In the 20 minutes it takes for the train to re-provision with water, you can exhaust all the attractions of the ‘Queen City of the Nullarbor.’
Adelaide is the intersection for the Indian Pacific and an even more legendary rail route, which runs north to south through the very heart of Australia.
Supposedly named after the intrepid Afghan cameleers who originally established this route, The Ghan is famous today as one of the world’s most iconic journeys by train.
The Ghan is now more than 80 years old, but it is only for the last few years that rail travel has been possible beyond Alice Springs, all the way up to Darwin and the tropical Top End.
Alice is for many the most atmospheric of Australia’s Outback towns and the majority of The Ghan’s passengers choose to break their journey and spend at least a couple of days here, or to use it as a base for visits to Uluru (previously Ayers Rock).
Alice is a friendly, welcoming town, which has that typical Outback quality of being able to produce unforgettable fun with minimal facilities: two good examples of this are Bojangles Pub (one of the 10 best pubs in the world, in my opinion) and the wacky boat race along the dry riverbed, which is known as the Henley-On-Todd Regatta.
Leaving Alice, The Ghan rolls on into the Northern Territory, and the landscape begins to change radically. The Tropic of Capricorn and the Tanami Desert slip past in the night.
As we near Katherine I begin to see rivers with flowing water, and it comes as quite a surprise to realise how quickly I have become accustomed to the ochre hues of the desert.
I have travelled about 3000 miles from the beaches of Western Australia to the tropical reefs of the Top End.
Thinking back, I find it’s difficult to recall the kaleidoscopic variety of landscapes I have experienced in this unforgettable trip across the ‘Great Bugger-All’.
Things to do on the way
Take a mine tour in Kalgoorlie
The gold-rush town of Kalgoorlie is home to the biggest open pit mine in Australia.
The Indian Pacific stops here for several hours and it is possible to book night tours of the mine and get a feel of what a rough-and-ready old prospector’s town must have been like. Sights include the infamous Hay Street brothels where rows of open-fronted booths are the ‘shop windows’ for ‘working ladies’ in a state where prostitution is legal.
Explore Alice Springs
Alice Springs is often seen as just the jump off point for Uluru, but it is worth spending some time getting to know Alice in its own right. You can book a variety of tours in town while on The Ghan. For an interesting place to stay, check into the Alice Springs YHA which is situated right in the centre of town in what was once an outdoor cinema and still shows movies most nights.
Uluru is certainly the Outback’s most famous icon. It is one of the wonders of the world and few can resist abandoning the train journey for long enough to check out one of the world’s most spiritual places. Although it is still allowed, the Anangu traditional owners ask that visitors please refrain from climbing their sacred rock.
Enjoy an adventure in Katherine
Katherine, so-called Lady of the North, is probably the most elegant and enchanting town in the Northern Territory. The Ghan offers several ‘Whistle Stop Tours’ here. You can visit the spectacular Katherine Gorge by cruise boat, canoe or even helicopter or spend the afternoon exploring town itself … or just chill at the country club.
Relax in the tropics of Darwin
Be sure to spend a few relaxing days checking out Darwin, which (for the moment at least) still retains some of its old atmosphere of a frontier town on the edge of a jungle. It would be a pity to come so far and not explore the pristine rainforests, swamps and bush that make up the great diversity of Kakadu National Park.