Something we’d wanted to do since arriving in Australia was to experience The Ghan – the rail service that runs straight down the country from Darwin to Adelaide. As we weren’t going to Darwin, we were only able to catch it from the halfway mark at Alice Springs. The Ghan is meant to be one of the great train journeys in the world – and it was, sort of.
We caught the train from Alice Springs at about midday. We were quite relieved to be leaving Alice – and we were really looking forward to reaching Adelaide, where we were going to be staying with some friends who we’d met in Laos. Tickets for The Ghan were reasonably expensive, so we went for the cheapest fare we could – reclining seats in the cheapo carriage. It was only for one night after all!
And what a night it was. As soon as we sat in the seats, we clocked the fact that they were really close to the floor. That was going to be uncomfortable on our legs after a few hours – and it was. That was almost bearable, despite the fact we had to sleep in that position. The carriage seated perhaps seventy people – fortunately not too many children! A few oddballs though – there was a man directly across from us who talked to himself. As time went on he talked with increasing frequency, sometimes with small outbursts or explanations. He was speaking in another language, so I have no idea what he was saying. The poor girl sat next to him was despairing, and by the following morning she’d moved down the carriage to a spare seat which she’d found. Even I was slightly worried, as he seemed very odd – I cracked an eye open a few times during the night and spotted him sat, wide-eyed, fingers gripping the seat in front of him – eep!
The scenery was reasonably interesting, although it was much the same as what we’d seen throughout the Red Centre. Eating in the dining car, watching the sunset was another highlight. The food was basic, but ok. The really strange thing was what they did with the timezones. Going from Northern Territory to South Australia resulted in a timezone change of going forward 1 hour. As we crossed the border at 4pm, we were advised that the train would not change time until later. At 5pm, they announced the buffet car would be open until 8pm. Then, at 6pm they moved the time forward by 1 hour, making it suddenly 7pm, and then everyone had to rush to get food! Seemed rather cheeky if you ask me.
There were a few things like that which got on my nerves actually. For example, they suddenly announced at 9:45pm that the lights in the carriage were to be switched off – and they were, with nearly no prior warning. This meant that we all had to scrabble around in the near-dark getting ready for bed. And, as I’d predicted, I got very little sleep – the chairs were so uncomfortable. Once morning rolled around, we were all woken up at 6am with a couple of announcements, and the talking-to-himself guy also shouted out “Good morning!” to the whole carriage. Still, I’m glad I did The Ghan – at least I can say we went overland from Alice Springs to Adelaide, and the scenery was pretty good. Next time, I think I’d go all out and get a nice cabin in the atmospheric part of the train, rather than an uncomfortable, stiff seat.
Once we arrived in Adelaide though, the long trip on The Ghan was all made worth it. We stayed with a couple of friends we’d met in Laos (while tubing) – Damo and Tory. We had a brilliant time staying with them and they spoiled us rotten! Damo picked us up from the train station and took us back to their place, while driving the scenic route from the rather non-descript train station to the vineyard in Adelaide Hills which he manages – Totino Estate.
While we were there we did a vineyard tour – Mahmoud took lots of photos and I sampled a lot of wines! Nice one. We visited a couple of different ones in McLaren Vale, and had a good laugh at the same time. It turns out there are a few characters in the Adelaide wine industry, and it’s all reflected in some really good wine. This was backed up by some excellent wine which Damo had made himself which was really good stuff. I think I came away with a much greater appreciation for a good bottle of wine than I had before. Before, I would just have had the cheapest wine in the supermarket, but now I think I may be a little more fussy – at least I’ve learned something while travelling!
We also travelled to Victor Harbour with the two of them for a night, which is a town with a good section of coast alongside it. Unfortunately, the weather (which had been around 40 degrees until we got there) took a turn for the worse and got cold and rainy – typical! Still, it was nice to see a bit of the south coast which we would not otherwise have gotten to.
We did have an opportunity to travel into Adelaide, where we wandered around for a few hours and saw a few sights. We really liked Adelaide – our favourite Aussie city to date. There was a bit of culture there, and the central market was a great sight. Afterwards we took the bus/train/tram/something system back to Adelaide Hills. It was like a bus on rails, but not a tram. I called it the brain (bus crossed with a train), which I thought was very clever.
Nicer still was the opportunity to stay with people, in their house! It was good not to have to worry if we left our stuff unlocked, and not to have our bags with us all the time. Their dog, Sangio, was a real cutie – even Mahmoud (not a dog person) grew a little fond of him. Other animals on the vineyard included cows, sheep, and three alpacas – very strange creatures!
Still, the Great Ocean Road and Melbourne were beckoning, and time was marching on. We had to leave in order to get to Sydney on time for our flight, and still have enough time to see everything along the way. With great reluctance , we parted ways with our friends and got into a hire car.