Thursday, 26 April 2012

South on The Ghan 1: Darwin to Katherine

I'm writing this on The Ghan, Australia's second great transcontinental train.

The first, the Indian Pacific, takes an east-west route as it crosses Australia from Sydney to Perth. I've been on the Indian Pacific twice, and you can read about those journeys here (2009) and here (2011).

The Ghan is actually the older of the two, but it wasn't until 2004 that the final section of the railway was completed and the train could cross the continent from south to north between Adelaide and Darwin. Before then it had terminated at Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia.

I actually started this journey from the Top End (writing about Darwin in my previous post). These are some of the highlights of The Ghan as we headed south...

1. Do the Locomotive. Here's one of the two mighty engines hauling our train, which on this occasion consisted of 35 carriages stretching 750 metres, weighing over 1000 tonnes. As the logo suggests, by the way, The Ghan's name comes from the Afghan camel drivers who helped open up the Outback in the 19th century:


2. Carriage of Delight. The Ghan's carriages are actually the same as those on the Indian Pacific, but I was lucky this time to be placed in one of the newly refurbished cars. Here are a couple of snaps of my cabin and its impressive bathroom:


3. Memories of Conflict. After the Japanese air attacks on Darwin in 1942, a major military base was established at Adelaide River; and later, a military cemetery. As this particular edition of The Ghan was commemorating Anzac Day via a special itinerary, we stopped here for a brief visit.

One of the most moving memorials was this one, at the gravesite of the six post office staff who were killed in the first air attack on Darwin on 19 February 1942, when a bomb fell directly into the trench in which they were sheltering:


4. Culture on Arrival. At nightfall we reached Katherine, where drinks were held on the park opposite the station. An atmospheric part of the entertainment was this group of local Aboriginal dancers, performing in front of a bonfire:


5. Gorgeous Gorge. The following day we were transported to Katherine Gorge, a beautiful rocky landscape with a river running through it. Here's a glimpse of the rock walls we saw from our boat through the gorge:


6. ... and a small crocodile lurking by the riverbank (can you see it?)...


7. ... and finally, an Agile Wallaby I was lucky to get really close to, as a small herd of them grazed in a grassy area below the car park:


Next week: Alice, the Old Ghan, and a troop train to Quorn...

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail.