Baptism of fire . . .

The Ghan crossing the Elizabeth River en route to Katherine in the Northern Territory. Picture supplied by Great Southern Rail
Dripping wet, I captured the bushfire out my cabin window on my cellphone.
We dined in style at the Queen Adelaide Restaurant.
Hospitality attendant Aaron welcoming passengers onboard.
Hospitality attendant Aaron.
Giant termite mounds scattered the bushy terrain as we travelled towards Katherine.
Justine about to board The Ghan in Darwin.

Justine Tyerman travels through an Aussie bushfire . . . naked

It’s risky to go to the bathroom on The Ghan. On the first night of my four-day, three-night epic train journey from Darwin to Adelaide, I waited until the sun had set and it was dark before having a shower, just to make sure I didn’t miss any thrilling sights out of my cabin window.

The sunset was unusually dazzling, the huge fiery red orb descending in the hazy western sky over the desert near Katherine in the Northern Territory. The haze factor should have been a clue, but I blithely entered the shower and luxuriated for a few minutes, washing the red dust of our Nitmiluk Gorge expedition off skin, hair and clothes.

As I emerged dripping from the shower and glanced out the window, I uttered a scream which would have reverberated throughout the entire train had it not been for the background noise of the twin diesel-electric locomotives and their 38-carriage entourage.

Flames were leaping high into the air within metres of the train, a spectacular, heart-stopping sight against the darkening night sky. I was riveted to the window, transfixed by the broad red-orange arc of the fire front and the smoking stumps and blackened earth in its aftermath. The Ghan is known for its astonishing scenery but travelling through an Aussie bushfire was an added bonus.

Within seconds, the spectacle was over and I was left standing in puddles of water, wondering if I had imagined it and if not, should I be worried?

I glanced at the video I’d managed to capture on my phone, and it sure was real . . . and the tail of the 903-metre train was still passing through the fire zone.

Throwing on some clothes, grabbing my back-pack and roaring out the door just in case we needed to evacuate the train, I collided with some of my new-found Aussie mates in the hallway. They appeared to be completely unfazed by the fire and in their usual understated and slightly condescending manner, explained we had just travelled through a routine controlled burn-off of undergrowth. A few eucalyptus trees had caught fire which had added sparks and drama to the scene, but, no, there was no need to evacuate the train.

“Put your jumper on the right way, ditch the back-pack, join us in the bar and we’ll tell you some real bushfire stories,” they said.

Once my heart rate and clothing had returned to normal, I was entertained in inimitable Australian style with tales of the epic and often tragic bushfires they had experienced over the years.

It was a suitably dramatic end to my first day on the famous transcontinental Ghan train from Darwin through the ‘Red Centre’ of Australia to Adelaide, a 2979km journey spread over a leisurely four days and three nights.

Some might call it a baptism of fire . . .

A presence, history and grandeur like no other

Earlier in the day, I was collected from my Darwin hotel by complimentary coach and joined 285 other excited passengers at Darwin’s Berrimah Rail Station. My Gold Service cabin was mid-ships so the walk with my small wheelie carry-on case and back-pack was manageable in the tropical heat, but those at the extremities of the 902-metre long train were shuttled in style.

Hospitality attendant Aaron greeted me at carriage H with a beaming smile and soon after appeared in my cabin to have a chat about what excursions I wanted to do during the days to follow.

“All of them,” I said, unable to choose from the fabulous selection available each day.

Aaron raised an eyebrow, tut-tutted, and then patiently talked me through the options, selecting the most active of the excursions to suit my level of fitness and love of hiking.

Train manager Bruce welcomed us all aboard via the in-cabin radio, which also broadcast an excellent commentary and a series of stories about the places, events and people along the route.

Restaurant manager Nick then popped by to discuss my preferred dining times in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant.

The cuisine on The Ghan and her sister The Indian Pacific, a trip from Perth to Sydney I completed earlier in the year, is as legendary as the history of these great train journeys. Not to mention the beverages . . .

