This is my original blog for all our non-caravanning trips since 2009 and more recently posts about coming to terms with being single again having been widowed in 2018. And anything else too really!

My caravanning blog is (Get Your) Legs Down and all our trips in the caravan are there. My grog blog is The Ale Archive where I list every beer I’ve ever tried.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Down under revisited - Pt 5

The original Ghan railway came into service in 1929 and ran between Alice Springs and Port Augusta, north of Adelaide on narrow gauge rails. In it's early days the service was notoriously unreliable and it wasn't unknown for it to take weeks if not months to complete the journey thanks to poorly laid tracks and washouts. The driver on the bus tour - mentioned in the previous chapter - told us an amusing story about the early days of the Ghan:
A young lady boards at Alice. The train begins its journey south but stops several times as repairs are made to sections of track. It was several weeks into the journey when the young lady enquires of the guard as to when they might be expected to reach their destination. "Could be a while yet Miss, I'm afraid" he says, "The rain has washed away a large part of the track". "Oh dear" says the young lady, "I am expecting my first baby soon and don't want to have it on the train". "Well Miss" says the guard, "You know the perils of this train. It perhaps wasn't the best idea to embark on the journey when pregnant". "Well that's the strange thing" says the young lady, "when I got on the train I wasn't!" True or not, it's a good story.
A new standard gauge track was laid in 1980 and since 2004 the service now continues north to Darwin, travelling a total of 1,852 miles between Adelaide and Darwin taking a mere 48 hours!
It was nearing midday and the train was expected at any moment, even though she wasn't due to depart until 2.30pm. Soon, the single headlight of the engine could be seen gleaming in the distance despite the glare of the relentless southern sun. As the rest of the train rounded the bend and came in to view the size of the train became apparent. It was massive. The front of the train approached the single platform and still the end of the train could not be seen. As the engine came closer you could feel and hear the growl of the massive engine as the driver feathered the controls and eased the train into the station. At least half an hour after our first sighting of the Ghan did the train finally halt. I gotta tell you - it was impressive. The loco was at the front obviously, then behind that was another power unit providing all the electricity required for the rest of the train. Behind that, in no particular order were a number of goods carriages including multiple vehicle carriers, first class accommodation with a separate dining car complete with white linen table cloths, tourist class; where you still get your own sleeper but have to use the buffet car finally and finally coach class where you get a reclining seat and showers and toilets at the end of the carriage. Guess where we were!
A little while later we were on board and trundling out of the station. We crossed the Todd River again on the outskirts of the town which was again now virtually dry. The train soon reached it's top speed of nearly 50 miles per hour and the landscape changed to the arid scorched earth of the 'red centre' seen in so many travel agents brochures and tv clips. We settled back and watched the stark yet stunning landscape.
The train was by no means full but there were a number of others travelling 'coach'. Opposite us were some Aborigine guys who, with some dexterity pushed and pulled a couple of levers and soon had their seats swivelled round to face their companions. More knob pulling (!) resulted in the appearance of a table between them. This manoeuvre completed, the playing cards came out and soon cents and occasionally dollars passed to and fro across the table.
Further down the carriage a group of hells angels/ZZ Top lookalikes took it in turns to head to the buffet carriage for solid and liquid refreshment. If I tell you that, after our own sortie, the healthiest thing to be found on the menu was hotdogs, you get an idea of the quality of the catering for the peasants in 'coach'.
Any gripes about the food though were soon forgotten by the scenery outside. The view of the gradually setting sun over the desert was absolutely stunning. Satisfied visually (though still not nutritiously) we attempted sleep.
Well we slept little but it was certainly worth waking up early as the sun rise was equally as spectacular. We decided to forgo breakfast, as neither of us could face another hot dog and instead settled for coffee. Ablutions completed we prepared for our arrival in Adelaide.
Twenty two hours after leaving Alice, the train came to a halt in Adelaide Central. The ZZ top boys, almost in formation whipped out their mobiles and informed their various 'Mums' of their arrival. The doors open and we jumped out. Although it was still about 22 degrees it felt bloody freezing being nearly half the temperature that we had got used to in Alice. For the first time since Heathrow I rummaged for a sweater.

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