The ultimate guide to The Ghan


Posted April 01, 2024

The Ghan is a legendary train journey between Darwin and Adelaide that crosses through Australia’s Red Centre. Here’s everything you need to know about The Ghan to make the most of your trip.

The Ghan is a moving and unforgettable train travel experience that evokes a romantic connection to our great southern land.

"On a journey like The Ghan, it’s easy to be seduced by the incredible landscapes of the Australian outback as you travel between Adelaide and Darwin," says David Donald, Executive General Manager, Rail, at Journey Beyond.

"It’s not just about watching the scenery as you pass through, though. There are also opportunities to immerse yourself in those landscapes on the all-inclusive Off Train Experiences, whether it’s a cruise along Nitmiluk Gorge, a cultural walk at Standley Chasm, lunch underground in an opal mine in Coober Pedy, or dinner under the stars at the old Telegraph Station in Alice Springs."

It’s also a great way to travel responsibly, by supporting Australian communities, learning from Indigenous guides, and reducing your reliance on car and airplane travel.

RACV Members save on The Ghan trips with RACV Travel and Experiences.

Everything you need to know about The Ghan

What is The Ghan?

The Ghan is one of the world’s greatest train journeys. The railway stretches for 2979 kilometres between Adelaide and Darwin, with stops at iconic locations like Alice Springs and Katherine.

The Ghan is a shortened version of the train’s original name, The Afghan Express. It’s named after the pioneering Afghan cameleers, who blazed a trail into Australia’s Red Centre more than 150 years ago.

Donald says that it’s the landscapes and colours that set The Ghan apart from other rail trips. "The Ghan as it goes through the heart of the country has all those hot reds, pinks, honey yellow and ochres," he says. "It has so much history behind it, too: The Ghan turns 95 next year. The history, the ambience, the scenery, the hospitality… Travelling on The Ghan makes you feel like you’re connecting with the country in a different way and seeing it in a new light."


The Ghan

The Ghan is one of the world's greatest train journeys. Image: Supplied

How long does The Ghan journey take?

The full Ghan journey is the three-day trip from Adelaide to Darwin, or vice versa from Darwin to Adelaide. "From April to October, the southbound journey is called The Ghan Expedition and it lasts four days, whereas the northbound journey (and March and November southbound) is three days," explains Donald. "The extra day is spent in the fascinating opal mining town of Coober Pedy."

There are also shorter rail journeys between Alice Springs and either Darwin or Adelaide.

There are also a number of holiday packages, where you can extend your journey with additional stops and experiences, like the eight-day Top End Explorer, the 11-day Red Centre Spectacular, or the 14-day Ultimate Territory Tour.

Finally, The Ghan and Ponant: Outback to Ocean rail and sail tours last between 15 and 17 days. They pair the legendary train journey through Australia’s Red Centre aboard The Ghan with a cruise aboard PONANT’s Le Laperouse boat from Darwin to Broome.


Flinders Range

Flinders Ranges are just one of the surreal landscapes you'll see aboard The Ghan. Image: Supplied

Where does The Ghan stop for Off Train Experiences?

All Ghan journeys that travel between Darwin and Adelaide stop at Alice Springs and Katherine.

The northbound Adelaide to Darwin trip also briefly stops at Marla, an outback town where you’ll watch the sun rise over the South Australian desert landscape with a steaming cup of coffee and a bacon and egg roll.

Between March and November, the southbound Darwin to Adelaide journey stops at Manguri, a rail siding 30 minutes outside of Coober Pedy in South Australia. You’ll arrive after dinner to enjoy a nightcap around a bonfire while taking in the outback’s pitch-black sky, carpeted in brilliant stars.

If you take the four-day Darwin to Adelaide Expedition journey between April and October, you will spend the extra day at Coober Pedy. This amazing mining town is built largely underground and is known as ‘the opal capital of the world’. You’ll tour the town and hear about its fascinating history, witnessing sights such as the informative Umoona Opal Mine and Museum and an underground home known as a dugout. At the Opal Quest Mine, you’ll have the chance to fossick for your own opal and enjoy a relaxed lunch underground. You’ll then travel along a portion of The Dog Fence, built to keep dingoes out of the sheep flocks of the south-east. At over 5,600 kilometres long, it is one of the world’s longest structures. Finally, you’ll arrive at The Breakaways, a series of colourful low hills that change colour with the passing of the sun for a surreal arid panorama.


