Travelling on The Ghan train takes you deep into the heart of Australia, on a trip that is widely regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys. The name ‘Ghan’ is an abbreviation of ‘Afghan’ and refers to the camel drivers who were brought from Afghanistan in the 19th century. These cameliers helped provide transport throughout central Australia. The importance of these camel ‘trains’ is remembered in the naming of The Ghan which travels from Darwin to Adelaide and vice versa.
It is possible to travel on The Ghan from one to three nights, depending on your budget and how much time you have available for the journey. Highlights include the comfort of a private cabin (the old Red Class carriages have been retired), stunning scenery and the all-inclusive nature of the trip. There are also solo cabins available for single travellers with no single supplement.
When to travel on The Ghan
The full journey from Adelaide to Darwin, via Alice Springs, on The Ghan takes three days. In April and from November to March you can do the same journey in the reverse direction. From May to October, there is also a three night journey which includes a stop at Coober Pedy and time to visit Uluru. If you don’t want to do a longer trip (or can’t afford it), it is possible to travel on The Ghan for just one night, from Darwin to Alice Springs or Alice Springs to Adelaide.
The Ghan passenger age
In the past this train trip had the reputation as a ‘must do’ for older travellers. However, these days it is simply a ‘must do’. I met a 23 year old Danish girl at Litchfield National Park who had completed the journey from Adelaide to Darwin as a solo traveller and loved it. On our trip, the average age was mid to late fifties, with plenty of older and younger travellers as well. Some were solo travellers, others were couples and there were also groups of friends celebrating significant birthdays.
The Ghan onboard atmosphere
One of the great joys of this trip is socialising with other travellers in the lounge (bar) car. The atmosphere is cosy and convivial rather than boozy, the chairs are comfy and the scenery is superb. Passengers on The Ghan tend to be well-travelled and excellent company, with plenty of interesting tales to tell. Even if you don’t fancy a drink, it’s a lovely spot to read or simply chat with like minded fellow travellers.
What to wear on The Ghan
While people do tend to put on something a little more dressy for dinner, the mood on the train is casual and relaxed. T-shirts, shorts and cargo pants are common during the day as passengers have often either returned from or are about to go on excursions. In the evening, gents tend to wear a collared shirt and dress shorts or long pants while ladies opt for a pretty sundress or slacks and a blouse. High heels are best avoided due to the movement of the train.
Adelaide and Darwin on The Ghan
It is worth adding a couple of days onto your trip to explore the cities The Ghan arrives and departs from. Darwin and Adelaide are two of Australia’s unsung capitals with plenty to see and do. Spend a few nights at the Hilton Darwin and go on a sunset sailing trip around the harbour, tour WWII oil storage tunnels, check out the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre or explore Litchfield National Park.
In Adelaide, you can spend an enjoyable day touring the city’s many galleries and parks or take a day trip to McLaren Vale and experience this region’s sensational wines and stunning natural scenery.
The Ghan free hotel pick
If you are staying at a centrally located hotel in either Darwin or Adelaide, you can request a complimentary pick up which takes you from your accommodation to the train station. Your checked luggage is tagged before you get on the bus, so you can relax and simply board the train when you arrive at the station. Checked bags are made available for collection at your final destination.
Packing tips for The Ghan
Cabins on The Ghan are compact and the trip isn’t that long. There is a small wardrobe but nowhere to store a suitcase. You will be much more comfortable in your cabin if you check your large bag when you get on the bus at your hotel and bring a small day bag or carry on for the train journey.
Direction of travel on The Ghan
This won’t be an issue for everyone but if you are prone to motion sickness, or simply don’t like ‘going backwards’ on trains, request a forward facing cabin when you book. When I got on board there were quite a few people trying to change cabins because they had been allocated a cabin which didn’t face the direction of travel. Of course, there are only so many forward facing cabins to go around and not everyone was successful (myself included).
Overview of The Ghan cabins
Accommodation on The Ghan includes accommodation, all-inclusive fine food and wine, lively conversation with newfound friends in the bar and dining cars, and stunning scenery. Passengers can choose from four different cabins types, all of which are very comfortable. It’s worth noting that whatever cabin you stay in, the food is virtually identical, even if you are dining in the Platinum Class dining car.
