On the Ghan to Adelaide

Waking up to our last sunrise in the Northern Territory

23 July 2015

After all our early starts of the last few days, this morning there is no rush to be ready at some ungodly hour of the morning.  I was so pleased I opened the curtains early though to catch the beautiful sunrise.  We can have a leisurely breakfast today and do some last minute packing to be ready for our coach at 11am to take us to the railway station to reboard the Ghan for our overnight journey to Adelaide.

Originally dubbed the Afghan Express, The Ghan train was named for the pioneering cameleers who blazed a permanent trail into the Red Centre of Australia more than 150 years ago. Many cameleers were migrants from an area now known as Pakistan. However, according to outback lore in the 1800s, these men were believed to come from the mysterious outpost of Afghanistan and were considered Afghans – ‘Ghans.  The original Ghan line followed the route of explorer John MacDouall Stuart. On Sunday 4 August, 1929, an excited crowd gathered at the Adelaide Railway Station to farewell the first Ghan train. This train carried supplies and over 100 passengers bound for the remote town of Stuart, later to be called Alice Springs. The train’s whistle pierced the silence of the MacDonnell Ranges surrounding Alice Springs two days later, on 6 August. The train was steam hauled, and the service had to contend with extreme conditions including flash flooding and intense heat. As such, it was often an irregular service. The old Ghan ran on a light, narrow-gauge track well to the east of the track it travels today.








Camel statues farewell us from Alice Springs (right) and we cross the famous Finke River (dry bed) (left)

As well as termite damage, the track was often savaged by fire and flood. Flash flooding, when the normally parched river beds spilled out onto the low lying desert plains, frequently washed away the track completely. Legend has it The Old Ghan was once stranded for two weeks in one spot and the engine driver shot wild goats to feed his passengers.   In 1980, the old Ghan rail track was abandoned in favour of a new standard-gauge rail line built with termite-proof concrete sleepers. The track was laid further to the west to mitigate the flooding problems encountered along the old route. It was always intended for The Ghan to one day travel from Adelaide through to the Northern Territory capital city of Darwin. With the completion of the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link, this dream became a reality. The Ghan embarked on its inaugural transcontinental journey on 1 February, 2004. Today, the north-south cross-country journey covers 2979 kilometres and encounters spectacular and diverse landscapes from the pastoral hues of the South Australian plains, the rusty reds of the MacDonnell Ranges and the tropical greens of Katherine and Darwin.


During this journey it was necessary for our train to pull in to a siding to permit the northbound Ghan to pass through, and the staff were very excited to be able to wave to their colleagues from the dining car (above).  The train was running about an hour late so it held us up for that time.  Later a freight train had to give way to us, and because passing trains must travel at 40kph we were eventually running about two hours late.  This meant we had to forego our short stop at Manguri to look at the brilliance of the stars in the Centre, however heavy cloud had moved in and we probably would not have been able to see the stars in any event.  It was a bit of a rocky trip from then as the train was obviously trying to catch up in time, and it did make up over an hour, so we were not too late arriving in Adelaide.

Green pastures as we get close to Adelaide – strange sight after the reds of the Centre
We took the opportunity to walk along Rundle Mall and find a cafe for lunch, then wandered around to North Terrace and found the Migration Museum.  A beautifully restored building with a tragic story to tell, the Migration Museum is housed in what remains of Adelaide’s Destitute Asylum, built last century to accommodate South Australia’s poor and homeless.  The museum’s database of South Australian immigration and settlement history includes 101 entries.









Founded as an initiative of the State Government in 1983, and with the museum opening in 1986, the Migration Museum in Adelaide is the oldest Museum of its kind in Australia. The museum aims to promote cultural diversity and multiculturalism, which they define as including aspects of ethnicity, class, gender, age and region.

 It was quite cool and windy in Adelaide, so we were glad to get back to the hotel and organise dinner.  Then all too soon the last day of our holiday dawned, and we were on our way to the airport (below) by taxi.  It has been a truly fabulous trip to the Top End and Red Centre, and we have been fortunate to have seen so much in our few weeks holiday – I would certainly recommend the Northern Territory as a great holiday destination – and hope you have enjoyed travelling with me.

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