From Darwin, through Katherine, Alice Springs, Coober Pedy and finally to Adelaide, the develop jaunt offers travellers something different each day

In the boundless island continent of Australia, too often guests and citizens wing right over the top and out of the country rather than visualizing whats in the middle. Because of the vast distances of unpopulated areas, Australians and the eight million tourists who visit per year principally travel the country by aeroplane. We hop from capital city to tourist destination merely seeming out airplane windows to view the barren land beneath. But theres something to be said for visualizing the in-between.

Thats what attains the Ghan Expedition so special. The 2,979 km develop jaunt allows its guests to discover Australia unadorned. The Ghan Expedition is a three-night, four-day jaunt, starting in Darwin and stopping in Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy, before arriving in Adelaide. At every stop, a number of off-board outings are offered to passengers. Most are included in the cost of the ticket, although some such as scenic flights and helicopter rides are optional extras.

There are two grades on The Ghan, amber and platinum. Gold class includes two single bunks and an ensuite bathroom with a picture window out one side of the develop. Platinum class features a doubled bed and window opinions out of both sides of the carriage. I travelled in gold class and was impressed by the high level of comfort of the cabin. Space is tight but neatly employed. The bed linen is inn quality. It is folded back and chocolates are left on your pillow each night.

The Ghan is a slick running. Operator Great Southern Rail, the same company that runs the Indian Pacific Railway, has learned how to make its passengers seem special. Nice little touches such as the Appelles Apothecary toiletry range, made from Australian native parts and sourced sustainably round down an excellent menu, great logistics and a clever offering of outings to make this trip-up value for fund.

Its not inexpensive( the gold class twin cabin expenditures $3,299 per person) but if you dont have a lot of time, its a good way to discover the centre of Australia and get a taste of Indigenous culture. Its an amuse-bouche , but a splendid one.

People of all ages, grades, backgrounds and nationalities hop aboard this develop. Most passengers are retirees, but younger pairs are attracted by the increasing number of active off-train outings, and the impressive meat and wine menu. I satisfied pairs from Austria, UK and US, and many Australians. I satisfied one couple celebrating their 40 th bridal anniversary and another celebrating a 40 th birthday.

The impose sandstone cliff faces of Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park remind you of your small place in “the worlds”. Photo: Jonny Weeks for the Guardian

Brits Reg and Val Snell were on their 14 th trip-up to Australia when I satisfied them onboard. Each trip-up we try to do something different, Val told me. While Reg and Val had already been to Uluru and Alice Springs, the numerous outings available meant they were able to see new visions at every stop.

Onboard the develop, guests instantly gravitate to their closest lounge car. No sooner had we had a coffee, followed by a sparkling wine, than we were beckoned off to the Queen Adelaide Restaurant one of nine restaurant carriages on the Ghan for lunch. The restaurant is the stuff of intrigue fictions: smart four-seater booths are determined with starched white linen and divided with cut-glass frames. Each kiosk has a full picture window: this is dining with a panorama unlike any other.

I chose the buffalo curry for my lunch, which had a lovely depth of flavour with a punch of spice but not too hot. In retrospect, the tomato, sweet potato and beetroot tart would have been a lighter, smarter option committed we were about to get off into the searing afternoon hot for a trip-up to the Nitmiluk Gorge. And again, the ice-cream selection would probably have been a better option for dessert, but how could I withstand the mango and lemon myrtle cheesecake?

In Katherine, our first stop, I chose the gorge sail as my jaunt. There was also an option for a sail to discover ancient Indigenous rock art, a visit to a cattle station for those who had realized the gorge before, or a helicopter or fixed-wing airplane flight over the gorge.

Nitmiluk Gorge( also known as Katherine Gorge) is a natural meditate. Nitmiluk intends cicada country in the local Jawoyn Indigenous language and my remembrance of the trip-up will forever be set to the soundtrack of cicadas. The gorge was formed by an earthquake, but the Jawoyn story of Bulan, the rainbow serpent, carving a track through the stone is much more interesting.

The imposing sandstone cliff faces of the gorge are extraordinary, and their orange, yellow and brown reflections on the crisp, still water be borne in mind of your small place in “the worlds” as you cruise down the canyon between them. While winging around Uluru on day 2 was plainly both huge( the largest monolith in “the worlds”) and hugely impressive, the gorge sail was my favourite off-board jaunt of the trip-up. Maybe it has something to do with anticipations, but I discovered the calm sail between the impose cliffs, along with the stories of the Jawoyn people, most enjoyable and eye-opening.

The meat, wine and top-class service build the Ghan an unforgettable travelling experience. Photo: Ian Routledge/ The Ghan

Then an evening surprise turned out to be the highlight of day two. We were promised an outback barbecue under the stars at Telegraph Station in Alice Springs, where you spend the majority of members of day 2. Seeming tired after the flight to Uluru, and a rather abbreviated tour and lunch at the base, I was not exactly excited about a late night expended outdoors.

