The Ghan train journey is one of Australia’s greatest train journeys, an epic Australian rail adventure from Darwin to Adelaide – or Adelaide to Darwin – that’s punctuated with memorable experiences and excursions, from a serene cruise through the spectacular gorges in Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine, to an excursion through Simpsons Gap in Alice Springs.
The Ghan train journey really is one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips you need to book when new dates are released, as this legendary train doesn’t run every day and books out incredibly quickly after announcements.
Luxury Escapes has just launched two new 2023 dates for a 6-day Ghan Expedition departing 20 April 2023 and 19 October 2023, including an all-inclusive 4-day rail journey priced from A$4,599 per person in a twin cabin in Gold Service with all premium on-board dining and drinks.
The Ghan Expedition includes two nights of pre- Ghan Expedition accommodation at Hilton Darwin with a welcome drink, daily breakfast and transfer to the Darwin Station Terminal; 2.5-hour sunset Darwin dinner cruise on board the Charles Darwin with sparkling wine; three nights on board the luxury train in a Gold Service cabin; your choice of Off Train Experiences in Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy; the services of expert on-ground representatives; and all entrance fees and sightseeing per itinerary.
The Ghan train journey takes lovers of slow travel on a leisurely rail adventure from north to south through the Red Centre of Australia. One of Australia’s greatest train journeys, The Ghan departs from Darwin, the tropical capital of the Northern Territory in the Top End of the country, and your destination is Adelaide, the lovely South Australian capital, famed for its food and wine, arts and culture, glorious parks and gardens, and gorgeous beaches. You can also do the trip in reverse from Adelaide to Darwin.
The Ghan train journey has a special place in my heart and not just because I’m Australian. I’m Sydney-born and not all ‘East Coasters’ feel as deeply connected to Australia’s red heart as I do. While I adore Australian beaches, the Outback with its ochre-red dirt, silvery ghost gums, brilliant blue skies, and cotton-wool clouds is my happy place and I’m happiest in the heart of the country with its Albert Namatjira landscapes.
My family lived in Alice Springs when I was in my early teens, where our weekends would be filled with four-wheel-drive adventures along dirt tracks to palm-shaded valleys and camping trips out to serene swimming holes skirted by sandy beaches between stunning gorges.
My dad worked on The Ghan railway line and I got to go to the official opening of the Tarcoola to Alice Springs section of the line, where I stood next to the towering Gough Whitlam, Australia’s legendary prime minister. Journeying on The Ghan was a very special experience for me. I’m sure it will be for you too. Here’s what to expect on this legendary Australian rail adventure.
Published 22 December 2021; Updated 26 October 2022
The Ghan Train Journey – An Epic Australian Rail Adventure in Style
How to Plan and Prepare for The Ghan Journey
Book The Ghan When You See a Deal
The Ghan train journey is seasonal so you really have to act quickly and book tickets for The Ghan as soon as you see them. Update 26 October 2022: Luxury Escapes has just published a new deal on offer from today for two 2023 dates in April and October for the 6-day Ghan Expedition including an all-inclusive 4-day rail journey on the legendary train starting from A$4,599 per person in a twin cabin in Gold Service. A full itinerary is available on that Luxury Escapes link above.
That deal includes on-board dining and drinks, two nights pre-trip accommodation in Darwin with a welcome drink, daily breakfast and transfer to Darwin Station; a Darwin sunset dinner cruise; 3 nights on board The Ghan and unmissable Off Train Experiences in Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy; along with the services of expert on-ground staff; and all entrance fees and sightseeing per itinerary.
Do Some Pre-Trip Reading and Movie-Watching
Do some pre-trip reading and movie-watching and you’ll get so much more out of the experience. You’re not only travelling through Australia’s red heart, you’re journeying through its spiritual heart, so I suggest your pre-trip reading start with Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country, a Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia. There’s also time to read books and watch movies on the train, so see my extensive list below for more suggestions.
Book Transfers Ahead of Time
Transfers are included in Darwin, but only between the Hilton Darwin hotel and the railway station on the day of your departure for The Ghan train journey, so book your airport transfer to Darwin in advance, as well as your Adelaide transfers to save money and the hassle of waiting for a taxi, as we did once for ages.
