Choo-Choo-Choose the Ghan!
One of Australia's great interstate trains, the Ghan, services Alice Springs. The Ghan crosses Oz, on a north-south axis, running from Adelaide (on the Great Southern Ocean) to Darwin (on the Indian Ocean).
The Ghan's most appropriate motto is "The legendary journey through the heart of Australia".
The Ghan runs from Adelaide to Alice Springs twice a week, and one of those times, it goes on north to Darwin. So from Alice Springs, you have two opportunities per week to travel to/from Adelaide, and one to travel to/from Darwin.
If you have the time and the knack for an adventure, I seriously suggest that you take the Ghan into or out of Alice Springs.
If you're traveling in first class (Gold Kangaroo) and you make advance booking, you can bring your automobile along on the train's motorail for a reasonable cost...something like A$100.
For all you train lovers, here are a few Ghan facts, courtesy of "Platform Magazine", published by the Great Southern Railway Company of Australia...
Adelaide to Alice, one night, 1559 km
Alice to Darwin, one night, 1420 km
Average length of train, 403 meters, 15 passenger cars + locomotive + motorail
Average speed of the Ghan 85 km/hr
Max speed of the Ghan 115 km/hr
Weight of the train is 735 tons. (It gets heavier after dinner. : )
The basic routing of the train, starting with Adelaide and continuing to Darwin is as follows:
Adelaide - Coonamia - Port Germein - Port Augusta - Tent Hill - Pimba - Kingoonya - Coondambo - Tarcoola - Manguri (near Coober Pedy) - Kulgera - The Iron Man - Finke River - ALICE SPRINGS - Tennant Creek - Katherine - Pine Creek - Adelaide River (a long way FROM Adelaide, mind you...) - Darwin
Sir Richard's Virgin Blue visits Alice as well...
If you've been reading my transportation tips in sequence, you've just finished my "Qantas" tip. But any newbies, a quick recap..... Qantas and Virgin Blue are the largest airline participants in service at the Alice Springs airport. Both have their relative strengths and weaknesses, at least from my perspective.
For Virgin Blue, the biggest strength is their low fares. The cost of flying Virgin Blue seems to be about 25-30% than comparable routings on Qantas...sometimes more. What will you NOT get by spending less? Food on the plane. That's pretty much it. Now, I flew Qantas several times, and they were great. The food they served was quite good..... but probably not worth the fare difference. So, if your prime goal is to get there for the fewest bones, fly Virgin Blue.
The negative on Virgin Blue is their schedule. Qantas clearly has more non-stops and fewer connections for points all over Australia. When I flew from Alice to Brisbane, I chose Qantas for fewer connections. I decided that time was money, and I wanted to spend less than 10 hours of my day flying all over Australia. On some itineraries, the differences may be more minimal.
In short, my advice to flying IN Australia is this..... IF Virgin Blue has a schedule and connections that make you happy, save your money and fly with Sir Richard. But, you can't go wrong with the Red 'Roo, either.... it just costs a bit more.
And, you get food.
The Red 'Roo (Qantas) flies everywhere
Qantas and Virgin Blue are the "biggest" airlines serving Alice Springs. Both have their specific strengths and advantages.
Since this tip is about Qantas, their advantages are...
(1) They have more flights to more places requiring fewer connections. Both Qantas and VB can fly you non-stop to Sydney, for example. But if you want to go to Brisbane from Alice, you'll have two connections on VB and only 1 on Qantas. So, if getting to a slightly smaller market from Alice Springs quickly is your goal, Qantas may be your choice.
(2) You can get better connections leaving the country. If you are going to fly internationally and are departing Alice, Qantas is probably the best choice all around. You could fly to Sydney or Melbourne, etc. via VB and then switch to another airline. But the connections are more seamless with Qantas.
The negative for Qantas VS Virgin Blue? Money, mates. Virgin Blue fares are usually less, and sometimes significantly so. This may be also true for JetStar, another discount domestic airline in Oz, but I cannot say so with certainty as I didn't fly JetStar during my vacation.
The Alice Springs Airport
Alice Springs may be a famous place and is basically "the capital of the Outback". But....the city has less than 10,000 inhabitants. So, I didn't expect much from the Alice Springs Airport.
I was wrong. This is a terrific little airport......plenty of space, well-organized and comfortable. There are quite a few interesting little shops, and lots of places to get a bit of food. And, as airport food goes, it was darned good.....Aussie pies, burgers, sandwiches, etc.... And, there's a nice little pub with a good selection of beers, whiskies and mixed drinks.
One of the nicest things I saw about the Alice Springs airport was their outdoor patio/eating area. On a warm and sunny winter day, it was just the thing to beat the hum-drum of hanging around an airport.
The Alice Springs airport is served by (at least) four carriers. There could be more, but the ones I noticed are
(2) Virgin Blue
(4) Aboriginal Air Services (hmmmm...)
As you'll see in the next tips, we had great experiences with both the Red 'Roo (Qantas) and Virgin Blue.
