The Ghan

Yesterday was the effective end of our group tour around South Australia. Today we were to go our separate ways but first we had to make it back to Adelaide. Plans from there varied but we wanted to be sure nobody would miss a connection and that required an early start.

Our scheduled departure time was 6:00 am. Those of us going on The Ghan–Albions, Dingles, and Mauchs–needed to check-in by 11:00 am and we wanted to allow some buffer beyond the 2 hours drive from Clare to Adelaide and the time needed to drop the Bourkes at the airport and return the van to Europcar. As usual, we erred on the side of caution and had time to spare but we could not know that in advance.

Around 4:00 am Majella asked me what time it was. Why she thought I might be awake at that hour to answer I don’t know but I did. She had heard stirring in at least one of the motel units next door to ours and surmised that was our ever punctual travelling companions on the move. We rolled over, intending to wait until our planned rising time of 5:00 am but I eventually got out and showered a few minutes early.

We ate our simple breakfast of Vita-Brits and coffee and were ready to go well before 6:00 am. As I went to put our bags in the van I asked Majella about the Europcar documents she had in her folder. She could not find the folder in her bags and that prompted a search of motel units, bags and van, though she had swept the latter yesterday and knew the folder was not there. She was confident she had it at check-in yesterday so we thought it must be in the motel reception area which was not open at that hour. Fortunately the person responsible for breakfasts arrived just as we were about to leave and let Majella in to retrieve the folder.

The trip to Adelaide with Warwick driving was smooth. We departed in darkness and watched the sky colour up as the sun rose. The Bourkes were booked to fly home later in the day so we dropped them at the airport to wait. They were very early for their flight but happy to relax and wait it out.

Next stop was the Parklands interstate railway terminal. The Dingles and Mauchs alighted there with their baggage and ours while Majella and I drove into the city with the Steins. They were to meet Fay’s brother at Europcar where we were returning the van and he was picking up the car in which they would drive to Melbourne before flying home to Toowoomba.

The van return was simple and I did not actually need the documentation from Majella’s folder. We farewelled Jim and Fay and then booked an Uber back to the Parklands terminal to rejoin our travelling companions for The Ghan.

We found the Dingles and Mauchs checked in and enjoying complimentary coffee and croissants. We joined them for coffee and then checked our bags before we all indulged in the complimentary sparking wine when it became available. A little later we moved our seats closer to where the guitarist/vocalist was performing. It was a relaxing prelude to boarding.

DSC_9589Soon enough we were aboard The Ghan and then heading slowly north through the outer areas of Adelaide. The train is a little less than a kilometre long and on a sweeping bend the view from our carriage toward the rear gives a clear impression of the length. Our cabin staff introduced themselves, took our bookings for lunch and dinner times, and recorded our preferences for off-train excursions.

Seating in the dining room is in fours so our six became four plus two. Majella and I were seated opposite a woman who had once worked in Toowoomba but is now retired in Tasmania after having lived and worked in various places including London. The food, wine and conversation were all good.

DSC_9584After lunch we relaxed in our ‘room’ and enjoyed the passing view as we headed north through country we had seen by road. The early parts of the journey were through agricultural land with views across cultivated fields and occasional glimpses of working machinery. There was a pause at a siding while a freight train passed and a stop at Port Augusta to change drivers.

Sometime before Port Augusta the countryside had become less agricultural. For a while we saw occasional sheep but they became less frequent and the country became more visibly arid.

DSC_9615From Port Augusta the track took us west along the same line as the Indian Pacific to Perth before we broke away and headed north again.  That section of the journey was lit by setting sun with a palette of colours appearing in the sky and landscape.

We had the early sitting for dinner at 6:30 pm. This time we sat the the Dingles and the Mauchs had random dining companions. The three course meal was excellent and the service attentive.

With dinner done, we returned to our ‘room’ where the beds had been prepared for us. Majella went off to play Scrabble with some people in the lounge and returned after a quick game and some interesting converstaion with two couples from Western Australia. We will be roused at 6:00 am to see the sunrise at Marla in the far north of South Australia.