A glass of champagne mysteriously found its way into my hand as the massive train slid so smoothly from the station, I was only aware we were moving by watching the people waving on the platform slowly disappear from view. A toast to The Ghan seemed a fitting way to celebrate the departure of such a majestic train on another epic journey across the continent.

The Ghan, named after the Afghan cameleers who blazed a trail through the remote interior of Australia in the 19th century, has a presence, history and grandeur like no other, and to be finally embarking on the trip sent bubbles of excitement through my veins. They matched the effervescence in my glass.

“This is the life,” I thought as I settled into my cosy cabin with ensuite bathroom and watched the Northern Territory countryside flicker by. Giant ochre termite mounds like cylindrical chimneys scattered the bushy terrain. The ant-like insects build amazingly-clever dwellings for themselves with a central vent for air-conditioning.

After we crossed the wide Elizabeth River, it was lunchtime. I dined in the ornate Queen Adelaide Restaurant on tropical chicken salad with fresh mango, flat beans, red onion, bamboo shoots, macadamia, lotus root, coriander, mesclun with lime pepper dressing followed by a divine mango parfait with wild berry salsa. Starched white table cloths, fine china, waiters, wine . . . and that was just a light lunch.

Travelling solo, Nick seated me with a variety of different people at every meal so I got to know many of the passengers and was never lonely. Quite the opposite in fact. On this occasion I lunched with three highly-entertaining Australian widows one of whom knew a family from Gisborne.

As we chatted like old friends, we travelled through sparsely-vegetated hilly terrain cut by dry river beds, and rocky outcrops as though it had rained massive boulders. Some of the terrain had recently been scorched in a controlled burn-off. Little did I know what lay ahead.

Unlike the Indian Pacific, where there was ample on-train time to day-dream and relax, the daily off-train excursions on The Ghan Expedition took up the bulk of the daylight and some evening hours so there was no time for a post-prandial snooze after lunch.

We had to be ready to disembark at the Northern Territory town of Katherine by 2.15pm to cruise up the Nitmiluk Gorge, view aboriginal rock art or visit an Outback cattle station. After much discussion with Aaron, I chose the Nitmiluk Gorge excursion which included a hike . . . and a few surprises.

To be continued . . .

Justine Tyerman travels through an Aussie bushfire . . . naked

It’s risky to go to the bathroom on The Ghan. On the first night of my four-day, three-night epic train journey from Darwin to Adelaide, I waited until the sun had set and it was dark before having a shower, just to make sure I didn’t miss any thrilling sights out of my cabin window.

The sunset was unusually dazzling, the huge fiery red orb descending in the hazy western sky over the desert near Katherine in the Northern Territory. The haze factor should have been a clue, but I blithely entered the shower and luxuriated for a few minutes, washing the red dust of our Nitmiluk Gorge expedition off skin, hair and clothes.

As I emerged dripping from the shower and glanced out the window, I uttered a scream which would have reverberated throughout the entire train had it not been for the background noise of the twin diesel-electric locomotives and their 38-carriage entourage.

Flames were leaping high into the air within metres of the train, a spectacular, heart-stopping sight against the darkening night sky. I was riveted to the window, transfixed by the broad red-orange arc of the fire front and the smoking stumps and blackened earth in its aftermath. The Ghan is known for its astonishing scenery but travelling through an Aussie bushfire was an added bonus.

Within seconds, the spectacle was over and I was left standing in puddles of water, wondering if I had imagined it and if not, should I be worried?

I glanced at the video I’d managed to capture on my phone, and it sure was real . . . and the tail of the 903-metre train was still passing through the fire zone.

Throwing on some clothes, grabbing my back-pack and roaring out the door just in case we needed to evacuate the train, I collided with some of my new-found Aussie mates in the hallway. They appeared to be completely unfazed by the fire and in their usual understated and slightly condescending manner, explained we had just travelled through a routine controlled burn-off of undergrowth. A few eucalyptus trees had caught fire which had added sparks and drama to the scene, but, no, there was no need to evacuate the train.

