The Ghan, which is short for Afghan called after the camel drivers who helped penetrate Australia red centre, train runs all the way from Darwin through Alice Springs down to Adelaide. We did the Alice to Adelaide section and slept overnight on the train. It was fun and another chance to see more red outback scenery.
BEWARE Central Car Rentals. Also known as Alice Camp'n'drive. The owner is dishonest and abusive. You are much better off sticking with the main car hire companies. The camping kit is of very poor quality. You won't sleep well at night as the swags have very thin mattresses.
Before my trip to the 2010 VT Meet and Survivor Camp in 2010, I decided to fly into Darwin and use the Greyhound Croc Stopover Package to get from Darwin to Alice Springs. At 269 AUD, it was reasonably priced and included coach travel between Darwin and Alice Springs with 2 stops. One stop was optional and the other was an all inclusive stay at the Nitmiluk Katherine Gorge tent village for one night, including the shuttle to and from Katherine bus station, linen, bedding, pillow, dinner at the poolside kiosk or bistro, and a pancake breakfast. You have up to 14 days to complete the trip but I planned to do it in 4 days. Besides Katherine Gorge, I picked the Mataranka Homestead Tourist Resort as my other overnight stop.
Everything would have been fine except that the bus departed Darwin at 13:40 instead of noon on 5 Aug 2010 because it was stuck behind another bus with mechanical problems at the maintenance facility. When I asked Clare, the Greyhound lady in Darwin, she thought that the Nitmiluk shuttle would wait for me. We arrived in Katherine at 17:40 instead of 16:10. The station was closed and no one was there from Nitmiluk Tours to pick me up. When I called them, they refused to pick me up in Katherine since the bus arrived 40 minutes after my scheduled pick up time, which was 17:00. The Nitmiluk Tours lady said that the late bus was a Greyhound problem and would have to be fixed by them. This was even after I had called Nitmiluk Tours from the USA before I left on my trip to confirm my stay with them. When I asked the bus driver, Wayne, what to do, he said to call the Brisbane Greyhound office. That was no help, so I decided to stay on the bus and go to the Mataranka Homestead Tourist Resort a day early. Fortunately they had plenty of vacancies and I got a room with no problem. All is well that ends well. The Mataranka Homestead Tourist Resort turned out to be a really nice place to visit. I was glad to have an extra day there.
After two days and nights at Mataranka, the bus picked me up exactly on time (18:45). I spent the third night traveling on the bus and we arrived in Alice Springs around 09:00. BTW, one of the rest stops in between was Aileron at around 07:00. Aileron is an interesting place because it has some huge metal sculptures. The Greyhound Australia bus station in Alice Springs is on Gap Road about two blocks south of the Todd Mall entrance. There is a taxi stop across the street from the Todd Mall on Gregory Terrace next to the Visitors' Center.
Tip duplicated on my Darwin, Alice Springs and Adelaide pages.
The Ghan is one of the Australian legendary journeys that I have been reading about since I was a kid and then as I grew up – although there are some who’d say that never did happen – another story for another day perhaps.
The Ghan run by Great Southern Railways (GSR) is number 29 on the impressive list of the Wikipedia article ‘Longest Rail Services’ and the train is well known for its luxury form of travel that has appealed to the more senior citizens – the ‘youngies’ would not put up with a 2,979 train journey from Adelaide in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory that takes 3 days when they could hop on an aircraft and be there in say 4 hours. Oldies, like Lady Gaw and myself, are more content to sit back and watch the scenery, enjoy the great meals and all that is part of the Great Southern Railways service.
I have put together a long travelogue ‘The Ghan for beginners’ on our journey that we really enjoyed in July 2012 when we travelled from Darwin all those kilometers to south to Adelaide. There are 2 so called ‘Whistle stops’ in Katherine and Alice Springs for 4 hours each, however the train does stop at other locations depending on your needs – check with GSR
Some may consider a trip on The Ghan to be expensive – OK compared to cattle class crammed into a tiny seat on an aircraft with a budget carrier, perhaps it is. However a better way of comparison would be comparing business class airfares (about $A1, 500 each) and adding the cost of 2 nights accommodation (difficult to compare accom in a cramped train twin bunk compartment plus a phone box sized all included bathroom with a hotel, but say $50 each x 2 nights), then add the value of the 1 lunch, 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts and 1 morning tea (guessing $A225 each but probably more). I would think the overall price for the other-than-train way would be $A3,650 against The Ghan listed price for 2 in Gold Class at 2 X $A2,116 = $A4,232 or Child/Pensioner/CSHC 2 X $A1,464 = $A2,928. Lady Gaw and I are in the latter category (Pensioner), so not considering the amazing savings we enjoyed of ‘buy one get one free’ The Ghan is a cheaper way of ‘travel’ and has the added bonus of the scenery, Whistle Stop options, fellow crazy travelers and great on board crew.