Book Activities and Tours in Darwin and Adelaide
If you’re starting in Darwin, depending on when your flight arrives, you may have two free days. Plan them in advance in case you want to book a day-trip to Kakadu National Park (a long day, but worth it) or Litchfield National Park (closer to Darwin, so not as long). We also recommend getting your bearings on our self-guided Darwin city walk, which takes in many of the key sights.
Consider Extending Your Stays If You Can
If you live on Australia’s East Coast, the chances of you having been to Darwin or even Adelaide are slim. Bizarrely, Darwin does not even make it onto Australians’ top ten destinations. Most Australians would rather go overseas. But Darwin is a compelling city with fantastic waterfront parks, weekend markets filled with stalls with multicultural eats, terrific museums, and magic sunset rituals.
Darwin is also the launching pad for road trips to nearby Litchfield National Park, Mary River National Park and Kakadu National Park, all endowed with dramatic landscapes, rich in ancient history and indigenous art and culture, with thundering waterfalls and cooling waterholes, and opportunities galore to gawk at birdlife and wildlife, especially crocodiles.
While you could self-drive (see our guide to driving from Darwin to Mary River and Kakadu), once you get there you’ll get more out of the trip on an indigenous tour or cruise with a local Aboriginal guide.
Adelaide has a fabulous food and wine scene, some of Australia’s best museums and art galleries, gorgeous gardens and more sprawling parks, stunning sandy beaches, and loads of outdoor dining opportunities. Adelaide also has some of Australia’s best wine regions in the backyard, and Kangaroo Island, with its abundance of wildlife, wild white-sand beaches, and more wonderful food and wine. Who said it wasn’t about the destinations?
What to Pack for The Ghan Train Journey
Pack Carefully and Weigh Your Bags
There are baggage restrictions on The Ghan train. Passengers are only allowed to have one carry-on piece in their cabin with a maximum weight of 7kg, although of course you can take a handbag, light day-pack or laptop in addition to this. You are also allowed two pieces of checked-in baggage with a maximum weight of 30kg per piece.
However, you can’t access those bags between Darwin and Adelaide (and vice versa). That means if The Ghan train journey is part of a longer holiday and you’re extending time in Adelaide or Darwin and exploring more of South Australia and/or The Northern Territory, you will need to make sure you don’t lock something you need in the checked-in bags.
What Clothes To Pack for The Ghan
Pack outdoorsy cottons and linens, a sun hat and heavy-duty sunblock for the excursions to Nitmiluk National Park and Alice Springs as it will be hot out. Comfy walking shoes are a must, especially for Nitmiluk. If the water levels are low, which they usually are just before the wet season starts, you’ll have to clamber over rocks between gorges and boats.
Smart-casual is fine for the train – take a cardigan as it can get chilly – and nice PJs for the cabin if you fancy being woken by staff delivering a cup of tea to your bed. Pack something a bit special for cocktails and dinner in the evenings when passengers tend to dress up a little.
I’ve not seen black tie and evening gowns on The Ghan as I have on the Eastern & Oriental Express, however, the blokes swap their long shorts for long trousers and women do what women do and dress up. Flat shoes are best. It’s a train after all and it bumps and sways on some of the Outback tracks.
Other Gadgets To Pack for The Ghan
Pack a camera, batteries and power-banks. There is Wi-Fi in your cabin, but only when you’re in or near civilisation. It will cut out as you leave towns and communities. There are power-points in the cabin to recharge your gear. A pair of small binoculars will get used if you enjoy a bit of birdwatching and there are lots of birds to spot.
Books to Take on The Ghan
Not everyone is as content as I am at staring out a window at constantly changing landscapes for hours on end, so there are a few books you should pack that might inspire you to gaze a bit more and think a little differently about the geography outside your window.
Pack a copy of Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country, a Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia (link above) which I also recommend as pre-trip reading, along with Richard Broome’s Aboriginal Australians: A History Since 1788, which tells the history of Australia from the standpoint of our First Nations Peoples.
