Skip to Content

The Ghan Train Australia Review: Darwin To Adelaide 3-Day Rail Journey

The Ghan Train Australia Review: Darwin To Adelaide 3-Day Rail Journey

Planning a trip to Australia and looking for a bucket list experience to try? This three-day itinerary highlights The Ghan Train Route from Darwin to Adelaide, with stops in Katherine and Alice Springs.

The Ghan Train was our first form of transport in Australia after leaving Penang. We were at the start of our epic round-the-world trip, and this was the first leg of our adventures in Oz. Our journey started in Darwin in the Northern Territories and ended in Adelaide, where we would spend five days.

As we would be travelling around this vast country for six weeks, I wanted to try as many different modes of transport as possible. A 2-night / 3-day train journey on The Ghan through the heart of Australia seemed a fitting beginning to our trip down under.

This travel guide may contain affiliate links – For more information, please read my disclaimer and privacy policy.

Front of The Ghan Train on the railway tracks.

The Route of the Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide

I feel great satisfaction from researching, booking and organising trips, so when I discovered a 2,979 km Darwin to Adelaide train journey through the heart of Australia, I didn’t hesitate to book it!

When researching this journey, my initial thought was what made The Ghan so expensive, but I soon realised it costs a lot due to the history surrounding the train and the quality of service The Ghan delivers to its guests. Also, it is one of the world’s great rail journeys, so this bucket list experience is worth the price tag.

A red sign saying The Ghan Darwin with a silver train carriage behind with the etching in red on it saying The Ghan.

The History of The Ghan Australia

The Ghan has a fascinating history and vivid history. It runs along the same route the Afghanistan camel traders took when they arrived in Australia more than 150 years ago.  

In the 1860s, thousands of camels came as explorers ventured further into Australia’s outback, transporting goods to the harshest areas. Tens of thousands of feral camels are now roaming the plains of Australia, which causes a problem for local farmers.

Originally dubbed the “Afghan Express”, the name was shortened to “The Ghan”.

We would be privileged to travel on this historic route from Darwin via Katherine and Alice Springs and finish in Adelaide.

An all-inclusive journey of three days and two nights would be a bucket-list experience always to remember.

Day One Aboard The Ghan

Step Inside The Ghan

Arriving at the Darwin Berrimah Rail Terminal and seeing The Ghan for the first time was incredible.

Its sleek red and silver carriages stretched along the track so far that we couldn’t see where it ended! We found out later that The Ghan is 774m long!

It was nostalgic, with porters dressed in smart uniforms ready to help us get on the Ghan.

Due to limited space, you can only take one cabin bag aboard. The porters will put your suitcases in the luggage compartment until you arrive in Adelaide.

Silver carriages of The Ghan stopped on a track.

Day One – Lunch

Service and Dining Aboard The Ghan

Shortly after familiarising ourselves with our cabin, we went to the dining carriage, which was reminiscent of a 1920s bygone era and reminded me of the Orient Express.

The sumptuous decor was befitting of such a nostalgic journey, and lunch consisted of the finest foods and wine.

If you are a party of two, you will share your table at all meals with another couple. This communal dining is an excellent way to meet fellow travellers and hear their stories.

the ghan travel pack laid out on a table with a book, lanyards, a magazine and water bottles.

Day One – First Excursion

Katherine

Next on the travel itinerary was a stop in Katherine. As the train pulled into the terminal, we grabbed hats, water, and sunblock and stepped off.

The heat took my breath away; I hadn’t ever experienced anything this hot.

I felt scared that we would be on a cruise boat in such high temperatures, but Dominic told me to breathe slowly and stop being anxious, and I would be fine. Such a wise head on young shoulders!

After boarding our guided cruise, we sailed along the Nitmiluk Gorge within the national park. The guide informed us about the gorge’s history and wildlife, and the setting was stunning.

The water levels were high as this was the rainy season, and the guide said to look for crocodile shapes lurking in the water. I’m still unsure whether the tour guide was joking, but we didn’t spot any!

river boat with a canopy cruising along the water in Nitmiluk Gorge.

Day One – Evening

The Ghan Cabins

The cabins are small but decked out with everything you need for your journey, including an en-suite toilet and shower; there is no sharing with fellow passengers here!

A travel pack with a travel planner and excursion passes also awaits you.

The Ghan cabin types vary from single occupancy to twin bunks or double beds.

I had booked the Ghan gold service twin cabin for us, where the lower bed is a seat by day and a bed by night.

The top bunk folds out at night as a bed. The Ghan’s carriage stewards will arrange this for you while you are at dinner, and bunk ladders magically appear so that the person in the top bunk can get up there. 

Being tall, Dominic didn’t have room to stretch his legs out entirely, but this is all part of the magic of rail travel.

The top bunk may not be ideal if you are a bit accident-prone. Visions of me rolling out of it in the night and landing in a heap on the floor determined our decision that I should take the bottom one and even put the guard rail up!

Day Two – Second Excursion

Alice Springs

The mere name “Alice Springs” conjures up mysticism.

Born out of the red sands of the outback and named after Alice Todd, wife of the town’s superintendent, the town is now populated by over 29,000 inhabitants [2018] and is geographically the centre of Australia.

Its “flying outback school” and “outback experiences” lure travellers from around the globe to witness their uniqueness.

During our day in the outback, we spotted our first wild kangaroo, which was a highlight for us.

We were given several options for excursions, and we chose the guided tour of Alice Springs.

Our first stop was at the School of the Air, and we were interested in how children on outback ranches receive an educational programme.

We also visited the original telegraph station and Anzac Hill, which offers panoramic views over Alice Springs and is a memorial to fallen heroes.