There are 3 classes of travel – Red is economy and there are sit up all the way seats, however that class does have twin share cabins without private facilities – walk to the end of the carriage. Next is Gold Class and all have sleeper cabins either ‘roomette’ (single) of doubles with own on-suite (very small) facilities – there is also a Gold Class Superior Cabin with extras and off course more expensive than ‘basic’ Gold. Last is Platinum which is luxury cabins, with very high price tags. Gold and Platinum include all on-board meals, which are a very high standard served up by great staff.
I would strongly suggest signing up with the GSR ‘All Aboard Club’ for regular e newsletters which do contain special prices – see web site for details on The Ghan. The trains run once a week in both directions all year and twice a week both directions in the peak winter season
About the photos:
1. Just one of the 29 carriages
2. Katherine Station and note there is no raised platform. A set of steps awaits at each door position.
3. Queen Adelaide restaurant carriage for Gold and Platinum class.
4. Explorers Lounge carriage - bar and gift shop
5. Was that sun rise or set?
Alice Springs Airport is remote to the town (as most airports are). The Alice Springs Airport Shuttle meets all incoming and departing flights to the airport and offers a fast and convenient service with friendly drivers to the various hotels, hostels and accommodation throughout Alice Springs.
Transfer from the airport to Alice Springs can be booked on arrival, just look for the bus at the drop-off zone in front of the terminal - the driver remains with the bus and tickets can be bought from the driver (cash only). Return transfers are available.
I caught the "Ghan Train"from Adelaide to Darwin crossing the continent from south to north stopping in Port Augusta and Alice Springs .Alice Springs is a place that I wanted to visit for some time so this is where I chose to stop for five days ..Alice Springs is the "red centre" so they say and it was here that I wanted to visit the Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park also The Kings Canyon National Park.These real points of interest were on my list of "must sees" before continuing my journey to Darwin.
The trip to Alice Springs from Adelaide is one of about 1600 kilometers and takes around 26 hours by the "Ghan Train"and travels right through the "Red Centre" of Australia..leaving Adelaide in the afternoon ,so, a lot of the trip is overnight. This was a really a long train..nearly a kilometer long...I chose to travel in the budget cheap seats in the "Red Kangaroo" section of the train.these seats are similar to aircraft seats and are , I found to be comfortable..The restaurant car serves good food and (for train food) not only be good, but not really expensive with generous helpings....unlike European trains where you need a personal loan to get a cup of coffee.There is much interaction with the so many different foreign travellers on board as there is lots of chat as this is a new experience for most.
The carriages have ample room to move around and also a lot of room to move around in restaurant car and lounge car but the "galley" gets a bit crowded getting served. There are electrical plug outlets for PC's or for recharging digital batteries for cameras or charging mobile phones. The train stops for quite some time in Katherine ..While here there is a chance to visit the "Nitmaluk" National Park and see the wonderful Katherine Gorge..This can be organised on the train prior to reaching Katherine..
I thoroughly recommend this really fun trip..I had five days in Alice Springs as I wanted to visit ULURU National Park etc.(these National Parks are a must to see).before joining the train for the onward journey to Darwin..(much more tips and information) on my Darwin page transport tip) I got tickets on special through ..Great Southern Rail..
Well if we had not been alerted to the private hire car nearby we might still be waiting for a taxi.
These cars are not allowed to rank with the taxis and are to be found with the coaches on the other side of the railway station.
Usually there is a fixed rate for a journey.
They are not as readily available as a taxi in the usual sense but we used the private hire car company for nearly all of our journeys.
Only two airlines fly to Alice Springs Airport (airport code ASP).
They are Qantas and Tiger. Almost 100% of the time Tiger will fly there cheaper, but their times will be less convenient and they will not give you meals or entertainment unless you pay for it. They also don't have any Frequent flyer miles. Like most things you get what you pay for.
there are no international flights out of ASP - you have to go to one of Melbourne, Syndey, Cairns, Darwin, or Perth first. Keep in mind that most flights leave earlier, not later in the day. You need to make sure you have time to get to the airport from the town center, which takes 20mins and costs maybe $70 by taxi. If you stayed at Toddy's or Alice Lodge there's a shuttle bus you book the night before you leave for $12.
There's 8 gates, all in the same hall, and there is a sole baggage claim. You cannot get lost. There is a cafe and a bar though, and they serve okay food with good drinks.
Alice Springs Airport is a small airport, serving only 4 airlines (QANTAS, Aboriginal Air, Airlink & Vincent Air).