Look for the expanded fifth edition which covers the Northern Territory Intervention, remote Australia’s mining boom, the Uluru Statement, and the resurgence of interest among Australians in traditional Aboriginal knowledge and culture.
If you’re interested in Australian food and agriculture, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu reveals how Australia’s pre-colonial Aboriginal peoples sowed, harvested and irrigated land, stored crops, used domesticated plants, and built dams and houses – you’ll look at the landscapes out your window in a very different light.
Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia and Billy Griffiths’ Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia should have that same effect on you, as well as changing how you see history.
Gammage reveals how early European explorers noted how land across Australia looked like parkland with sprawling grassy areas within woodland and walking paths, evoking an English estate. This is because Australia’s Aboriginal peoples systematically managed the land, using fire and native plant life-cycles to ensure plentiful food for people and wildlife and prevent wildfires.
Griffiths’ book is one for lovers or archaeology, weaving history, biography and literature together to tell the story of Aboriginal archaeology in Australia and the archaeologists who uncovered traces of ancient Australia and evidence of 60,000 years of continual habitation.
If you enjoy birdwatching, there’s plenty to see on The Ghan train journey – from kites to wedge-tailed eagles, cockatoos and galahs – so a Field Guide to Australian Birds or The Australian Bird Guide will get used, along with those binoculars. There are books on Australian birdlife and wildlife in the small library in the lounge, but these tend to disappear soon after the train leaves Darwin and you won’t see them again until you’re pulling into Adelaide.
Movies to Watch on The Ghan
If you’re planning on loading up a few films before you leave home for post-dinner movies during The Ghan train journey, don’t plan on finishing any epics. While you’re at dinner your cabin seats will have been converted into double bunks if you’re staying in Gold class or a double bed if you’re in Platinum, and the train movement will quickly lull you to sleep.
But if you do want to attempt something, then start with the Baz Luhrmann-directed Australia, set in Darwin during the World War II bombing by the Japanese, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The landscapes are breathtaking, the story is uplifting (and we all need a lift up right now) and it’s loads of fun.
The 1955 Australian classic Jedda, directed by Claude Chavel, is set in the Northern Territory. It was Australia’s first colour film and starred Aboriginal actors Robert Tudawali and Ngarla Kunoth. When you’re on the cruise boat wending your way through the spectacular sandstone cliffs of Nitmiluk National Park, your local Jawoyn guide will point out Jedda’s Rock, but I won’t spoil the film for you by explaining its name. Other locations include Mary River south east of Darwin and Standley Chasm and Ormiston Gorge not far from Alice Springs.
The feel-good campy Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, directed by Stephan Elliot and starring Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving, and Bill Hunter, is a must before you arrive in Alice Springs, where much of the movie is set. You’ll recognise Simpsons Gap and the MacDonnell Ranges in an instant.
What to Expect on The Ghan Train
Your Cabin is Comfy But Compact
While you’re going to be immeasurably more comfortable in a Gold cabin than you would be sitting up in a seat, the cabins are compact, which is why you can only take a carry-on each. There is storage space, however, including a wardrobe and a shelf, but you’ll need to stay organised to maintain that sense of comfort.
The Ghan’s Platinum cabins have a lot more space and after the staff sneak in to transform your seats into beds while you’re dining, you can slide your bags under the double bed. You can also store stuff in your private bathrooms before you shower.
Magic Sunrises from the Comfort of Bed
If you’re an early riser and love a good sunrise and waking to the warmth of that big fiery ball in the sky on the cheeks, you’ll relish the experience from your cabin bed. Open the blind before you doze off.
I could have laid in bed for hours watching the colours of the earth cycle from dusky pink, peach and apricot to musk, rust-red and tangerine as the sun rose and illuminated the scorched land. That means accept the offer of a pot of tea in bed.
Cabin Time, But Not as Much as You Might Imagine
While you might envisage most of your time on The Ghan being spent in your comfy cabin, working your way through a few books in between naps, by the time you’ve finished your pot of tea, it will be time for breakfast in the Queen Adelaide dining carriage.
