Last Monday I got up bright and early, packed up and made my way to Adelaide train station. From there I caught The Ghan which would take me on a journey of over 1500kms to Alice Springs. The train left a day late due to heavy rains, so I was hoping for some good photographs of water on the ground through Central Australia.
Boarding the Ghan is a bit like boarding the Eurostar or an aeroplane. You check your luggage which is tagged and sent off down a conveyor belt. You can take a couple of bags on with you, and how much you take on is less strictly controlled than when boarding a plane.
Settled down into my Red Economy seat. This lowered backwards quite a long way and was remarkably hard to raise again, as the two German women across from me demonstrated. Sleeping in those chairs didn’t look like it’d be too bad, but I was a bit worried being crowded in with so many people for a day would be wearing.
Pretty soon after boarding we were on our way.
Then, exciting news! As the sleeper cabins weren’t full, they were offering a $150 on-train upgrade to a sleeper. I’d paid $150 for my economy seat and hadn’t gone for a sleeper as they normally sell for $1000. Jumped at the upgrade, especially considering I’d lost a day in Alice Springs. More than worth the cash to be well rested and get more done on arrival.
Sleeper cabin was very cute. Inexplicably I don’t seem to have taken a photo of it, but I had two chairs and a fold down table to myself, in a little room with a lock. When not in use the bed rested vertically against the wall just above one of the chairs. To prepare it for use it was rotated down on a hinge to sit on top of the chairs. Another bed was stored tucked up against the roof and lowered down to become a top bunk.
An unexpected benefit was the window – much cleaner than those in the other carriage. All of the windows on the Ghan were heavy double paned glass, with at least five centimetres gap between the panes, so pretty awful to shoot photographs through. Lots of reflections if the light was coming from the wrong direction. You’ll see that in some of the photos, oh well!
Getting back to the train journey – we zipped through some fairly boring looking Adelaide suburbs and surprisingly quickly were out in the fields, most of which were being used to grow wheat. We went through one odd little patch of sunflowers along the side of the track. Must have been quite splendid when they were in flower, all we saw was the dead remnants which had gone to seed.
We soon started to really move, and the country flew past.
As we approached Port Augusta the Flinders Ranges came into view on the right of the train. There was quite a bit of cloud, which cast interesting and quickly moving shadows over the hills. The farmland abruptly gave way to scrub with occasional eucalypts – at a guess I’d say there were cattle being grazed upon it.
A few people boarded the train at Port Augusta to come with us up to Alice Springs. The town looked reasonably big. It’s located at an important point on the coast and has an interesting history, I must read more about it!
As we travelled north the sun started to set. I had a surprisingly nice dinner from the cafeteria car, and sat in the lounge car chatting with a few people. I was the only Australian there, which meant I was widely consulted on local topics. Mostly people asked about our scary native fauna. A Canadian couple proudly spoke of how they’d sucked a huge spider up with a vacuum cleaner. Almost certainly they’d offed a harmless Huntsman.
In this area there were frequent patches of water lying on the plains, and pretty much any depression had water pooled in it. Saw a lot of birds, although didn’t get good photographs of them – scant light and a fast moving train plus small, fast moving subjects makes things tricky.
It didn’t look likely we’d get a good sunset, as the sun vanished behind some thick cloud on the horizon. Then a quite spectacular afterglow of the sunset appeared, with beautiful purples and reds..
Hung about chatting for a bit longer then went back to the cabin. Dozed off easily, the regular swaying of the carriage was quite nice. I left the blinds open so that I’d wake up for sunrise, and got a bit of a surprise; at 2am I was woken up by some incredibly powerful banks of lights. The train had slowed right down for a section of the track, and there were a few people standing around a ute observing it. I presume that section of the track was a bit iffy, and so the company had sent out some people to make sure the train got over it okay.
I awoke to a lovely dawn over the desert. Unfortunately for no reason I can explain, I didn’t photograph it. The above photograph was taken roughly half an hour after dawn. It’s notable for including a guy in orange overalls. I can’t remember seeing him at the time, and the train was doing a fair clip, so quite odd that he appeared in the shot!
We passed over even more pools of water, and saw more birds. In particular there were large flocks of ducks, groups of crows, and a lot of birds of prey. I saw one enormous Wedge-tailed Eagle flying alongside the train, eventually perching in a tree. Quite a few Black Kites and at least one Peregrine Falcon.
We came up to the Iron Man, a sculpture commemorating the work to build the new train line. The train didn’t slow down at all, so we had a bit of fun lining up along the right hand side of the lounge car and shouting to each other when we spotted it.
Then came the Finke River. In this area it’s often only a stream or entirely dry. You can see that there was a lot of water in it after all the rains. Interesting just how much plant life exists along the river, and how much variation there is in the flora around it.
A couple of hours later we were through Heavitree Gap and into Alice Springs. I haven’t included any photographs of the gap from the train, as I went back on foot later and took better shots.
Here you can see the two locomotives that drew the train along. Initially we had one locomotive, a second was added just outside of Port Augusta. You can also see the view along the side of the train – long, long train.
It was a wonderful trip, a fun twenty-five hours. Great atmosphere, lots of people just chatting with each other to pass the time and a few kids running around the place. I drank a lot of tea and made far too many visits to the dining car to buy snacks. The staff on the train were fun to talk. I got talking to one guy about how I was tweeting the journey along with photographs from the phone, and he got started about the twitterati and how you can follow all the journalists. Not what I expected the surly looking guy serving in the restaurant car to be interested in, which just shows the idiocy of such expectations.
More posts to come. I had a walk around town on the afternoon after setting down in the hostel, and spent the following day (Wednesday) in town exploring. Thursday was spent on a day trip out to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and Friday was spent at the desert park, and further wandering on foot.
(So many birds to identify from train photographs, although most of those photographs are of awful quality. There’s one in particular I just can’t ID, will have to post it elsewhere and ask for help!)