Travel through the vast outback from the south to the north of Australia (or vice versa) on the world's longest north-south train journey
By Sue Gough Henly
What to expect
- See the wide open spaces of the Australian outback
- Have fascinating off-train adventures in Alice Springs and Katherine
- Enjoy the superb food and wine on board
- Time: 3-4 days, 2-3 nights
- Distance: 2,979 kilometres (1,851 miles)
- Nearest major city: Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin
- Transport: train
- Price: $$$
One of the world’s greatest rail journeys, The Ghan, (named after the Afghan cameleers who, from the 1860s to the early 20th century, helped explore and build infrastructure in the outback) traverses Australia's wide open spaces. It goes from the pastoral hues of the South Australian hills and plains to the rusty Red Centre and the tropical greens of the Top End. On the way, you can explore the famous outback towns of Alice Springs and Katherine on whistlestop tours.
There are two levels of service: Platinum and Gold, both with sleeping cabins. Platinum and Gold Service passengers enjoy all-inclusive drinks in the Outback Explorer Lounge and dine in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, which serves regionally sourced Australian food and wine.
You can take The Ghan in either direction between Adelaide and Darwin. If you travel from Darwin to Adelaide between April and October, the journey takes an extra day and night and is called The Ghan Expedition. The Ghan Expedition journey includes an extra stop in South Australia's Manguri for a day trip to the world's opal mining capital, Coober Pedy, where many residents live underground. You can also take half the journey between Alice Springs and Adelaide or Darwin.
Day 1: Adelaide to the outback
Board The Ghan in Adelaide at noon and enjoy lunch as you watch Adelaide's gracious outskirts roll into pastoral lands and undulating wine country before flattening into rugged mallee scrub. Pass through coastal Coonamia and Port Augusta. Cross over the Dingo Fence – the world’s longest fence, built to keep dingoes out of southeast Australia – and speed through the outback train station of Cadney Homestead, at the gateway to the Painted Desert. Look out at the small, rustic railway towns and vast tracts of Aboriginal land, where communities have maintained their connection with country for thousands of years. Watch the sun setting over the vast expanse of the outback as you meet new friends over cocktails in the Outback Explorer Lounge. In the classically styled Queen Adelaide Restaurant, dine on South Australian produce from an ever-changing menu that represents the regions traversed by the train. Finish with a platter of local cheeses, which pairs perfectly with a hearty red wine from South Australia's McLaren Vale or Clare Valley regions.
Day 2: The outback
Passengers alight the train at Marla in South Australia, which marks the start of the remote Oodnadatta Track, to watch the sun rise and enjoy a light breakfast in the heart of the outback. Back on the train, cross the Northern Territory border and travel through the small bush town of Kulgera and over the generally dry Finke River before arriving in Alice Springs at about noon. Explore Alice Springs on one of the many whistlestop tours. Visit the Alice Springs Desert Park to learn more about the landscapes that The Ghan traverses, or do a tour of the town, where you can visit the base of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which offers airlifted medical support to Australia's outback community. You can take an optional upgrade and enjoy a scenic helicopter flight over the ancient red MacDonnell Ranges or ride a camel in the desert. Reboard the train in the late afternoon and travel north through the desert as you enjoy dinner in the train's Queen Adelaide Restaurant.
Day 3: Katherine to Darwin
The train races through the gold mining town of Tennant Creek as you're eating breakfast. It stops at the historic pioneering township of Katherine, where numerous excursion options await. You could enjoy a leisurely cruise in Nitmiluk National Park’s Katherine Gorge, and admire towering sandstone cliffs and crocodiles basking in the sun. Alternatively, head out to Katherine Outback Experience, owned by multiple Golden Guitar winner Tom Curtain. This fantastic show celebrates life on the land through real horse-starting and working dog demonstrations entwined with live music and humorous bush tales. Optional upgrades include a scenic helicopter flight over the 13 gorges of Nitmiluk National Park or a 90-minute fixed-wing scenic flight over both Kakadu and Nitmiluk national parks. Back on board, enjoy a late lunch as the rainforest of the Northern Territory outback rushes by the window. Pass through the old gold mining town of Pine Creek, and Adelaide River, once a World War II military headquarters. You'll roll into the Northern Territory's tropical capital of Darwin mid afternoon.
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