The Ghan railway journey is one of the most iconic train trips in Australia, and is often ranked among the finest in the world. What makes this route particularly interesting is the history that surrounds the journey, which takes place in the heart of Australia.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, more than 2,000 cameleers from modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and around 20,000 camels, came to Australia to provide a method of transportation that could withstand the incredibly harsh conditions of the Australian outback.
Where other animals, like horses, died because of the heat and lack of water, the camels survived and provided a way to transport materials and also explore remote areas of the centre of the country. The so-called “Afghan men” were instrumental in proving goods to remote communities, but it was incredibly tough work, and sadly, they were later unable to bring their families with them to Australia due to restrictions and the White Australia Policy.
Taking this journey today is a truly humbling feeling; these 2,979kms of railway tracks, which took close to 50 difficult years to build, can now be crossed in comfort within two days. However, to really make the most of the journey, we recommend taking the longer three-night / four-day “Ghan Expedition”, which includes one must-see additional stop (Coober Pedy) and more time to explore the Red Centre.
If you have your heart set on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, here are five unforgettable highlights of the extended expedition itinerary that will leave a powerful and lasting impression.
A southbound Ghan journey begins at the Darwin Rail Station, but if you have the time to explore Darwin for a few days before you jump aboard, it’s well worth it. After you spend some time taking in the view of Mindil Beach and the markets, head out to Kakadu National Park and take a tour of the Nourlangie Rock and take in the ancient rock art created by the local indigenous communities.
As you make your way down to Alice Springs you’ll make a stopover in Katherine. You simply cannot miss Nitmiluk, or Katherine Gorge. Don’t forget to bring your swimmers, because during the winter the rangers remove any crocodiles from the area to ensure it’s safe for visitors. There are also walking tracks, kayaking activities and the opportunity to hear some indigenous storytelling, too.
The remote town of Alice Springs is worth exploring on foot, so be sure to take a look at how the locals live, perhaps you can try your hand at making some traditional damper, but this is also where you can catch a glimpse of the iconic Ayers Rock.
Interested in ticking the Ghan Expedition off your bucket list in 2022? Places are filling fast – but we’ve negotiated cabins especially for Starts at 60 readers on selected dates throughout 2022. Learn more here.
Coober Pedy is known for being the world’s best opal producers, but it’s not just this colourful stone that brings people to the small town. Because of the extreme heat, must of the town is famously located underground.
Your fare on the Ghan Expedition includes an unforgettable guided walking tour of the region. The Breakaways (a unique rocky landscape of flat-topped mesas) will offer an amazing view of the region from above. You’ll also head underground to the Opal Mine and Museum, where you can explore the striking caverns, hand dug shafts and tunnels.
Adelaide may be the last stop of your Ghan railway journey, but there is much to see in the beautiful city. As the train comes into South Australia, you’ll see a dramatic change in landscape with bright greens blanketing the fields extending out to the horizon. If you wish to extend your stay in the region, the Barossa Valley, Kangaroo Island, Hahndorf and Glenelg will give you many days, or even weeks, of extra delights.