Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Ghan: Australian for Train

Just recently I heard that a good friend of mine, Melissa, was accepted to graduate school in Australia. I have had the privilege of traveling to the land down under twice before, once when I was 7 and again when I was 14, both times to visit family. And now that I have a friend studying there, I think it's about time I made another trip. As I was browsing the internet for some fun attractions in Aussie land, I saw an article about the Ghan, a transcontinental train that runs north-south for 1,900 miles from Adelaide on the south end to Darwin on the north end. I was intrigued...

Originally called the Afghan after the camels that provided primitive transportation, it has been shortened to the Ghan, with a camel and a rider as it's signature symbol. The whole trip from south to north takes 48 hours, but I imagine it feels nothing like a cramped car ride in a cross country road trip. First of all, it is described as part cruise train, part working train. Second, it only has four stops along the entire route, meaning the annoyance of stop-and-go travel is gone. There are three levels of service: Red, Gold, and Platinum. Gold and Platinum passengers get to eat together in the dining car — three meals a day included for them — and Red passengers bring their own or order from the snack bar in their section. Red passengers get a tiny sleeping alcove or a reclining seat, Gold get a small, private room with a toilet/shower and a ladder to a bunk bed, and Platinum get comfortable staterooms with double Murphy beds and attached private bathroom. Doesn't sound too shabby.

The dining cars operates in the same way as a cruise ship does, seating strangers together to fill tables of four. If you have a Gold or Platinum level, the food is served on heavy china dishes on white linen table clothes--I'm reminded of the old western films. For dinner, roast duck salad, roast vegetables and rice served as little fried balls called arancini, curry of kingfish or kangaroo steak. For breakfast, gammon steak and red capsicum ragout or a warm smoked salmon crepe with asparagus, or the usual eggs to order. For lunch, smoked lamb with zucchini and bean salad or roasted pumpkin and artichoke tart. High class.

When the train does stop, passengers are free to disembark and roam the city. The Ghan provides Whistle Stop Tours for people who want a special look at some of the unique Australian destinations. The tours offer everything from guided walks and cruises to quad bike and helicopter rides. And yes, these do cost extra, to answer your question. So for the more frugal traveler, I suggest getting a good guide book and exploring the city on your own.

The Gold and Platinum options give passengers a free shuttle bus to their hotels once the final destination city is reached, while Red passengers have to find their own mode of transportation to their accomodation--if they have any. Needless to say, the travelers with a little extra cash should opt for the higher levels od service which provide them with some quality and relaxing perks. If you're a backpacker...go with the Red.

Now, I don't know if Melissa would be up for this trek through the heart of Australia, but if I'm making the trip over the Pacific to see her, maybe she'd be up for a two day train ride with me. I'll have to suggest it to her.

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