Katherine Gorge

At Katherine, travellers on The Ghan can partake in the Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise. Image: Supplied

What is there to do at Alice Springs with The Ghan?

At Alice Springs, you can embark on exciting experiences such as:

  • Alice Explorer – visit a range of unique Alice Springs sites, starting at the School of the Air to learn about the local children’s lives in the Australian Outback and followed by the Reptile Centre to get up close and personal with Aussie reptiles like saltwater crocodiles, goannas, thorny devils and frill-neck lizards. You’ll also explore the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, where you’ll learn about the Overland Telegraph Line that bridged the isolation between remote Australian towns.
  • Standley Chasm Cultural Walk – explore this impressive sandstone gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges with an indigenous Western Arrernte community member. Beautiful outback colours, a natural spring, and native wildlife abound on this guided cultural walk.
  • Simpsons Gap Discovery Walk – tour an important spiritual site where a group of mythological giant goanna ancestors lived, full of ancient ghost gums and sunlight reflecting off the cliff walls.
  • Alice Springs Desert Park – tour the park with an experienced guide, go inside the Nocturnal House to peek into the nighttime habits of native creatures the avoid the harsh daytime temperatures, and get a front-row seat to the spectacular free-flight bird show.
  • Alice to Off Road – a mountain biking adventure led by a local guide that will take you from the Alice Springs Rail Terminal through town and down to the Ilentye Trail, an ochre-coloured dirt track named after the pink galahs that fly overhead. You’ll also spot black-footed rock wallabies and ghost gums on your bike ride.

What is there to do at Katherine with The Ghan?

At Katherine, there’s another wealth of activities to choose from:

  • Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise – cruise down the dramatic Katherine River listening to the cicada calls reverberating off the ancient cliff faces and the commentary that explains the significance of Nitmiluk to the indigenous Jawoyn people.
  • Top Didj Cultural Experience (Adelaide to Darwin, Apr-Oct) – be welcomed to Top Didj with a traditional didgeridoo performance by Indigenous artist Manuel Pamkal, before listening to Manuel share a Dreamtime story, demonstrate the Woomera spear, share what it was like growing up bush as part of tribal life, and guide you through creating a painting using his unique Rarrk (crosshatch) technique.
  • Katherine Outback Experience (Adelaide to Darwin, May-Oct) – experience what it’s like to live and work on a huge cattle station. You’ll see live demonstrations of horse-breaking and work dogs rounding up cattle, goats or ducks, and listen to Aussie anthems performed from horseback.
  • Cutta Cutta Caves (Darwin to Adelaide, Apr-Oct) – explore this underground limestone cave system, full of sparkling stalactites and stalagmites and five species of bats. The indigenous Jawoyn people named the caves Cutta Cutta (‘many stars’) for their belief that the caves are where the stars rest during the day.


man holding a bird of prey in Alice Springs Desert Park

The Alice Springs Desert Park experience gets you front-row seats to a spectacular free-flight bird show. Image: Supplied

Are there off-train upgrades and add-ons available on The Ghan trips?

There are also optional Off Train Experience upgrades and add-ons available. These experiences incur additional costs, and you may not be able to participate in the included Off Train Experiences, as they happen at the same time.

At Katherine, you can upgrade your experience with the Nitmiluk Gorge Helicopter Flight and fly over the 13 limestone formations that make up the incredible Nitmiluk Gorge to fully appreciate the gorge’s sheer enormity and complexity.

At Alice Springs, you can upgrade your experience with the Spirit of Mt. Gillen Helicopter Flight. You’ll fly over Alice Springs to Simpson’s Gap, one of the most prominent waterholes in the region, and on to Mt. Gillen Ridgeline and the famous Larapinta Trail. Alternatively at Alice Springs, there’s the Pynden Camel Tracks, a guided camel ride tour through the heart of the Outback, through Temple Bar Gap with sweeping views of the MacDonnell Ranges, to White Gums Station. Here you can explore the camel museum, sit back with a chilled drink and light canapes, and try to spot kangaroos, wallabies, lizards and birds.

If you travel on the four-day Darwin to Adelaide journey, you can upgrade your Alice Springs day to the Uluru Fixed Wing Scenic Flight. This is an incredible way to view Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), rising majestically out of the surrounding Central Australian desert. Once you arrive at Ayers Rock Airport, your tour guide will take you on an immersive experience of Uluru to visit important indigenous sites like Mutijulu Waterhole.