My wife had one little unnerving moment. Apparently, her "number" was the one selected for "additional safety screening". A matronly but nice lady invited her to step into another room. Thankfully for Bonnie, the door stayed open and nobody got out any rubber gloves. ; )
Greyhound bus from Yulara to Alice Springs
The Greyhound/McCafferty buses come into Ayers Rock Resort and pick up folks who wish to travel to Alice Springs from Yulara. (I think there are 2 or 3 such buses a day) Mine picked me up outside the Pioneer Lodge. The journey takes about 5-6 hours with a change of buses mid-way through at this lonely stretch in the middle of nowhere (very surreal). I grabbed the 12.30pm bus and I reached Alice Springs at about 6pm. Along the way, I was treated to scenes of the vast emptiness of the Australian desert (red-orange as far as you can see) and possibly one of the most beautiful sunset I have ever had the fortune to enjoy as the day slowly died away, setting the sky and clouds on fire. I sat in stupor as I watched the ambers slowly fickled away and finally darkness came to claim victory. It was a very beautiful way to end the day after my 31st birthday.
The bus journey costed me A$74 (circa 2003).
- School Holidays
- Budget Travel
Backpacker's Trips to Uluru/Watarrka
If you are backpacking through Australia, the best value and best way to see Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Watarrka National Parks is through Mulga's Adventures. They offer a 3-day tour that also visits the Olgas and King's Canyon, called the Ayers Rock Experience. It costs about $250 - $300 AU and is well worth it! The drivers are great, and you make plenty of friends, in addition to seeing some of the best sights in Australia. If Drasko is still a driver there, try to get on one of his trips.
The trips start at Annie's Place in Alice Springs, which is also a great hostel to stay at, with cheap food, a great staff, and air conditioned rooms.
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
Accomodation Buses...Shuttles & Taxis...
All are available as soon as you get off the Ghan train...so try to plan where you want to go in advance and then select the best option...for example, I wanted to stay at the Melanka so cosequently dived on their bus...free...other options available of course but a little forward planning (only a day as in my case) saved my a few bucks...
THE GHAN......"LEGEND OR LET-DOWN???"....
Journey Time: Darwin-Alice 24hrs
Cost:Get a backpackers card 1st.Card is $35,Darwin to Alice only costs $120 instead of @ $240.(see below)
Comfort:kangaroo red cars ok,seats not bad.Buffet car & lounge car available(usual purchases available - 2x VB cans $10,2 rounds of toast & coffee $4.50)
Entertainment:none,1 movie@8pm,a movie for kids which I can understand but should've been on earlier to allow for another Cinema movie after for adults)
Staff:did their jobs...
Stop offs:1 at Katherine for 4 hrs in the afternoon(see below)
Ameneties:toilets (ladies & gents) & showers (see below)
WAS IT WORTH IT??
yes if you have a long period to travel Oz...I didn't so not for me..however, at least I've had a go
VALUE FOR MONEY??
Yes if you like train journeys..but in reality my flights with Virgin Blue throughout Oz have been dirt cheap in comparison to this journey
DO IT AGAIN?? not really as knowing what I know now...I would've preferred to get to Alice earlier or stay in Darwin & do more
PLEASE READ MY WARNING & TIPS ON THE GHAN ON THIS PAGE...IT'S IMPORTANT!!!!
the Ghan runs twice weekly from Adelaide to the Alice and on to Darwen, and back again
there are three classes, Gold Kangaroo [ luxury cabins ] Red Kangaroo [ basic cabins ] and the Daynighter seats [ reclining seats ]
as the journey takes 20 hours from Adelaide to Alice take a cabin if finances allow, the seats are really uncomfortable to sleep in
before you book your tickets join the YHA or one of the other recognised backpackers associations, you will get big savings on the fares
your luggage is checked in, so make sure you keep everything you`ll need for the journey in your hand luggage
for more info on the journey see the travelogue on my Australia page
- Luxury Travel
Make a Tour !
In Alice Springs you can book several tours to the Uluru, the Olgas and the other Attractions around here (well, ok. "around" is a more farspun word here, than anywhere else).
They have trips down the Uluru variing from 3 to 5 and more days.
I would suggest to make it longer than 3 days. The distances here are enormous and you will have to drive a lot, so take at least some time at the places to rest and see.
Don?t just go there to say "I was there". Taking a short tour will show you the places, but you will not have the time for more than a few pics....
We booked a 5 day tour at Sahara Tours.
It was very simple, but great, we had a lot of fun. It was quite strenuous anyway.
On the pic you can see our group at a "firewood-stop" somewhere in between two attractions.
Cooking is on open fire, sleeping is in tents.
The baggade you are allowed to take is limited: I think it was 10kg per person.
- Hiking and Walking
- Adventure Travel
This is Australia's leading budget airfair airline. This airline flyes from most capital cities to Alice Springs daily.
Interesting Posters at the Old Ghan Museum
Inside the museum itself and outside in the rail cars there are many interesting historical posters about Australian railroads. One railway was even named after Zyg!
- Museum Visits
Outdoor Displays at Old Ghan Museum
Besides the Old Ghan train itself there are several interesting outdoor displays of historical rail equipment and cargo. See also a videoclip.
- Museum Visits
Qantas Link provides services to/from Alice Springs. Destinations include Darwin and Yulara (for Uluru).
Qantas is Australia's largest Airline. Qantas flies to the Alice from over 60 locations throughout Australia.
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