DAY 8 – Darwin and the Ghan
We got an early start this morning, and took the scheduled Ghan bus transfer to the railway station. It was quite a large bus with an elderly group of primarily Aussies, excited to get to the train for their journey south.
Upon arrival at the Darwin station, our suitcases were offloaded from the bus and transferred to the train, while we stayed on the bus. The bus then drove along the rail platform, dropping guests off at their assigned train car. The train itself is 774 meters long (around 2200 feet), so the drop-off saves guests a long walk in the heat!
The train itself is immaculately maintained, with a friendly and helpful crew to welcome you on board. The Gold Twin cabin is quite small, but the space is well used. It has a nice bench seat and table for relaxing during the journey, enjoying the view from the wide window in the cabin. The walkway has windows every few yards, so you can leave your cabin door open, and get views on both sides. The private bathroom is small, but again, uses the space well. There is a toilet, sink and shower all in the one room…with a shower curtain to protect the toilet/sink areas when showering…there is surprisingly a decent amount of room for a shower.
The single cabin is downright tiny, with one small bench seat, a stool/footrest, and a sink that folds down. The cabins do not have their own bathroom, so they share the showers and toilets with other single cabin travelers in the same car. Once the bed is down, the door doesn’t fully open…but it is a cozy setup.
There is a lounge car, which fills up immediately with guests wanting to enjoy a beverage and the company of their fellow travelers. Dining is in the Queen Adelaide car, with white linen table settings, and a menu of several courses (including options for each course).
We stopped in Katherine for a few hours, and disembarked for a tour that we had selected at boarding. We took the Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise. Several large coaches picked guests up at the Katherine station, and drove us through town (with driver commentary), out to the gorge. The boats each hold about 50 passengers, and cruise leisurely up the river, with entertaining commentary provided by the driver/guide. It was a hot day, but the gorge is beautiful, and well worth a visit. We even saw a few small freshwater crocs relaxing by the shore. The gorge is great for kayaking/canoeing as well, if visiting the area on your own. We were amazed at the hundreds of flying foxes hanging from the trees at the shoreline, chattering and fanning themselves in the heat.
Back on the train, in time for a drink and dinner. While out of the cabin, the crew comes by to turn down the beds, bunk style…including a ladder and guard for the upper bunk. Ready for a good nights sleep, with the gentle rocking of the train car!
DAY 9 – the Ghan and Alice Springs
We were awakened by a knock on the door, and a cup of coffee and tea for each of us. The sun was not up yet, so we were lucky to see the sunrise over the red center as we chugged along in the train toward Alice Springs.
We arrived into Alice Springs just after breakfast, and hopped into a taxi to our hotel, the Double Tree by Hilton. It’s a bit out of town, so the driver waited and took us back to the central market at the Todd Mall. It was surprisingly big for a small town, taking up several blocks with arts/crafts and food booths for the most part…only one produce booth to be found. Apparently this weekend is extra busy because of the Beanie Festival going on (yes, the beanies that we wear on our heads in the winter…although these are more like works of art and a price to match). After our sausage lunch and mango sorbet dessert, we walked the 20 minutes or so back to our hotel, along the Todd River (which, according to the map, is “usually dry”).
In the afternoon, we were picked up by an AAT Kings bus for a city tour, A Town Like Alice. Our driver/guide, Jamie, grew up in the area and was incredibly knowledgeable on all things Alice. We visited the School of the Air (which educates students all over the outback by remote methods), the Telegraph Station, the Royal Flying Doctors Service center and museum, and the Reptile Centre. It was a great way to get around to these sites that are not all in easy walking distance, and gain extra insight from Jamie along the way. The area has a fascinating history and character that just comes to life on a tour like this.
This evening, we walked down the street to the Lasseter Casino, but actually ended up back at our hotel to eat dinner at Hanuman, which has a wide variety of Asian/Indian cuisine.
Wish we had more time to spend here in Alice Springs, but will save that for another trip. Tomorrow we push on to Ayers Rock.