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Archive for the ‘The Ghan’ Category

Right, how did the night go?

First of all we were all advised to wind our clocks back by an hour as that is the time difference between South Australia and the Northern Territory. Then we were told that the lights will be dimmed in 60 minutes’ time (what’s wrong with an hour?). Our French neighbour across the aisle put her hand up as a member of staff walked past last night. He didn’t even bother to stop and ask her if everything was alright. Instead he muttered under his breath that he was just about to dim the lights. For all we knew she might have wanted to know what time we would arrive at Alice Springs or she might have been feeling unwell! In the end the lights weren’t dimmed until 9.20pm, a good 20 minutes after they should have been turned down and almost an hour after the girls were trying to go to sleep.

Tim sat with Hannah and Ellen slept on my lap. We all ended up having a very fragmented night. I couldn’t get particularly comfortable as my legs kept going to sleep and my neck was hurting from the unnatural crick in it. To have had a really good comfortable sleep in proper beds in cabins we would have had to fork out an extra £500! Just try and imagine how many ice creams you could buy with that!

We did witness a beautiful sunset though, which proved tricky to photograph, but we are hoping to have a better chance once we are staying in Uluru in a couple of days’ time.

We all woke up around 6am to admire an equally beautiful sunrise, this time on our side of the train. A deep, warm orange glow turned lighter and lighter, until half an hour later there were no orange or yellow traces left. Unlike yesterday, the sky was less grey and the sun worked hard to burn any clouds that got in her way.
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It looked pretty hot out there, but to my amazement the landscape was still a lot greener than I expected. Probably due to the recent thunderstorms? The patches of red earth had stretches of green grass and were dotted with different sized bushes and small trees.
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Passing the time.
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We waited for the first rush of passengers to have their breakfast before heading down to the Red Dining Car. Big mistake, as it turned out. By the time we got there they had run out of ham & cheese croissants and baked beans. Instead we settled for a slice of toast each with either jam or honey, coffee/tea for the grown-ups and juice for the girls. Unlike yesterday we managed to grab a table in the dining car and enjoyed the scenery in comfort whilst nibbling on our toast.

Crossing the border from State to Territory.
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Back in our seats we continue hearing snippets of information about the Australian outback. We were informed that soon the driver would slow down the train so that everybody would have a chance to photograph the statue of the Iron Man. This statue was erected in memory of the 1 millionth concrete sleeper that was put down here when they rebuilt the Ghan rail track further west to avoid potential flooding. The original wooden sleepers were replaced with concrete to battle termite infestation.

So, the statue … There was again a rush to the dining car and people scrambling for a spot near the right hand side windows. As we were sitting at that side of the train anyway, we decided to stay in our seats. Tim, Hannah and Ellen each got their cameras at the ready and waited and waited and waited. The train did start to slow down, only to pick up speed again slightly. Eventually the female announcer told us we were approaching the statue. Between the three of them, Tim and girls got a couple of good photos. But we couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed at the mere size of it. Having said that though, I did like it. It was a statue of a man carrying a sleeper on his shoulder whilst walking along the train track. Simple but beautiful.
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Next point of interest was the Pink River, or so I thought. In it you might be able to see the Pink something fish (can’t remember the full name) which is grey in colour. Why call a grey fish pink? I was baffled… until I saw the sign for the river which said Finke River. So that’s why it wasn’t pink after all!

Finke River.
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At around 11.30am we headed back to the dining car to avoid staff running out of lunchtime dishes. We weren’t particularly hungry, so in the end we settled for two ham/cheese and tomato toasted sandwiches, a can of Coke and two apples to share.

Apart from the girl who served us in the dining car last night and again this morning, I have not been impressed with the friendliness of the staff, or better still, the lack of it.

Whilst charging the second of the girls’ Zens yesterday we were told by a member of staff to remove it as it would either get broken or someone might trip over it. This zen was tucked away neatly against the wall and hadn’t bothered anybody else as far as we knew for over two hours. When Tim asked where else we could charge it up, the chap said in CDE, which we assume are the carriages near the front of the 900m long train. We are seated in carriage R near the back!

The remainder of the train journey went smoothly and around 1.45pm we finally pulled into Alice Springs train station. We were advised to extra care leaving the train as there won’t be a platform to get onto, just steps down to the ground.
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The heat hit us immediately as we stepped out into the sun. We walked down towards the main platform and waited inside the airconditioned building. Along came the luggage trolleys, and although we had been given a ticket for each of our five bags we checked in, no one actually bothered to check that you were walking off with the correct luggage.

Earlier on Tim had managed to get in touch with the caravan park where we had tried to book a cabin. We had not been sent a confirmation via email, so weren’t entirely sure that they had secured a cabin for us. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any problem.

We dragged all ten bags around the corner to the taxi rank and neatly joined the back of the queue. We reckoned we would probably get the 4th taxi that came along. As it did pull in behind the last taxi in the queue, someone from the back of the queue just walked up and claimed it for himself. Other passengers shouted at him that there was actually a system and that he should wait his turn. Either he didn’t hear or he chose to ignore them…

Another, bigger taxi came along pretty quickly and within minutes dropped us off at Hertz car rentals. He was a chatty driver who mentioned a couple of attractions we might want to take the girls to.