The Airport Shuttle Bus charges A$12 one way or A$20 return.
The Ghan railway travel from the Darwin in the North through Alice Springs and onto Adelaide in the South and vise versa. I travels a total distance of just under
3000 kms. It offers a very unique way to get to the red centre as well as offering some spectacular views along the way.
The inside part of the Old Ghan Museum is small, but there are some interesting displays. Admission for seniors in August 2010 was 6 AUD. The kitchen is also there. You order your food at the counter. There are a few tables inside but there are nice outside dining areas in the garden next to the "Galahliment House." If you wish, they will bring your food to you at the tables outside. Their motto is "All food beyond this point is delicious and must be consumed." It's true too! I had the homemade soup lunch special for 8 AUD.
Work began on the Great Northern Railway in 1878 to link Port Augusta with Darwin to open-up central Australia. The southern section of the line reached Alice Springs in 1929, and the train running this line became known as "The Ghan", named after the Afghan camel drivers who had contributed to the developement of communication and transport links in inland Australia. It was built to the South Australian narrow gauge of 3'6" (1067mm). A new standard gauge railway to Adelaide was built on a different route in 1980 and the Old Ghan was closed.
The Old Ghan Museum and Heritage Railway is all that is left of the narrow gauge. The collection includes an operational heritage railway featuring a W924 Steam locomotive, an NSU diesel electric locomotive, a DH40 shunting engine and a variety of flattops, dining cars bar cars and other carriages. The museum itself houses a collection of photographs and memorabilia relating to all eras of the Old Ghan heritage from construction in the mid 1920's to when the narrow gauge closed.
In the 1990's the Old Ghan made 30 km journeys down the track to Ewaninga each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but these trips were eventually stopped in 2001 when the museum had financial problems. Now the museum fires up one of the old steam or diesel engines to take visitors to Mount Ertiva (8km south of the museum) and back on the single-gauge track. Departure is on Sunday at 11:00 AM, returning around 12:30 PM. See also a videoclip.
The Central Australian Transport Heritage Precinct includes both the Old Ghan Museum and Heritage Railway, and the National Road Transport Hall of Fame. There are separate museums and outdoor displays for trains and for trucks. Each side has a tea room and the train side has a bush kitchen. We picked the Old Ghan side.
Exploring the Red Centre with an ‘own’ car is the ideal way to get the most out of your days. We decided to do it one way, which meant from the Alice Springs (airport) to Uluru (airport).
We got the best quotation through the Visitor Information Centre in Alice Springs for a car from Thrifty. They could offer us ‘unlimited km’s’, where we got from Thrifty itself 100 km’s a day free !! Just quite a difference as we drove more than 860 km’s in three days.
There is no ‘one way fee’ if you rent your car for 3 days or longer. In Alice Springs we had to do a lot of paperwork and placed 6 signatures on the rental agreement. And it was rather strange that we could drop off our car in Uluru without any check at all. To fill up the petrol of the car tere is a station in the Ayers Rock Resort.
We rented a 4WD Kia Sorrento, although I’m not sure if it was absolutely necessary to drive the gravel roads in the desert and the Mereenie Loop Road. On the other hand it was quite comfortable having some extra power on bad parts and side roads.
All together we had to pay AUD 376,- for our three days and 860 km’s through the desert. Well worth the money for this adventure.
Central Australian Tourism Industry Association:
We travelled to and from the Red Centre by plane and could use our RTW-tickets of ‘oneworld’. We were flying with Qantas or better QantasLink from Cairns to Alice Springs and from Uluru (Ayers Rock) to Perth.
Using airplanes is by far the most convenient way to travel to/from the Red Centre, due to its location thousands of km´s from other (tourist) destinations In Australia.
Both airports are connected with the major Australian cities and there are also flights between Alice Springs and Uluru (see for more info www.qantas.com.au).
Alice Springs has a small but modern terminal with all facilities. The airport is about 15 km’s from town and there is a shuttle bus running after arrival of the planes. We picked up our rental car at the desk of Thrifty.
Ayers Rock (Uluru)
The airport of Uluru is just 6 km’s from Ayers Rock Resort, with a free shuttle service to Ayers Rock Resort. There are also desks of the most important car rental companies to drop off your car.
Connellan Airport is rather small and quiet with only a couple of flights a day. There is no need to be in a hurry to check in.
In the departure hall is just one food booth and a small shop. It is better to buy your souvenirs from the Red Centre in the Resort or even better in the Cultural Centre.
Website Alice Springs Airport: www.darwinairport.com.au/ASIndex.htm
Website Ayers Rock Airport: www.qantas.com.au/info/flying/atTheAirport/airportGuide/ayq