But after I had a hot rain( the ensuite showers have great pressure and a plentiful render of hot water) had washed away all the ruby-red grime that had stayed to me at Uluru, we caught a bus to Telegraph Station and I was greeted with sparkling wine and some delightful canapes, including pork belly, cured kangaroo with bush-spiced apple chutney and a lemon myrtle-infused house-smoked salmon fillet served under a majestic blue gum tree. Tired? Not me.

After a camel journey, a look around the station and more sparkling wine, the sumptuous barbecued thousand guineas tenderloin was be used with coat potato, garden salad and roast vegetables. The St Hallett Garden of Eden shiraz was the ideal match for this quintessential Aussie barbie. And just as it became dark enough to appreciate the blanket of starrings we were bathed in, came the surprise an astronomy prove.

Later, a band showed and young and old joined on the dance floor. The band played so many encores that eventually train faculty had to intervene to force-out the dancers back on to the bus so the develop could depart on time. So much for an early night. Back on the develop, we danced in the lounge car as the drinks continued to be run.

Kathy Lawrence, who was on the Ghan with her husband to celebrate his 40 th birthday, told him that the evening was one of the highlights of the three-week trip-up that had taken them to Darwin, Uluru, the Tiwi Islands and the Cobourg Peninsula. The astronomer and the live music constructed it a really good night, she told.

Day three took us to Coober Pedy, an outback township as famous for its underground homes as its opal mines. Coober Pedy is something you should discover once, but once is very likely to do. Its a harsh township, hot and dry, and bleeding stories of lucks won and lost. People come here to hide, a staff member told me, and it was not hard to believe. No one would come seeming here even the wind turbine looked sad.

All the passengers I spoke to were fascinated by the place, though. The temperate underground homes and churches are unique, and the opals exquisite there are still plenty of shopping going on. A Greek lunch of marinated octopus, souvlaki and salad in an underground mine was lovely, but the highlight of the day was a drive out to the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park to watch the sunlight determined over the glorious, multicoloured hills and surrounding desert, cleaned down with a sparkling wine, of course.( No more booze, I heard one passenger groan but with all meat and booze included in the ticket price, there was not much complaining .)

The high level of comfort of the cabin is impressive, and although the space is tight, its neatly employed. Photo: Heather Dinas Photography/ The Ghan

Back at the develop, we had some time before we have now board once more, which granted me the luxury of checking out the engines. With 295 guests onboard and 50 faculty, the Ghan has two locomotives with diesel electric locomotives that weigh 132 tonnes each and have 4,400 horsepower. On the flat trail of the Ghan, the second locomotive is simply for backup, while on the Indian Pacific, it is used to help get up hills. At 1,800 m long, it is as long as a develop get, Kingsley Schupelius, one of the motorists, tells me. With the beautiful scenery, he enjoys the job, which is fortunate because hes been doing it for 36 years. But even that level of experience cant prevent you from making the odd animal.

You discover a lot of wildlife, he tells me. Its mainly kangaroos and camels that get hit, which seems a disgrace since the trip-up is named after the cameleers who came to Australia with their camels from 1839 to assistance carry goods for explorers venturing inland.( The cameleers were believed to be from Afghanistan and nicknamed Ghans by the locals, although they hailed from all over central and middle-eastern Asia .) You know, night-time, you flash your suns, blow your cornet, but you cant[ miss ], Kingsley says. Its darknes and there are bushes around.

At virtually 2km in length, the Ghan heads north across Northern Territory. Photo: Tim Wimborne/ Reuters

Theres a sombre mood in the lounge car that night, and not only because Ive re-told the motorists story of kangaroos and camels getting stuck underneath the develop. Weve become a little pack, those of us who share dinner time and end up back in the lounge afterwards. Some people Ive been on several outings with. Weve realized so much, weve explored the red centre and gazed at the stars, weve danced and sung and watched awe-struck this beautiful country, which no longer feels so barren. It will be hard to say goodbye the next day, but the remembrances of the in-between will last a lifetime.

Gabrielle Jackson travelled as a guest of Great Southern Rail .

2017/18 Ghan Expedition costs are :

Platinum Service: $5,239 pp
Gold Twin Service: $3,499 pp
Gold Single Service: $3,139 pp

All food, drink and most outings are included. Advance purchase discounts available for bookings constructed six months in advance.

  • The 2017 Ghan Expedition season runs from 3 May to 25 October 2017. All southbound travels are four-day/ three-night Ghan Expedition travel. All northbound services year-round are standard Ghan journeys, which are three days/ two nights. Outside of Expedition season, the southbound services likewise operate on the standard three-day/ two-night itinerary. The Ghan departs Adelaide every Sunday and Darwin every Wednesday .

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