When I began planning this trip about a year ago I came across the website for Great Southern Rail and found out about the Ghan. Short for Afghan, this is the route that was taken by early Afghan camel riders straight up the very middle of Australia (and now Australia of all places has the worlds highest population of wild camels!) I have just recently within the last few years begun travelling by train when I can and I really enjoy it- so I knew that this trip in some capacity was one I was going to have to take! I had originally hoped to take it all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, but when the trip plans started coming into being, Adelaide was not on the itinerary. Alice Springs was, so it seemed natural that our journey north to Bali would include the Ghan to Darwin.
Prices for the sleeper were outrageous ($700) so I was quite pleased to see the backpacker discount on a overnighter seat was only $155. We left Alice Springs in the evening and had a nice desert sunset from the train. We brought our own food in little jam jars and other leftover containers from the hostel so saved a bunch of money. Shortly after departure we had to go to the café car to book our whistle-stop tour. The train stops for 4 hours in Katherine (!) and I chose to do the express shuttle to Katherine Gorge National Park. While booking I noticed that one of the guys working looked like Billy Corgan circa 1993. I asked him if anyone had ever told him he looks exactly like Billy and he said “yeah a few years ago”… he said “do you like Billy Corgan? And replied emphatically “I love Billy Corgan”! (The Smashing Pumpkins have been my favourite band since I was 13)
I spent a few hours reading, ironically about a family travelling to Darwin on the Ghan, and then changed into pyjamas and tried to sleep. The seats went back far enough to be almost lying down, and were quite wide, but with no foot rest I was pretty uncomfortable. I struggled to sleep for several hours, even trying out the floor (which was worse) for a bit and finally got some sleep early in the morning. We woke to a beautiful sunset over the desert, which at this point was slowly turning from desert to tropics. More trees, less red earth. At 9 am we arrived in Katherine and I went on my guided tour to the gorge.
Katherine is quite the wild west country small town, our guide was quite funny and told us all about the history, geography and personal stories about the area. We arrived at the gorge and did a really quick, really steep hike to a lookout with the river and cliffs in full view. We saw a colony of flying foxes, smaller than the one in Bellingen and red, not grey. On the walk down a wallaby was being fed an apple by some lady (who feeds an animal in a national park???) but it was nice to be able to see it up-close and so cutely eating its apple with its cute little paws! It was very curious and got very close and I got some great pictures.
We had about half an hour in the town of Katherine, and I walked around a little bit, not really all that much to see in the short time we had. Back on the train I had a shower (yes the train had 2 showers in every car!) and we had 4 hours of watching the landscape change to lush green tropics on the way to Darwin! On the way out of the train we said goodbye to our attendant and I told him to "Tell Billy I said bye" He said that I should get a picture with him and he went to get him, calling him Billy as well. We took some pictures and he said "Wow, I don't get this very often" Oh, well, I'm on vacation I can do what I want, and if that means having pictures taken with a Billy look alike then so be it :)