Sunday, June 19, 2016

Exploring the Aboriginal Lands

Working with a travel agent in Newcastle, NSW, our trip to what is known as The Red Center was planned to see the major sites. Since we wanted to experience the iconic Ghan Train, it was necessary to fly to either Darwin in the north or Adelaide in the south since the train only runs from Adelaide through Alice Springs to Darwin and back.

We will be sailing into Darwin, so we decided to check it out in advance. Besides, the word is that the longer ride from Adelaide is bumpy and two overnights. Not to mention it was a shorter flight to Darwin.

Actually, we enjoyed a night in Darwin to scope out the water front. Our hotel was located on the water and a short walk to the shopping and restaurant district. We would return to Darwin at the end of the Red Center trip for a few days to explore in detail. Using the ATT Kings Tour group made the travel and transfers much easier, even though we are not usually "tour people" Australia is so huge that this was the easiest way to see the National Parks.
There were 46 cars on our train!
The Legend of the Ghan is about people: the Cameleers, Adventurers, Innovators, and Railway men. From 1839, camels were imported and used to carry goods for explorers of the inland areas. Many of the cameleers were mistakenly believed to be from Afghanistan and were called Afghans.

Our suite was very comfortable.
When the railroad was laid beginning in 1877 and goods were moved by train, the use of the camel began to decline. The government even encouraged the police to shoot any camel caught trespassing so the cameleers released their camels into the wild, where they have flourished. There are about one million wild camels in Australia today.
In 1929, the first train out of Adelaide to Alice Springs carried 100 passengers, mail and fresh fruit. Somewhere along the journey, the train was named “The Afghan Express” or “The Ghan.” During World War II, The Ghan played a role by transporting troops to Darwin.

So much better than airplane food!
In 1957, they began running a fortnightly passenger train, known to locals as the “Flash Ghan” due to its sleeping berths. The freight train running opposite weeks was known as the “Dirty Ghan.” The total distance from Adelaide to Darwin is 2979 kilometers. Our trip from Darwin to Alice Springs was 1420 kilometers.

The Ghan only runs twice a week so our schedule was fixed around its departure from Darwin. Our agent booked us in the Gold Service so we had a sleeper car with an ensuite bathroom, which proved to be wonderful after a day of sightseeing in the heat of Katherine Gorge, a stopping point along the route. A shower after the treks is soooooo welcomed!

Nice dinner on the Ghan.
The meals were very gracious with the old fashion dining car-style service. There was a cocktail lounge accessible all day and evening in the Gold Service class. Good food and wines was part of the white table cloth service package. Apparently there were three or four of these dining cars and lounges dispersed among the 46 cars of the train. It was really long as trains go and filled to capacity.

These trees were filled with bats!
Loved these trees!
The upper half of the Ghan route stops in Katherine with a tour north-east to Nitmiluk National Park. Nitmiluk is the home of Katherine Gorge, a seies of 13 sandstone gorges carved over a billion years by the Katherine River.

This area is home to the Indigenous Jawoyn people and many of their stories are told on the rock walls.
We were advised to keep our limbs inside the boat!
We took a river cruise t see the art dating back to This artwork gives ancient evidence that these people were here during the last Ice Age!

Unfortunately, the water was too high for us to leave the boat and see them. There is a window of time for these tours for when the water is to high to go ashore and when the water is too shallow for the tour boats! Since there had been an unusual amount of rain, the water was high. The plus for us was that the Outback will be greener than normal. You can have the best laid plans, but Mother Nature still rules!

It was very peaceful just cruising along the river while enjoying the scenery. We have found there to be many beautiful places in the world. People in every country insist that you have never seen anything like "their" mountains, gorges, lagoons, bays, beaches, etc. Well, we are here to tell you that they are all lovely and none are particularly unique in the world of nature! We are not trying to put any place down, it is just that they are all interesting to visit and it is best to go without great expectations.

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