The Ghan pulled into Alice Springs Station on time, around 11am. We had risen from our bunk slumbers for a 7.15am breakfast after which we had some time back in the cabin looking out the window at the passing scenery. Low olive green scrub set amongst the odd tree here and there, open plains and red dirt. The over whelming feature though is distance, the view just goes on and on. Allthego remembers a book he read many years ago, a classic Australian history book, ‘The Tyranny of Distance’. It was a treatise on how, in the author’s view, distance had first shaped Australia’s European settlement and then it’s subsequent social and economic development. I suspect that same distance also shaped Aboriginal development and history prior to what is now seen as the European invasion. Enough of that though, back to the Ghan.
On our way south from Katherine the train rocked and gently rolled along during the night. We had no trouble with sleeping. The train stopped from time to time, we had a couple of hours in a siding at Tennant Creek north of Alice. Once in Alice we were whisked away on buses for the selected excursions. The two of us went out to the Alice Springs Desert Park. This is a sprawling establishment set below the McDonald Ranges escarpment. Our guide took us around pointing out various plants, birdlife in the giant aviary and the residents in the nocturnal house. Some dingos were wandering around on leash, seemingly tame but one can never be sure with these fellows. After a good lunch there was a session with the local birds of prey. The birds are let out ‘to fly’ in the open skies, returning to their keeper for ‘treats’, also knowing they will be rewarded with a bigger treat for dinner later on. This was quite a spectacle, the various species soaring high and then zooming in low over our heads. The Desert Park is thoroughly recommended if you are into nature based attractions.
It was then back to the train for a brief time to clean up before dinner under the stars at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. It is a couple of kilometres out of town and is the original site of Alice Springs. The Telegraph Station was one of the thirteen repeater stations on the Overland Telegraph Line between Adelaide and Darwin, which started operation back in the 1870s (not sure this date is right but it is pretty close), and which then connected to the submarine cable from Java and on to Europe. The Station is a great venue for a dinner, the grounds and buildings are well maintained. We were entertained by a three man band singing a range of 1960/70s hits well suited to the onlookers. They were joined by a didgeridoo player for a bracket of numbers, ‘We come from a Land Downunder’ really pounded out with the Didg reverberating that deep haunting sound out into the night sky. A memorable night.
It was back to the Ghan though to continue the journey to Coober Pedy. Allthego didn’t vary his bunk technique. All quite smooth and we again had a good sleep arriving at Manguri in the early hours for breakfast. There was at times a bit more rocking and rolling compared to the section from Darwin to Alice. The fellow in charge of our train section told me that this could be attributed to the track condition. The Darwin to Alice section was in much better condition having been completed in 2004, after originally being promised by Government in 1911. The original section from Adelaide to Alice Springs was completed in 1929. This track though was realigned in 1980 to avoid flood prone areas that severely disrupted the train and destroyed tracks and infrastructure.
We have had some really top eats and wines along this journey. A feature has been the use of bush tucker in some of the sauces and marinades. These are described in the colourful meal menus. Allthego could not resist picking up a few of these as souvenirs.
Manguri is a railway siding thirty kilometres from Coober Pedy. There are remnants here of a railway track maintenance community. Concrete pads as reminders of the small group of people who lived here many years ago.
Our off train excursion today took us out to the Breakaways. Pictures are better than words here. Remarkable place, remnant areas of the ancient sea floor being slowly eroded leaving rock formations and stream beds. After looking around here it was back towards town stopping at an opal mine turned tourist destination. We had lunch here after which it was down a short tunnel for a talk by an old opal miner about the use of gelignite and dynamite in the mining for opals. Interesting chat, not sure how he has lived to 94 working in this game! Last stop was an opal shop and museum in town, short talk followed by the opal hard sell. All very genteel though!
Back to the train and a drink as the sun slowly set at Manguri. On board we were off to dinner and then bed. It was the last overnight leg of the journey to Adelaide.
The weather turned on us a little with some heavy rain overnight but clearing as we came into Adelaide Station. It has been a great journey through the Australian Outback. We are looking forward to a few days in Adelaide before returning to Brisbane.