We’re entitled to a splurge once in awhile, aren’t we? I mean, traveling the world can be a bit taxing at times. Airport line-ups and delays, constantly having to pack and unpack, changes in currencies and languages, figuring out our way around a new city… sometimes we just need a break! So with the hardships of our self-imposed nomadic life in mind, we booked ourselves on the all-inclusive train, The Ghan, for a trip through the Australian Outback from Adelaide to Darwin.
Train travel has always been a favourite of ours. Despite Trevor flying over 300,000 miles in 2015 alone, neither of us really like flying. Unless some airline wants to comp us a couple of business class (or first class) tickets, then we’ll happily tell everyone how much we love flying. It’s not a fear of flying, just an annoyance with how difficult, uncomfortable, and unfulfilling it has become. You squeeze into a cramped metal tube in one place, then a few hours later you are magically in some new place with no real sense of having gone anywhere.
Traveling over land allows you to really see and experience the country you’re traveling in. It also lets you appreciate the scale of the distances you’re covering. Trevor once took the train from Vancouver to Toronto, called The Canadian with VIA Rail. It was 4 nights/3 days spent traveling through the Rocky Mountains, flat plains, and finally lakes and forests. Nothing lets you appreciate the amazing diversity of Canada than that trip. Flying the same route, in about 5 hours, just isn’t the same.
We started our train journey in Adelaide, South Australia (which we wrote more about here). The first afternoon was spent settling into the train. In a travelblogger faux pas, we forgot to take pics of our actual sleeper cabin (although you can see the professional pics here). Suffice it to say that it was small, but comfortable.
More importantly, we did take a picture of the lounge car, which is where everyone hung out anyway. This is where the ‘all-inclusive” portion of the trip was really on full display. Luckily, Christine was able to find an Australian sauvignon blanc that, while not her favourite New Zealand sauv blanc, was very very drinkable. The train had a surprisingly good selection of beer, cider, and wines!
The meal car, next to the lounge, was also surprisingly good. Considering that long distance train travel isn’t exactly known for it’s caloric burn, limiting our caloric intake was a challenge. The staff were also excellent and very friendly.
Riding Through the Outback
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the Outback of Australia is a whole lotta nothing. We mean, nothing. As far as the eye can see. Shrub bushes, massive termite mounds, the occasional animal as we passed ranches. But that is part of the charm – you really leave the coast and the big cities, or anything resembling a big city, in the proverbial dust.
We were surprised by how green it was. Not so green as to be considered “lush”, but we were expecting a harsh, dry
hellscape desertscape and didn’t exactly find it. Apparently there had been unusual amounts of rain this year, leading to some semblance of plant life. At least it was hot, so we weren’t disappointed there.
Just avoid the snakes
The Ghan includes several choices of excursions in both of its major stops (Alice Springs and Katherine for us). In Alice Springs, we foolishly signed up for a hike, thinking it’d be a nice change from the lack of physical activity on the train. So, there we were, hiking in 42C mid-day heat, and wearing long pants as questionable protection from the snakes. When Christine asked our guide at the start of the hike what kind of snakes were in the area, he responded “Well they will all kill you”. It was great to get some exercise, but some of the older folks clearly struggled a bit. On the plus side, we got some great views!
On our excursion stop the next day, in Katherine, we took a boat ride down the Nitmiluk Gorge. We even spotted a freshwater crocodile on the bank, enjoying the sun.
The excursions were well organized, and were an easy way to get off the train and experience some of the Outback. The only possible negative, at least for us, is that we never got a chance to wander around the towns of Alice Springs or Katherine. Maybe there wasn’t much to see anyway, but it would have been nice to have a bit of free time off the train in both stops.
We rolled into Darwin at the end of our third day. It was wet season in the Northern Territory. After days of constant sunshine, we were met with thunderstorms and rain.
You can’t come to the Northern Territory in Australia and not see some wild saltwater crocodiles. We saw a “freshie” on our Ghan excursion, but they’re small. They’re only 6-8 ft long and not particularly aggressive. A “saltie” is very aggressive, territorial, and can grow to be 15-20 ft long. The Aussie saying is “If it swims away from you, it’s a freshie. If it swims towards you, it’s a saltie.” We’re not too sure, because we never tested that theory.
We rented a car in Darwin, and drove about an hour to the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise on the Adelaide River. The “cruise” took us out on the river, until we spotted our first croc. The operators dangle raw meat using a long pole. The crocodiles use their powerful tails to push themselves out of the water to catch the meat. After a few attempts, they’re allowed to eat/catch their “prey”. Similar to an alligator cruise we took in Louisiana, the crocs clearly recognize the boat and know they’ll get fed.
Litchfield National Park
To get full value from our rental car, we drove further away from Darwin into Litchfield National Park No particular reason, except we wanted to go for a couple of walks. The coolest part was probably the gigantic termite mounds. We saw many from the train, but some of the ones in the park were over 10ft tall. We also went on a couple of short walks, but after a long day just wanted to get back to Darwin.
The End of our Australian Adventure
And that was the end of our 5 weeks in Australia! We felt we saw a good portion, and good variety, of the country. It was the first time either of us really spent time in Australia, so we felt compelled to see the “highlights”. If we ever make it back, we’d love to explore Western Australia and Tasmania, the only states we didn’t see.
Australia was also an easy way for us to start this trip. Everyone speaks English (or at least something similar to English), and food/accommodations/etc are not too dissimilar to Canada. Next, we’re heading into Southeast Asia. That’s the part we’re really looking forward to. It’ll be a bit out of our comfort zone, but pushing our boundaries and expanding our horizons is often the best part of traveling!