Even the smallest bush community put on a Greet-the-Ghan bash.
The Ghan (Adelaide to Darwin)
The more refined toasted our arrival with Champagne. Others just waved flags, or a handkerchief.
At Darwin young men put on a mass buttock display known as mooning - or so I've since discovered; I was waving to some schoolchildren and missed the show. Outside Port Augusta I saw an old Aboriginal woman staring open-mouthed - just as her grandparents must have done when the first Ghan, which went only as far north as Alice Springs, rumbled through in As we got into desert country, Aussie blokes in shorts saluted us with stubbies of beer.
Somewhere north of the Flinders Ranges we spotted a young couple standing on the back of a flatbed truck. They were holding up a hastily written sign: The Ghan overturned the myth that the centre of Australia is an arid wasteland of mind-numbing emptiness. Although vast, the countryside is varied: After glimpses of the majestic Flinders Ranges, the line veers off past Coober Pedy where Mad Max was filmed and then across the dry bed of the Finke, which is said to be the oldest river in the world but which runs only about twice every years.
From Katherine north, the Ghan chugs into the tropics, a place of dense vegetation, ancient gorges and unpredictable weather. The new track has been designed to withstand flash flooding - even so, the water appeared alarmingly close to the railway during our trip. But the Ghan sailed on regardless.
Rail map of Western Australia and Northern Territory
At various points along the way there were welcoming parties. At Tennant Creek, a troupe of elderly Aboriginal women danced beside the track. At Alice Springs there was a traditional camel train, complete with bearded Afghan driver; a descendant, perhaps, of the camel handlers who did much to open up Australia in the 19th century and who are remembered in the name of our train.
At Katherine, there was an impressive honour guard of mounted cowboys. The mood on board the Ghan was equally celebratory. Even Sgt Dale Campbell, the normally impassive officer in charge at Katherine police station, could not quite hide his excitement at seeing the very first passenger train roll into town. This is great news for Katherine, no doubt about that.
Buy for others
If you ever want to see the Never-Never, then Katherine is about as close as it gets. Here a few thousand people live in an area the size of Belgium - Sgt Campbell's beat covers 3, square miles - and Aborigines are a visible presence. Given the expectation surrounding the launch of this service after all, the people of Darwin had been promised a train 75 years ago , I was prepared for the odd disappointment. Maybe the food would be dull.
Maybe the new track from Alice couldn't really be as good as they said. I needn't have worried: And, though it might be the world's newest transcontinental rail link, there is something terribly old-fashioned about it; the carriages date from the s and retain a Jules Verne-like quality that I liked: Not only does the train move at a stately 40 to 50mph, but the relaxed, friendly service and small courtesies such as the wake-up cup of tea or coffee, and a morning newsletter evoke an earlier age.
Oddly, most of the cabin crew are in their early 20s. I suspect few had ever been on a transcontinental train before joining Great Southern Railway, the company that also operates the Indian-Pacific from Perth to Sydney. Although the new railway will carry both freight and passenger services between Darwin and Adelaide and vice versa it is the passenger service that is exciting most interest.
- Freight Train Across The Outback: On Board The First Train To Cross Australia From South to North.
- Across Australia by train!
- A Light on a Dark Age!
Images of the inaugural journey were beamed around the world. But the liberal use of Aboriginal desert imagery to promote the Ghan is somewhat misleading: Those in first or Gold Kangaroo class enjoy fully serviced cabins, each with an en-suite bathroom, freshly laundered towels and sheets. In the dining car, passengers are treated to modern Australian cuisine served, silver service, on spotless linen tablecloths. Some passengers felt that the cabins were on the smallish side - if you can afford it you should book a double even when travelling alone - but there were few complaints about the food; the quality and range were superlative.
Northern Territory and Western Australia Rail Map
Alternatively, choose one of our holiday packages, specially tailored to offer a range of 'all-in-one' Australian holiday experiences. The Indian Pacific offers many ways to explore Perth, Sydney, and everywhere in between. Platinum Service offers guests the most luxurious transcontinental holiday Australia has to offer.
Platinum Service promises and delivers a journey beyond expectations. A new train is set to launch onto Australian tracks late next year, linking Adelaide and Brisbane for 16 departures in its much-anticipated inaugural season. A part of the Journey Beyond Group.