The paperwork for the car was sorted fairly quickly. We were given the key to the car and off we went. Our car was smaller than we had anticipated and only just managed to get most of our luggage in the boot (one bag ended up on the back seat). Never mind, we have only rented it for 7 days and if it gets us safely from A to B, then that would do just fine.

About five minutes later we arrived at Stuart Caravan Park on Larapinta Drive. We were handed a key for the barrier at the entrance to the park, and another key for the cabin which will also get the airconditioning going once it is plugged into the wall. The cabin looked small, but we have everything we need.

Before getting too comfortable in the air-conditioned cabin, we set out to find some food. We popped into Coles and stocked up on fruit, salad and bread, and a warm chicken.

Back at the campsite the girls were desperate to cool off in the swimming pool. They didn’t stay in too long as it was pretty chilly, but nevertheless had a great time.

At supper time, Tim and I tasted the first of our six little bottles of wine. We started with Jacob’s Creek Riesling – a very light and fruity wine that goes down quite nicely.

Time to wind down watching another semi-finals of My Kitchen Rules before bed. Hopefully it won’t be too hot in the cabin and we all manage to catch up on some sleep.

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Hayley Westenra woke me this morning. Very kind of you, Hayley, but it was six o’clock and still dark outside, way too early for my body clock. (Perhaps I should explain that Kirsten’s phone plays ‘Pokarekare Ana’ as an alarm call.) Yet another broken night’s sleep, and I’m sure at some point in one dream I was performing the synth solo from ‘Jump’ through several kilowatts of amplification – hope I didn’t wake the neighbours.

Anyway, we stumbled around blearily for the next hour, consuming a quick breakfast and squeezing everything into a mere ten bags for the train. (Ten? We began with six, but we’ve added a cool bag for food, one of our big yellow dry bags for towels, sheets and a water can, a picnic bag for the train and a spare rucksack for papers to be sent home before we leave Australia.)

We hit the road by 7am, catching the everyday miracle of crimson dawn over the Murray River.
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The Sturt Highway was kind to us (apart from a few roadworks), taking us smoothly through Salisbury and delivering us in Adelaide ahead of schedule. Fortunately the Europcar people were in early and let us in a few minutes before 9am to return the car. We dragged our bags through to the front office, got signed off and took a taxi to the interstate station. Yet another Chinese driver, and only $12 this time, welcome relief after the expense of Sydney taxis.

Not too busy at the rail terminal. We dropped off our ‘hold luggage’ and waited around for a couple of hours as more and more passengers arrived to be met by the greeter with the enthusiastically squeaky voice (we were too early for her). Not much to do or buy there; no hope of buying the Rough Guide to Malaysia (which we need urgently), but plenty of merchandise for the Ghan (our train, named after the Afghan camel trains of the pioneer years) and the Indian Pacific – baby bibs, erasers, mugs, nothing essential for us.

Why are we waiting?
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Various announcements, including the fact that today’s train is especially long – 900 metres, perhaps 36 carriages! I got that wrong then, assuming that no-one else would be so foolish as to attempt to travel on the final day of the Clipsal races. Instead there’s a bumper crop of passengers, and the train is split in two for boarding to save anyone walking too far.
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The ticket wallet advised: “Because of the close proximity of guests during rail travel, you are requested to board the train suitably attired with an acceptable standard of cleanliness and personal hygiene.” What will they do? Bring out the sniffer dogs?

We found our seats around 11.45am; a block of two and two on the starboard side. Lots of legroom, and as an added twist the steward clicked a lever to spin our seats through 180° to face the girls (all the other seats are forward-facing).
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Around 12.20 the Ghan departed Adelaide, creeping cautiously through the suburbs (and back through Salisbury). Slowly, so slowly, the houses gave way to bush – along by the Flinders Range on our right towards Port Augusta. There we picked up a few more passengers; understandably, our protracted train had to make two stops to let them on at the appropriate end. (Posh Platinum and Gold sleepers down to the Red Day-Nighter recliner plebs such as ourselves.)

The front of our train rounding a bend.
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Port Augusta.
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Now as I type we are half way from Port Augusta to Tarcoola (population 5) where the line splits, one branch heading north to Darwin via Alice Springs and the other going west to Perth across the desolation of the Nullarbor Plain. We are already well into the middle of nowhere and there’s a near-unphotographable sunset (you can’t open the windows so you’re plagued by reflections) to match this morning’s display.

For supper we bought pasties, a sausage roll and a hot dog from the buffet car, washed down with a Cascades beer (from Hobart). Not extortionate prices, but some passengers are better prepared with bags full of sandwiches, fruit, etc. (We didn’t have the chance to put a proper 24-hour picnic together.)

We’ll see how we get on with our night on the train (we’ve slept on coaches, planes and boats so far) as I don’t know what time they’ll dim the main lights (there are only four children on board altogether) and the seats don’t recline that far.

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