After crossing the Australian continent on the Indian Pacific, I spent three delightful days in Perth. I must say, I felt quite at home there and would love to visit again. From Perth I flew up to Darwin and into steamy humidity and rain. In fact, it was pouring rain when The Ghan departed Darwin and I began the two-night journey to Adelaide.
By the way, all the railroad cross ties in Australia—they call them “sleepers”—are made of concrete. This photo, taken from the train, tells us why there are no wood ties. That’s a termite mound and for many hours after leaving Darwin, until we were back in the dry scrubby outback, there were always several within sight. Some were four or five feet high.
When the train’s P.A. system announced that we were approaching the Finke River, we were advised to get our cameras out and be ready to take photos. That’s the Finke River in my photo. My car attendant told me that two weeks earlier, it was a raging torrent. I looked it up later and learned that it is “a major intermittent river in Australia”.
By the way, here’s the explanation about the curious name of this train: When the Australian government began building the two trans-continental railroads, camels were used to carry men and supplies into the hostile scorching Outback. The Afghans were brought in to wrangle the camels and “Ghan” is Aussie shorthand for Afghan.
In Alice Springs, passengers were turned loose for several hours to roam through this interesting town. Meanwhile, the locomotive was serviced. Evidently, the railroad is confident in the reliability of their equipment: one locomotive was hauling more than a dozen cars. There was, however, a separate car with a generator providing for the electrical needs of the train. That made me feel a bit better.
This part of Australia—right around the middle of the continent and heading south for Adelaide—reminded me a lot of the western part of the U.S., what you see from the Southwest Chief after it leaves Lamy (that’s the stop for Santa Fe) and heading west.
The Gahn was right on time at Adelaide, our southern terminus. I was only there overnight, but I liked the city a lot. I’m not sure why, but it reminded me a lot of Honolulu. The market there is unbelievable: hundreds of stalls selling everything you can think of. I would love to go back for a repeat visit. To Perth, too. And I certainly recommend both of those trains although, if pressed, I think I liked the Ghan a little better.