All Aboard The Ghan Train in Australia

18 May 2017

Spectacular scenery, comfort and camaraderie are among the many reasons The Ghan train expedition has stood the test of time. Originally dubbed The Afghan Express, the Australian locomotive was named after the pioneering cameleers – once thought to be from Afghanistan, but in fact from Pakistan – who blazed a trail into the Red Centre more than 150 years ago. Following their path, the first Ghan train blew its whistle in 1929 after leaving Adelaide and arrived two days later in Alice Springs. Today, its route stretches across the entire country, all 1,851 miles between Darwin and the South Australian capital. A journey onboard provides a luxurious setting to take in the wonders through the window, as well as stop-off opportunities to explore.

The Ghan (image: Northern Territory Tourism)

Such is the allure of The Ghan that a friend and I reworked our itinerary to fit in the 969-mile leg southbound from Alice Springs to Adelaide. When we board at Alice Springs, looking forward to two days and one night’s stay on this world-renowned train, most of the passengers are on first name terms, having already travelled together from Darwin. But instantly they put us at our ease, and the warm welcome we receive from them and the crew is just a taste of the hospitality to come.

In the cosy Outback Explorer Lounge, we enjoy a pre-dinner drink and listen to guests recounting their highlights so far, such as their first off train excursion on this all-inclusive trip on The Ghan – a cruise through the Katherine Gorge and a walk to see Aboriginal rock art. Later at dinner, Chef Damien Gow-Smith shares his passion for creating a journey of Australian flavours to match the scenery. “We’ve put a lot of thought into the menu, sourcing food locally to give guests an idea of where we are in Australia,” he says. “Travelling from Katherine to Darwin, we serve crocodile. And the buffalo curry, also sourced from the Northern Territory, is a real favourite.”

Making a late-night stop at Manguri, near the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, we chat under the stars and sip port around a campfire. Sam Isaacson, Manager of the Queen Adelaide Restaurant car, tells us why The Ghan is so special. “Some people just want to get to a destination, but for us, it’s all about the journey. We like to show people our country, the vastness of it. Providing first-class service and a relaxed atmosphere is also important. We thrive on looking after people. For many of us crew, it’s not just a job, it’s a life.”

And once you’ve chatted, wined and dined to your heart’s content, you can return to your spacious en-suite cabin, to find it’s been transformed from day use into comfortable beds – inviting you to dream about all you’ve seen and leaving you refreshed for the next day’s adventure.


Book it now... Travel in style on The Ghan as part of our Northern Territory in Depth Journey, which also takes in Uluru, Kings Canyon and Kakadu. 16 days from £3,399pp.


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Phil Murray

With parents in the travel industry, I was pretty much born with one of those take-off sweets in my mouth. I’m very fortunate to be close to clocking up my 50th country - not that I’ll slow down after that. No matter how many places I visit, I don’t think the excitement that comes with boarding a plane will ever wear off. Flying, for me, is one of the most extraordinary things we get to do as human beings and I’ll always be first in line for that window seat!