everyone sharing their travel stories and soaking up our last afternoon activity of the trip. We watched the suns setting over the train and the outback landscape, it was absolutely beautiful.

READ MORE:
15 Very Unique Things To Do In Coober Pedy

the ghan at sunset

Booking Information

The Ghan Expedition leaves from Darwin each Wednesday, with a second service leaving Darwin on Saturdays between June and August.

Prices usually start from $2,999 per person for a gold service ticket, however there are some amazing deals on right now to encourage people to get back out exploring. Definitely make sure you check out the Journey Beyond website for current deals and promotions.

Journey Beyond also offers a few other amazing rail journeys if you would like to cross the country in another direction, with the Indian Pacific travelling between Perth and Sydney, and the Great Southern travelling between Adelaide and Brisbane.

For information on all the different rail journeys, as well as their other experiences around Australia, head to the Journey Beyond website.

the ghan

We weren’t sure what to expect before our trip on the Ghan. Of course we knew it was an iconic bucket list Australian experience, but we have never travelled by train before and didn’t really know what we were in for. But we had the most amazing time, we were honestly so sad when our trip came to an end. It was so great to be able to actually relax together, no one having to concentrate on driving, or towing, or directions, with absolutely everything taken care of for us for a few days.

We’ve definitely fallen in love with crossing Australia by train, and are already hoping to jump on another of their rail journeys when the interstate borders around the country open up and they are able to commence again.

A huge thank you to all the crew that made our experience so extraordinary. A special thank you to those in our little section, Lachie, Matt, Alena, Sherena, Stacey and Lilli, as well as Caitlin in head office, who organised everything and made this trip possible.

We travelled on the Ghan as guests of Journey Beyond. All opinions are, as always, our own.

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travelling through central australia on the ghan
travelling through central australia on the ghan

 

Happy travels,



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Emma is a travel writer, photographer and blogger, currently living on the road full time and chasing the sun around Australia. Travelling in her recently renovated vintage Viscount caravan, along with her husband Thom, she's sharing the very best experiences from around her beloved sunburnt country.

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