Thursday, July 30, 2009

Take a Gander at the Ghan

Here’s the Ghan at the town of Port Augusta, South Australia. This was the only major stop for us, as all the organized tours along the line were in towns north of where we got off the train.

We didn’t see much of Port Augusta. The train didn’t stop for long, and the station is not in an exciting part of town. The most interesting thing to look at within walking distance of the train was the train itself, almost eight football fields long. The locomotive was much longer than the platform it pulled up to. Pipi and I were lucky enough to be in a car that was easy to disembark from, but many passengers at the end of the train had to walk through several cars until they got to one that opened onto the platform.

The landscape on this trip started out as familiar flat, scrubby outback, but gradually got redder and more eroded, until it looked a little like Arizona. I expected blazing sunshine, but for most of the first day, the sky was moody and overcast, and I could see rain in the distance.

After Port Augusta, the Ghan’s route turned northward away from the coast and did not pass through any sizeable towns until it arrived in Alice Springs about 18 hours later. At about 9am the morning after leaving Adelaide, the train crossed the border between South Australia and the Northern Territory. This was a big deal. An announcement was made 15 or 20 minutes early so we could be sure to be watching for the signs that marked the otherwise undetectable state lines. We all lined the corridors, and at the climactic moment I, like everyone, took a picture. I’m glad I have a picture because I didn’t really see the signs—I was too busy trying to take a picture of them.

There’s probably a lesson there, but my point is that this was not the kind of trip where you can expect the scenery to entertain you. You make your own fun on the Ghan, which, as I have said, is the kind of trip I like. Australian train travel is probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed it, and if your idea of a relaxing day is one where a road sign is the biggest thing that happens to you…well, I think you people know who you are, and I urge you to hit the rails if you’re ever down under.

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