See the MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs, and Katherine
Over three days and two nights, The Ghan – named after the Afghans who helped to open up the Australian interior on camels imported from India – travels 2,979 kilometres between Adelaide and Darwin with an outback sunrise stop at Marla, and extended stops with off train excursions at Alice Springs and Katherine.
Regarded as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys The Ghan takes you from coast to coast, south to north, deep into the heart of the Red Centre.
Departing Adelaide, it’s not long before the city’s urban landscape is replaced by an outlook of green and gold as the train passes through South Australia’s plains, with the Flinders Ranges coming into view as you journey further north.
At the stop at Marla, be sure to set your alarm so you can witness the extraordinary sunrise over this remote outback area of South Australia.
The Ghan continues its journey north – outside, the characteristic ochre-red soil of Central Australia is dotted with small railway towns, spinifex palms and saltpans framed by a cobalt-blue sky. When the MacDonnell Ranges appear on the horizon, you know you’re getting close to remote Alice Springs. Shuttle buses make it easy to explore the town at your leisure, visiting the Flying Doctor Service Museum and the Telegraph Station, part of the telegraph line that linked London with Darwin and Adelaide, which opened in 1872.
Image credit: Tourism NT
Perhaps the best way to take in the region’s vast tracts of sacred Aboriginal land is by the air. If you upgrade your excursion you’ll enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Simpsons Gap, a waterhole and important spiritual site to the Arrarnta Aboriginal people. On the journey in the other direction, from Darwin to Adelaide, there’s also an another optional upgrade allowing you the sky-high experience of gliding over Uluru and Kata Tjuta in a fixed-wing plane – this could well be the ultimate outback experience.
Also on the Darwin to Adelaide journey, a dazzling blanket of stars overhead provides the backdrop for the Outback Pioneer Dinner, where you’ll enjoy steak and damper while being serenaded with live music. Before returning to the train, cast your eyes skyward once more and learn more about the universe with an informative astronomical talk.
Continuing north, enjoy a delightful breakfast aboard The Ghan before arriving at Katherine. Join an included Off Train Excursion such as cruising in spectacular Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge with its towering sandstone cliffs dwarfing the boat, learn about the Jawoyn people and their Cicada Place, or you can book an optional upgrade and take a scenic flight over Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks.
When the train finally moves on, Katherine’s dense forest fades into mangroves and palms as you enter Australia’s only tropical capital, Darwin.
Luxury and history were used in equal measure when fitting out the train. The Platinum and Gold cabins are surprisingly spacious and extremely comfortable. To maximise room, the Gold twin cabins with ensuite feature foldaway tables and reading lights as well as a three-seat lounge that transforms into upper and lower sleeping berths in the evening. During the day, the window-side lounge is the perfect perch to gaze at the changing landscape.
From saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillets, the menu at on-board Queen Adelaide Restaurant is designed to offer a true taste of the country using fresh, seasonal and native produce where available. It’s here that you’ll enjoy hearty breakfasts, two-course lunches and three-course dinners, and Australian wines, beers, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages are included.
How to get there
There are flights to Adelaide and Darwin from all major capital cities.
The Ghan operates year-round from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs, and there are seasonal timetables for the reverse route. Check out the NRMA's Ghan trip and book a holiday now.