And you’ll definitely want to linger over breakfast, so opt for the second breakfast sitting. Then you should have some cabin time before your off-train excursion or before it’s time to eat again. Make the most of the cabin time you have, as the cabins are a delight.
Prepare to Eat and Drink to Your Stomach’s Content
The food and drinks are a real highlight of The Ghan train journey. There are welcome glasses of bubbly in the cabin after you’ve boarded (we clinked a Croser Petaluma from the Adelaide Hills on our last trip) and Western and South Australian wines and beers are offered in the lounge during the introductory briefing and before and after meals.
Expect three-course menus for lunch and four courses for dinner with plenty of beautiful Australian produce and well-matched Aussie wines. When we last travelled, highlights included prawn and crab dumplings with a lemon myrtle infused seafood broth, grilled saltwater barramundi with sweet potato mash and spinach, a roasted kangaroo fillet with crocodile boudin blanc, potato puree and quandong jus.
There were Australian cheese courses as an alternative to dessert, with the likes of a Barossa Valley brie, Limestone Coast clothed cheddar and Lobethal goat blue cheese. We recommend the later sittings for all meal times so you can linger and not feel rushed. You may want to prepare for all the food with pre- and post-train walks (or runs) in Darwin and Adelaide.
Magic Sunsets from the Outback Explorer Lounge
You could savour the sunsets from your cabin as you will the sunrises, but who doesn’t love watching the sun go down with a glass of white wine in hand? Plus, there’ll be some nibbles to go with those. Everyone else will have the same idea, so you’ll need to get to the lounge early-ish to snag a good spot.
An added bonus of sundowners in the lounge is that you can move from side to side, snapping pics of the sun sinking beneath the horizon to the west and the changing colours of the landscape in the east. If you book a table for dinner for the later sitting, you can linger after the first diners depart or head back to your cabin for a quiet one before dinner.
You Might Make As Many Friends As Memories
If you’re travelling as a couple, you can ask to dine alone if you’re on a romantic getaway, honeymoon or celebrating a special anniversary, however, at some point during The Ghan train journey, due to the numbers of passengers and number of seats, you will probably share a table with others and make new friends.
If you don’t do it over dinner, it will be over drinks, as there are plenty of opportunities for those – and there’s a camaraderie that naturally develops after a couple of days and nights in close quarters with other Australians on a train. Take plenty of old-fashioned business cards as you won’t always have access to Wi-Fi to ping one from your phone.
The Ghan Train Journey New 2023 Dates
Give the gift of travel this Christmas with tickets for a special person or two on Luxury Escapes exclusive charter of The Ghan on 20 April 2023 and 19 October 2023. Hurry, as tickets are selling fast for these once-in-a-lifetime 7-day trips including 3-day rail journeys on the legendary train.
The Ghan prices start from A$4,299 per person in Gold Service and include premium on-board dining and drinks and unmissable off-train experiences. As this is a Luxury Escapes exclusive charter, it can only be booked on the LE site (link above). You’ll find lists of inclusions and the itinerary on the Luxury Escapes site.
This journey on Luxury Escapes’ private charters of The Ghan departs from Darwin for Katherine and Alice Springs, before ending in Adelaide, with a stay in the five-star Hilton hotel.
You’ll step on board The Ghan into unparalleled indulgence, checking in to your Gold cabin, for an epic 3,000 kilometre journey that includes a choice of experiences in Katherine, where you’ll get to do a spectacular Nitmuluk gorge cruise; Alice Springs, where you’ll walk through Simpsons Gap, before experiencing Alice Springs Desert Park, and the Royal Flying Doctors, or, for an additional fee, do a scenic flight over Uluru and Kata Tjuta; and Coober Pedy, where you’ll enjoy the majestic Breakaways, explore the underground town, and get to go fossicking for opals. You’ll conclude your journey in Australia’s food and wine capital of Adelaide.
Images courtesy of Luxury Escapes.
Disclosure: we are affiliate partners of Luxury Escapes so if you make a booking via the links in this post we earn a commission, which goes to supporting the work we do to create content on this site.
Have you done The Ghan train journey? We’d love to hear about your experience, especially if you do the upcoming November trips. Please leave a comment below or feel free to email us.