Platium Cabins on The Ghan
Most expensive are the Platinum Cabins which have a separate lounge seating area, a table and two ottomans. Platinum Cabins are almost twice the size of the standard Gold Twin Cabins which have upper and lower berths that convert to a three-seater lounge by day.
Gold Twin Cabins on The Ghan
Gold Twin cabins have a compact en suite with toilet, washbasin and shower and twin bunk beds. If you can’t agree on who should get the bottom bunk, flip for it in the bar over a drink.
Double Cabins on The Ghan
The Ghan does have a few double Gold cabins. However, the double bed in these are very small. Unless you and your partner are slim, you will probably be just as comfortable in one of the twin cabins with bunk beds.
Gold Single Cabins on The Ghan
Should you consider doing an iconic train journey such as The Ghan as a single traveller? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Having the freedom to please yourself during such an iconic travel experience is one of the great joys of doing this trip solo, with plenty of fun to be had along the way.
The Ghan helps single travellers say goodbye (and good riddance) to the dreaded ‘single supplement’ with a single Gold Class sleeper cabin. These compact cabins feature a bed that converts to a seat by day and shared shower/toilet facilities located at the end of the carriage.
With a large modern tiled shower, excellent water pressure and brand name toiletries, these shower facilities would look equally at home at an upmarket hotel. The single travellers I spoke to were pleasantly surprised that they never had to wait to use the shower, even at peak times like before dinner.
Sleeping on The Ghan
The Ghan isn’t a high tech speed machine like a TGV. There is a sense of history and grandeur that you don’t find on modern trains, with the slower journey making the most of the stunning scenery. If you are worried about sleeping, a pair of earplugs can be useful to pack in your bag. Most travellers find it easier to sleep on the second night of the journey after they get used to the rocking motion of the train.
The Ghan excursions
A selection of excursions on The Ghan is included in the cost of your fare. These range from bus tours to nature walks and a cruise up Nitmiluk Gorge at Katherine. Some are designed to appeal to the active younger travellers now embracing The Ghan. Additional excursions are also available at an ‘add on’ cost, such as camel riding in Alice Springs and a helicopter trip over the gorge at Katherine. Don’t rule out these extra cost excursions as many of them are well worth the spend, especially the helicopter trip in Nitmiluk Gorge.
You don’t book excursions until you get on the train so if you are thinking of upgrading to the helicopter tour, for example, there is time to check the weather forecast before you reach for your wallet. However, if you have your heart set on a particular activity it could be a good idea to book in as soon as you get onboard so you don’t miss out.
The Ghan lounge car
One of the great joys of this trip is socialising with other travellers in The Ghan Lounge Car (a.k.a. The Ghan Bar). The atmosphere is cosy and convivial rather than boozy, the chairs are comfy and the scenery is superb. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are included in the fare, so there is no need to worry about your holiday budget if you fancy a coffee or a glass of wine. Spending time in the lounge car and meeting other travellers from around the world was one of my favourite parts of The Ghan journey.
Queen Adelaide Restaurant
The Queen Adelaide Restaurant on The Ghan is open for breakfast, a two-course lunch and three-course dinner. Menus focus on regional flavours such as barramundi, beef and lamb, Margaret River cheeses, and Barossa Valley smallgoods. Native produce such as kangaroo, saltbush and wild rosella also feature, offering a delicious taste of Australia.
As there isn’t enough room for everyone to eat in the restaurant at the same time, your cabin attendant will tell you what time your lunch and dinner bookings are each day. These can be early or quite late, such as 2.15pm for lunch. If you have a preference make sure you get in early with your request so your cabin attendant can change your booking. Breakfast is free seating so you can come in whenever you are ready to eat, anytime before 10am.
The verdict on The Ghan
In the past this train trip had the reputation as a ‘must do’ for older travellers. These days it is simply a ‘must do’. If you want a classic ‘Aussie experience’ which celebrates the scenery, cuisine and culture that makes Australia unique, this trip is for you. Travelling on The Ghan is a journey that stays with you long after you return home.
Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of the operators.