Jennie Bond gads about on The Ghan railway in Australia
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I’m no stranger to the great Down Under. I’ve travelled pretty much all over Australia with the Queen and other members of the Royal Family during my years as the BBC’s Royal Correspondent.
And I’ve lived in the Queensland jungle in ITV’s ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’.
I love Australia.
My husband, an American, has always refused point blank to go there.
Until, that is, I tempted him with the prospect of a luxurious train journey through the scorching red centre of this remote continent.
And so it was that, on a steaming hot March day in Darwin, we found ourselves boarding the iconic Ghan train for the 49 hour journey south to Adelaide.
We were lucky enough to be assigned a Platinum cabin, of which there are just ten, housing twenty people in considerable style. We were welcomed aboard by George, in his smart uniform and Ozzie hat, who immediately presented us with a glass of chilled pink champagne. It wasn’t even 10am, but it seemed the perfect toast for the start of our outback adventure.
Our little home for the next two days was cool and comfy. It was a reasonably spacious cabin with big picture windows on either side and an ensuite shower and loo. The large sofa was great for watching the world go by and, each night, while we were at dinner, it was miraculously transformed into a wonderfully comfortable double bed.
The Ghan prides itself on the quality of its cuisine, and rightly so. We had some exquisite meals – including kangaroo and crocodile – in the swish dining car.
A huge bonus of our adventure was the chance to get off the train and venture into the outback itself.
Our first stop was at a place called Katherine, where it was a scorching 36 degrees. Now, I’d never heard of Katherine - though 6,000 people live there - and I certainly hadn’t imagined that there would be a complex river system running through this apparently desolate region. But here we were, being offered the choice of a cruise down the Nitmiluk Gorge, a cultural tour or a helicopter ride over the Katherine River and its huge limestone cliffs.
We chose the cruise and it was fascinating.
The next morning we were woken with a steaming hot latte and green tea for Jim, and we lay in bed watching the great outback zoom by. It was such a perfect viewing platform that I was tempted to stay there all day.
But breakfast beckoned, quickly followed by our second excursion .at the legendary town of Alice Springs.
Once again there was a choice of outings; we opted for the Desert Park tour. Our driver was a personable young woman called Alana, one of Alice’s 28,000 residents.
She seemed genuinely pleased to see us and told us we were lucky because the temperature was going to be a ‘coolish’ 31 degrees.
The Park is dominated by the MacDonnell Range of hill and we were thrilled to see wild wedge-tailed eagles soaring high above the peaks as we watched captive birds swoop and perform for us in a shady clearing.
After a couple of hours of pretty sweaty walking around the park, we returned to our Palace on rails much wiser about the flora and wildlife of the region .and more than ready for George’s cold flannels and iced tea.
By now, the train had become our home, our haven, after each foray into the heat and dust of the outback.
We quickly settled back into our comfy routine of eating, drinking and watching this strange world go by.
We had once last treat before turning in for the night.
Ahead of us, we could just make out the light of a bonfire in the pitch black of the outback. It had been lit to welcome us to Manguri, a rail siding near the opal fields of Coober Pedy.
There we were invited to indulge in a spot of star-gazing in the balmy night air, as trays of chocolates were handed round.
And so to bed and the final leg of our journey to Adelaide.
We enjoyed every minute of our journey through Australia.
If you have the
time, and the money, it’s a brilliantly rewarding way to see the country.
For more information, visit Australian Sky.
travelled with Australian Sky, a recommended partner of Silver Travel Advisor.
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