The Telegraph Station is on the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. It was established in 1871 to relay messages between Darwin, Adelaide and the UK.

Before this, a letter sent to England would travel by boat, taking 3 to 4 months each way. The installation of the telegraph line meant that Morse code messages could reach London in just 5 hours.

The Anzac memorial sits on Anzac Hill in memory of those who had served in World War One.

A wall containing plaques now commemorates Australian servicemen and women who have served in all wars and conflicts. You can see Alice Springs and its surrounding area from the top of Anzac Hill.

Anzac Hill memorial with words Lest We forget on its base.

Evening Two – Aboard The Ghan

No stargazing for us!

After sightseeing, cocktails onboard were the order of the day before we enjoyed our last dinner. Tonight should have been a stargazing event, but the train manager cancelled it due to unforeseen circumstances.

This itinerary change was very disappointing, as it would have been a highlight of the trip for us, but sometimes you must accept that problems occur. It is all part of the life of a traveller.

a ladies hand holding a red cocktail in a martini glass with a slice of lime on the side of the glass.

Day Three – Aboard The Ghan

Crossing Through Flinders Ranges

From our cabin window this morning, the landscape had changed from the rich ochre tones of the outback to the green fields of South Australia as we passed through the majestic Flinders Ranges.

We packed up our things in preparation for our mid-morning arrival in Adelaide. The Ghan had met our expectations, and we had completed one of the world’s most incredible train journeys together.

Angie and her son in the dining carriage aboard The Ghan.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Ghan Train Journey

What month did I travel?

February

How was the weather?

It was sunny and scorchingly hot when we got off the Ghan during the day trips.

Would I recommend two nights aboard The Ghan?

This train journey was perfect for crossing the long distance without flying. It was a unique experience, the food and service were first-class, and the excursions were organised perfectly.

The only downside was that the Ghan railway line changed from new to old tracks midway through the journey, which was noticeable. I felt that two nights was enough as sleeping on the train wasn’t always comfortable.

How did I book The Ghan train?

I booked tickets through Great Southern Railways’ official website, but I found communicating by email from the UK quite challenging. Don’t despair if they don’t reply to you quickly; they will eventually.

Helpful Information on Planning Accommodation

Accommodation in Darwin before boarding The Ghan

We spent two nights before our trip on the Ghan at Novotel Darwin Airport.

We intended to make a couple of day trips from Darwin before we embarked on our epic train journey, but due to torrential rain (the rainy season is from November to April), we stayed in the hotel for most of the time.

It was comfortable accommodation with a lovely swimming pool and a Chinese restaurant. Breakfast was buffet-style, catering to guests and a few local airport staff.

Accommodation in Adelaide after leaving The Ghan

We stayed in a two-bedroom self-catering unit in Miller Apartments close to Rundle Mall for five nights. During that time, we took a one-night trip to Kangaroo Island and spent time in Glenelg, one of Adelaide’s best beach resorts.

Best Things to Do in Darwin Before Embarking The Ghan

Best Day Trips From Darwin

Please Pin for Future Travel to Australia

Looking for further Australian inspiration? Please check out the following posts:

Adelaide to Melbourne 3-Night Self-Drive Itinerary for the Great Ocean Road

Best Adelaide Experiences: A Great 5-Day Itinerary (including Kangaroo Island)

Glenelg Beach, Adelaide: An Amazing Afternoon Of Sea, Sand and Sunsets

The Best 2-Day Kangaroo Island Ferry Tour with Sealink

What To Do in Melbourne On A Quick Visit: All You Need To Know

11 Great Things to Do in St Kilda Melbourne

8 Great Things to Do in Port Macquarie, New South Wales

Three Sisters Blue Mountains: All You Need To Know

Tasmania Travel guides

11 Sensational Things To Do in Freycinet National Park Tasmania

Best Things to Do in Hobart in Two Days Trip Planner

Visiting the Botanical Gardens Hobart, Tasmania

Sheffield Tasmania: The Amazing Town of Murals in Australia

How to Spend 2 Nights in Cradle Mountain: Tasmania’s Wilderness

10 Best Cradle Mountain Accommodation in Tasmania 2024

Dove Lake Walk, Cradle Mountain: Tasmania’s Most Beautiful Nature Walk

Where To See a Tasmanian Devil in Australia

8 Great Things to Do in Strahan on Tasmania’s Remote West Coast

Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Please check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.

Audrey Bradley

Thursday 26th of January 2023

How early in advance did you book your tickets?

WhereAngieWanders

Thursday 2nd of February 2023

Hi Audrey, I booked my tickets 6 months in advance.

Alison

Saturday 12th of December 2020

So cool. Being an Aussie I'm familiar with the Ghan of course, but have not been in it! Would love too. I love train travel and this sounds epic.

WhereAngieWanders

Sunday 13th of December 2020

We absolutely loved it! It was such a unique way of travelling such a vast distance. Hope you get to try it yourself one day.

Vinn

Saturday 20th of June 2020

This is so cool! One of my besties is in Australia now, we bookmarked this for our future travels. 3 day journey is exciting shared with friends and we can explore several places in this fashion. Cheers!

WhereAngieWanders

Saturday 20th of June 2020

I am sure you will love it. It’s one of those bucket-list journeys that you just must try. A great way to travel such a distance.

Linda Kouwenhoven

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

What a unique and beautiful journey! The scenery is so different and to be able to just sit back and relax is the way to go. Just love train travel!

Frédérique - HopOnMyJourney

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

Amazing trip! What better way to admire a country than a train trip with stops to visit.I will definitely do it when I go to Australia.

WhereAngieWanders

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

I do hope you get the chance to experience The Ghan - it is truly wonderful.