Donald recommends the Painted Hills & Lake Eyre Scenic Flight that departs from Coober Pedy as his top optional off-train experience. "It takes guests to the Anna Creek Painted Hills, a spectacular section of the Breakaways country in the far north of South Australia that can only be accessed by air," he explains.

"The flight then continues to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest salt lake, for captivating views of the lake’s shimmering pink and orange salt crystals. Lunch is a quintessential Australian pub lunch at the William Creek Hotel, and then after a ground tour of the township, it’s back in the air to fly over Anna Creek Cattle Station, the world’s largest working cattle station."


man petting a camel

You can opt to upgrade to a camel ride at Alice Springs. Image: Supplied

Are meals included on The Ghan journeys?

All meals and drinks are included on The Ghan. Special dietary requirements such as gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian and vegan diets can be accommodated: simply advise at time of booking.

"The food on board is a highlight," Donald says. "Our chefs craft superb dishes that are very much of the place. In the Northern Territory it might be barramundi, kangaroo usually makes an appearance along the way, and so on. There are a lot of native ingredients in the mix as well. Naturally, there is a selection of Australian wines to pair with your delectable meals – and again, everything is included. The only thing you have to do is board the train and enjoy the experience."


Ghan Expedition food stop

Telegraph Station is a stop that boasts an impeccable dinner. Image: Supplied

Is there Wi-Fi or charging points aboard The Ghan?

All The Ghan cabins have 240v household outlets for charging your devices. Electricity may be subject to fluctuations, so a surge protector is recommended.

Wi-Fi is available in Platinum Club carriages and the Outback Explorer Lounges. Wi-Fi availability is dependent on mobile network coverage, so as the train travels through some remote locations Wi-Fi may not always be available.

What should I pack for The Ghan? Are there luggage limits?

Temperatures vary significantly on The Ghan as you travel from one end of the country to the other. You should pack for both warm and cool climates. Expect mid-30° temperatures in Darwin and Katherine, and 4° nights and early mornings around Marla or Manguri. On board temperatures average 22° thanks to air conditioning.

Most travellers opt for smart casual attire aboard The Ghan. Make sure to pack a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy full-length pants, closed-in walking shoes, a wide-brimmed hat, and SPF30+ sunscreen for your Off Train Experiences. Add a fleece or jacket, gloves and a beanie for cooler morning or evening experiences.

Please note that The Ghan has luggage limits for both checked and carry-on luggage.


simpson's gap

You can go on a discovery walk at Simpson's Gap from the Alice Springs stop. Image: Supplied

How much are tickets for The Ghan?

Ticket prices vary depending on your journey and any add-on experiences you choose. Prices start from just over $1,000 per person for a two-day rail journey aboard The Ghan to over $10,000 per person for the 14-day Ultimate Territory Tour.

RACV Members save on The Ghan trips with RACV Travel and Experiences.

What else is there to see and do in Adelaide?

Adelaide has become one of Australia’s leading cultural and lifestyle destinations, with plenty of boutique shopping, art museums, festivals and beaches. Adelaide is one of the best road trip destinations from Melbourne thanks to sinkhole-filled Mount Gambier and internationally acclaimed wine district McLaren Vale. From Adelaide, you can explore the Flinders Ranges, explore the picturesque Adelaide Hills region, the travel the Limestone Coast.


woman overlooking Coober Pedy in South Australia

Coober Pedy is an awe-inspiring underground mining town. Image: Supplied

What else is there to see and do in Darwin?

Darwin is a former frontier outpost that has grown into the Northern Territory’s capital. From Darwin, you can explore Litchfield National Park and Kakadu National Park’s incredible waterfalls, lush rainforests, ancient rock art and dramatic landscapes. Tiwi Islands, the ‘Island of Smiles’ full of thriving Indigenous culture, is just a ferry ride away. In the city itself, visit the hair-raising Crocosaurus Cove and the Darwin Royal Flying Doctor Service. If you’re after adventure, try the Darwin Airboat Tour through the mangroves – or, if you prefer luxury, book onto the Darwin Harbour Sunset Cruise.


RACV Members save on The Ghan trips with RACV Travel and Experiences.
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