“Put your jumper on the right way, ditch the back-pack, join us in the bar and we’ll tell you some real bushfire stories,” they said.

Once my heart rate and clothing had returned to normal, I was entertained in inimitable Australian style with tales of the epic and often tragic bushfires they had experienced over the years.

It was a suitably dramatic end to my first day on the famous transcontinental Ghan train from Darwin through the ‘Red Centre’ of Australia to Adelaide, a 2979km journey spread over a leisurely four days and three nights.

Some might call it a baptism of fire . . .

A presence, history and grandeur like no other

Earlier in the day, I was collected from my Darwin hotel by complimentary coach and joined 285 other excited passengers at Darwin’s Berrimah Rail Station. My Gold Service cabin was mid-ships so the walk with my small wheelie carry-on case and back-pack was manageable in the tropical heat, but those at the extremities of the 902-metre long train were shuttled in style.

Hospitality attendant Aaron greeted me at carriage H with a beaming smile and soon after appeared in my cabin to have a chat about what excursions I wanted to do during the days to follow.

“All of them,” I said, unable to choose from the fabulous selection available each day.

Aaron raised an eyebrow, tut-tutted, and then patiently talked me through the options, selecting the most active of the excursions to suit my level of fitness and love of hiking.

Train manager Bruce welcomed us all aboard via the in-cabin radio, which also broadcast an excellent commentary and a series of stories about the places, events and people along the route.

Restaurant manager Nick then popped by to discuss my preferred dining times in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant.

The cuisine on The Ghan and her sister The Indian Pacific, a trip from Perth to Sydney I completed earlier in the year, is as legendary as the history of these great train journeys. Not to mention the beverages . . .

A glass of champagne mysteriously found its way into my hand as the massive train slid so smoothly from the station, I was only aware we were moving by watching the people waving on the platform slowly disappear from view. A toast to The Ghan seemed a fitting way to celebrate the departure of such a majestic train on another epic journey across the continent.

The Ghan, named after the Afghan cameleers who blazed a trail through the remote interior of Australia in the 19th century, has a presence, history and grandeur like no other, and to be finally embarking on the trip sent bubbles of excitement through my veins. They matched the effervescence in my glass.

“This is the life,” I thought as I settled into my cosy cabin with ensuite bathroom and watched the Northern Territory countryside flicker by. Giant ochre termite mounds like cylindrical chimneys scattered the bushy terrain. The ant-like insects build amazingly-clever dwellings for themselves with a central vent for air-conditioning.

After we crossed the wide Elizabeth River, it was lunchtime. I dined in the ornate Queen Adelaide Restaurant on tropical chicken salad with fresh mango, flat beans, red onion, bamboo shoots, macadamia, lotus root, coriander, mesclun with lime pepper dressing followed by a divine mango parfait with wild berry salsa. Starched white table cloths, fine china, waiters, wine . . . and that was just a light lunch.

Travelling solo, Nick seated me with a variety of different people at every meal so I got to know many of the passengers and was never lonely. Quite the opposite in fact. On this occasion I lunched with three highly-entertaining Australian widows one of whom knew a family from Gisborne.

As we chatted like old friends, we travelled through sparsely-vegetated hilly terrain cut by dry river beds, and rocky outcrops as though it had rained massive boulders. Some of the terrain had recently been scorched in a controlled burn-off. Little did I know what lay ahead.

Unlike the Indian Pacific, where there was ample on-train time to day-dream and relax, the daily off-train excursions on The Ghan Expedition took up the bulk of the daylight and some evening hours so there was no time for a post-prandial snooze after lunch.

We had to be ready to disembark at the Northern Territory town of Katherine by 2.15pm to cruise up the Nitmiluk Gorge, view aboriginal rock art or visit an Outback cattle station. After much discussion with Aaron, I chose the Nitmiluk Gorge excursion which included a hike . . . and a few surprises.

To be continued . . .

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