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Taking the Ghan Train to Alice Springs
Wednesday 31st August to Friday 2nd September 2011 – The Ghan and Alice Springs, Australia
Having had my fill of Crocodiles and Snakes in Darwin, I was ready for the onward journey. This time the destination was to the heart of Australia, to Alice Springs, where I would be visiting Uluru and the surrounding areas.
The journey to Alice Springs – and onward to Adelaide – would be via a train, more importantly, the legendary Ghan. I had heard/read a lot about it, and was keen to make the journey. It was a little off-putting, given that the trip would be around 24 hours to Alice Springs, then the same again to Adelaide, but I was assured by what I had read, and what I have been told, that the trip would be worth it. There was a stop along the way at Katherine, so at least the journey would be broken up a little.
I had my breakfast early and headed for the transit centre in Darwin, ready to board the coach to the Ghan station. Once there, the train was already waiting, and it looked like all the pictures I had seen, very red, and surprisingly clean. This would be my home for the next 24 hours. I had a look around at all the people, wondering who I would be sitting next to, hoping it would be somebody nice, and not smelly. There were a few that fit both the former and the latter. We boarded on time and found our seats, which were also red, and not bad in terms of how comfortable they were. There was also a lot of room, which was nice.
The girl I was sat next to was really friendly, and we quickly became chatty, as we did with a few other backpackers from around our seating area. We actually had a lot of fun, passing the time with games and friendly banter. As we reached Katherine for our stop, we all got off the train together and headed for the bus to take us into town. The stop was over 4 hours, so we had plenty of time to look around. Some people opted to stay on the train, and I couldn’t imagine why as I was already looking to stretch my legs by this early point in the journey. Our little group wandered about Katherine, taking in the sights, though there were few of any real interest. It may have been an idea to book the Katherine Gorge tour, though it was a little pricey, especially for a backpacker watching his money. In hindsight I wish I had booked it now.
We had fun either way, and eventually made our way back to the train. The next part of the trip seemed to go on forever. The train trundled along at such a slow speed, stopping frequently for some reason, often for 10 – 20 minutes, but on occasion for more than an hour. There wasn’t really an awful lot to see out the window either to be honest. Everywhere was brown, some trees here and there, a dried up river at one point. I didn’t see any wildlife. I suppose there are better times of the year to take the trip, where there is more to see, but this particular time was fairly uneventful. I was surprised to see various little settlements scattered about, with vehicles, as well as plenty of dust roads. It strikes me that these places are far away from any civilization, and supplies must be hard to come by, but even so, these people appear to manage it very well.
Trying to sleep during the night was hard, especially for somebody who cannot sleep on any form of public transport, but it was my decision to ride on an overnight train, so nobody to blame but myself. There was enough battery power on my laptop for myself and a couple others to watch a film before attempting some sleep, but no matter how long my eyes were closed, I just couldn’t sleep at all. All around me people were sleeping, some snoring, and I wondered if the night would ever end, but the sun slowly appeared over the horizon signalling morning, and offering wonderful photo opportunities. Ironically, as people began to wake, now I began to feel sleepy.
The Ghan has wash facilities on board, including a shower, so I made sure to get my slot in there between other passengers. The shower was small and cramped, but I didn’t expect 5 star facilities. It was actually quite funny trying to stand up with the movement of the train, without slipping up. I think I managed to spill most of the water onto the bathroom floor rather than in the shower basin. I felt better though afterwards, and ready for the final hours of the journey. My new friends helped to pass the boredom. I wasn’t much looking forward to the second part of the journey now, but at least it’s an experience.
We arrived in Alice Springs where the shuttle buses took us to our hostels. I was with one of the guys from the train. The hostel I stayed at was called Alice Lodge, which is actually a really nice hostel, very small, very relaxed. We put our things down and met up with the other guys in town for another wander about. We visited Anzac Hill and came down through the shopping centre, stopping for something to eat. The day was fun, though there was not that much to see, and we were all tired and hot so we parted company and came back to our hostels. Here my mate and I stayed for the remainder of the day, and the next, before setting out on our trip to Uluru. I was very excited to be seeing one of Australia’s most iconic landmarks.
Written by Daniel Stevens,