The Ghan Train

"The Ghan Train - Is It Worth The Money?"

What Is The Ghan?/History Of The Ghan?

The Ghan is an Australian train journey that runs from Darwin in the far north, all the way down to Adelaide in the south. The total journey is about 3000km.

Before the train line was there, Afghan came-leers used to trek this unhospitable part of Australia, to bring supplies to the remote town of Stuart (now Alice Springs)

When the ghan train line was built, (construction started in 1878) it was still a long time (1929) until the final section up to Alice Springs was built - they still used the camels to do this part of the journey.

In recognition of the Afghan cameleers pioneering work to open up this remote part of Australia, the train was called the Afghan express and soon became known as the Ghan - the official symbol is still the camel.

The Ghan train did it's last official journey in 1980. It now runs twice a week on new safer tracks as a wonderful way to see the centre of Australia and it's changing scenery.

The Ghan Train Trip

The journey takes 54 hours (about 2 days and 2 nights) to get from Darwin to Adelaide. The half way point is Alice Springs.

There is commentary at all the points of interest along the way, which was interesting and informative.

Red class passengers need to pay for a bus or get a taxi to the train terminal. It's about 10km out of town. We got the organised bus from Mitchell Street bus depot ($30 per person) but if you travel Gold or Platinum you will get picked up at your hotel.

We boarded at Darwin at about 10am and by about 2pm, the train stops at Katherine. Here you can choose from an array of activities to see the infamous Katherine Gorge. We chose the cafe boat cruise to the main Gorge. We were served afternoon tea aboard a small boat as we cruised along the Gorge. There was chance to see the Aboriginal Rock Art too. We were here in the dry season and I am sure the area looks totally different in the wet season, with many of the trees under water.

There are plenty of other trips available on the ghan train including helicopter rides over the Gorge, but our option seemed the least strenuous (travelling with small children) and good value for money (around $70 per person)

The trip took around 3 hours by the time you have got the bus there and back, and then it was time to get back on the Ghan for the evening.

The scenery is quite different from anything you will see elsewhere in the world due to the orange red earth. It also gives you a true understanding of just how huge and desolate most of Australia actually is. It goes on and on and on.....

The following day around mid-day, you arrive at Alice Springs. A lot of people leave the train here to go off and explore the red centre. From Alice you can self drive to Ayers Rock Australia.

Of course the Ghan train will organize trips for you too.

But if you are travelling onto Adelaide on the ghan train, then this is another 3 hour stop for you to either walk around the town of Alice Springs (no need to pay for the shuttle bus, you can walk very easily into the centre of town in just 10 minutes) or take part in one of the organized trips e.g. Camel rides.

This is also when the staff clean the train and change the cabins for those who are about to board at Alice Springs. Don't therefore arrive back early after your walk around the town as you won't be allowed back on the train.

Then it's another afternoon, evening and a couple more hours the following day before you arrive in Adelaide. Now the landscape has changed from orangey reds to beautiful yellows.

The Ghan Cabin

There are 4 ways to travel on the Ghan train:

  • Red Seat - literally a seat that reclines slightly to help you sleep
  • Red Cabin - very tiny cabin that folds into 2 bunk beds at night
  • Gold Cabin - larger cabin with larger bunk cabins
  • Platinum Cabin - proper suites with either twin beds or a double bed

We travelled in a red cabin. The pictures you see below are what are ghan red cabin looks like. It was so hard to even take the picture of the cabin as it was so incredibly small. There are two small seats with a table during the day that then fold into the beds. Once the beds are up, you can pretty much just open your cabin door and there is no room to do anything else. There is a small sink in your room and a bathroom and shower and either end of the corridor.

We were pleased to have access to the lounge, which is more like a standard train carriage (below). You can see out of both sides of the train and there is much more space.

We ate our meals in the lounge. Red passengers do not get food included. There is a small cafe serving snacks and a choice of about 3 meals in an evening. They were reasonably priced and pretty good. They also give you a coffee card so you get free tea and coffee for your journey.

I'd recommend bringing your own food and snacks though. We brought a small esky with us and had food to last us for the first day. We then topped up the food and ice at Alice Springs for day 2. You can't take your own alcohol on board (although we didn't know this and had a couple of small bottles of champagne that we drank in our cabin)

If you are travelling in a red seat, you have to pay to access the lounge and don't get free tea and coffee.

I got one of the staff to show me the gold cabins when we stopped at Alice Springs and the difference is HUGE. They have nearly all been upgraded now at they look fantastic. They are MUCH bigger and look more like a sofa and have a small but modern ensuite. You also get all your meals provided and we saw many people dressing up for dinner heading to the dinner carriage. It seemed much more of an experience and much more like something out of "Poirot" or "The Orient Express"

Platinum is just so expensive that I am sure it is wonderful, but would be out of most people's price range!

My Tips For Travelling On The Ghan Train

  1. Travel Gold Class - The difference in cabins from Gold to Red is absolutely huge. Pay the extra or wait for a special 2 for 1 on Gold Cabin offers (usually during the wet season) - but I have heard that they upgraded red class in 2014 which is after our trip. So perhaps it is now slightly better.
  2. Go half the journey if you can't afford the whole journey. The scenery doesn't change that much over the 2 days and you still get to experience this great Australian train travel experience
  3. Watch the size of your luggage especially if you are travelling in red class - They just won't let any large bags or rucksacks onto the train with you. You have to book large bags into the hold and you won't see your luggage again until you get off. There is so little room in the cabins that you really don't want to take too much stuff anyway - squashy bags are easier than suitcases.
  4. Take your own food if you travel in red class - at least some snacks and drinks
  5. Book your trips as soon as you get on. Red class only get allocated a small number of trips (yes we did feel like second class citizens at times) There were only 2 camels available for red class in Alice Springs. We had to wait to see if anyone from Gold Class or Platinum class didn't use up their allocation. So as soon as you can, get down to the cafe and book your trips. First in best dressed!
  6. Bring good ear plugs!! The carriages are close so you can hear your travel companions next door. Also, they stop and change drivers and move the train onto another line or something as there is quite a bit of shunting in the middle of the night. It disturbed some people's sleep.

Is The Ghan Train Worth The Money?

This is such a hard question to answer as it is expensive to go on the Ghan train but you can't get this experience anywhere else.

We paid about $3000 AUD for 2 adults (our 2 kids went free) travelling in a red carriage for the entire journey. You somehow need to forget what you paid and enjoy the experience. For that price you probably should expect at least your food provided and some degree of luxury!! But you are paying for an experience that is hard to replicate and one you won't forget.

The majority of travellers were retired and older - we were definitely a novelty travelling with kids on the Ghan. Many of them had got a discount as part of their rail travel passes, so perhaps this is something you do when you retire if you want to do it properly.

As per my advice above, go gold class instead for half the journey.

Yes, you could spend that money on a holiday overseas no doubt, but our journey on the ghan is something I won't forget - it was a real vintage experience.

If you are a backpacker, then do the red seat, half way (it would be too uncomfortable all the way). Bring your own food and bring hand luggage for your travel, leaving your backpack in the hold. Bring a jumper or blanket as I did hear a few people complaining they were cold at night.

I have no idea how long the Ghan will be around for, so don't put it off for too long!

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