TRAVEL, FOR SOME FOLK, IS ALL ABOUT SPEED. It’s about getting from A to B as fast as poss. But there’s a less stressful way to enjoy the world. A long train journey gives you views you can’t see from the road, sights you don’t get from a plane, and a taste of romance that you miss when you’re in a mad, screeching hurry …
Not all trains are the same, of course. Your crowded suburban train won’t do it for you – nor will your weekend choo-choo ride to visit Grandma. But, if you’re in the mood, there are trains that spoil you, trains that pamper you, trains that make you want to quit your car.
There’s nothing quite like a soft seat in a posh carriage … the rhythmic clickety clack of the tracks … cocktails and cuisine on tap … and scenic landscapes scrolling past your big picture-window.
These are the World’s Great Trains. What they offer are the World’s Great Train Journeys. And here’s one that should be on your ‘bucket-list’. It’s easy to get to – in fact, it’s just next door. And you should do it soon … ideally, with someone you love!
I’m talking about THE GHAN – the legendary romp-by-rail through Australia’s vast red heart, serving-up gorgeous landscapes, weird wildlife, history galore, and the world’s oldest indigenous culture.
It gets hot out there in the Outback – stinking hot! And I’m glad I wasn’t one of the sunburnt pioneers who laid the first tracks. The route they chose was pretty much a straight line – from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north (or the other way round, if you prefer). And most travellers do what we did: stop in the middle for a few days to ooh-and-aah at the top attractions.
We were greeted in Adelaide by grotty weather (which didn’t last) and a cheerful coach-driver – who told us that, unlike most Aussie cities, Adelaide had NOT been founded by convicts! (Which made us feel safe that afternoon as we wandered the downtown streets!)
We squeezed in all we could during three days in South Australia: from rambling cottage gardens to the arty-fart German-settled village of Hahndorf … from Maggie Beer’s delectable farm shopto the Barossa Valley vineyards (where, because I forgot to spit, I got my rieslings and shirazes muddled up with my sauvignons and pinot noirs).
Ahh (hiccup), what fun! But then came The Ghan …
Imagine being welcomed aboard by the smiling crew … unpacking in your private sleeper-cabin … relaxing in the spacious lounge as lush panoramas of the south gave way to flat, rusty emptiness of the Outback … sitting down to a classy three-course meal in the dining car (I had barramundi, lemon meringue, and can’t-remember-what-else) … then snuggling into your bed while this famous luxury train rock’n’rolled northward on its 2979km trek.
I’m not a morning person, and I don’t often see the dawn. But next morning, I climbed from my bed at 5:30am, stepped off the train into pitch darkness, and waited for the sun to rise. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was just one degree outside, and I thought I’d freeze my butt off. But they had hot drinks brewing, plus fires blazing from drums alongside the tracks. So we chatted and laughed and kept warm as that big golden ball sneaked over the horizon.
“There’s lots and lots of nothing out here,” someone said later, as we downed a yummy breakfast. And they weren’t kidding. Scrawny bushes, clumps of spiny grass, and a gazillion acres of red sand were sliding by on the other side of the glass. A few cows were scattered here and there (people actually farm this moonscape) – but the only kangaroo we saw was a dead one!
At historic Alice Springs we de-trained and hit the road – the longest, straightest road I’ve ever been on. Ahead, over the next few days, was jaw-dropping Kings Canyon, with its sheer red sandstone walls and dense palm-forests … Kata Tjuta, these humungous domed rocks that rise abruptly from the flat surrounding desert … and that timeless source of myth, legend and ‘never-never’ stories: massive iconic Uluru!
We ate an outdoor BBQ dinner that night … watched a blazing desert sunset turn Uluru’s looming bulk a glorious orange … and finally, when it all went black, marvelled at a night-sky that dazzled with stars. Then, next morning, we were up before the sparrows (kookaburras?) in the freezing pre-dawn, standing at a lookout on the other side of The Rock as the sun rose on a new day and changed Uluru’s colours all over again …
(Part 2 to come …)