holding up the traffic but a great way to see the outback before arriving at Alice Springs. The Ghan has a long history closely linked to Australias history in general
in 1929 the Ghan finally linked Alice Springs with Adelaide, when the trains replaced the Camels, the Center of Australia finally overcame its isolation.
the Pioneers who set out in 1862 had come 1929 full circle
THE GHAN TO ALICE SPRINGS THEN ON TO DARWIN
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..
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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. ; )
Private Hire Cars
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.
We used this number ....+61 8 8952 3700 but the website I had is not connecting now (2014)
A & P Private Hire
Alice Springs 0870
+61(08) 8953 3030
5 Elder St Alice Springs 0870
+61(08) 8952 5688
Laurie’s Private Hire Car
Alice Springs 0870
+610467 72 2102
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!!!!
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
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 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.
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.
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).
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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.
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Greyhound Bus from Darwin to Alice Springs
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.
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Alice Springs Airport
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.
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...
Alice Springs Airport Shuttle Bus
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.
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