Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by mcropod, May 6, 2019.
Darwin early morning
Mangroves at Doctor's Gully, north Darwin CBD.
Darwin has come through two disasters which have flattened it. The first was in February 1942 when the Japanese air force bombed Darwin as part of its expansion across Asia in WWII. The second was at Christmas in 1974 when cyclone Tracy laid waste to the city. As a result, there are only a few old buildings about.
My flightpath, Perth to Darwin (access to this archive may disappear in a short while).
Rock-fishing in the Darwin beach-side suburb of Fannie Bay where my mother spent about half of her life (and for you north Americans, who have a little giggle when someone says "Fannie", should know that in UK and Oz English, fannie is an even more risqué reference)
The beautiful multi-coloured local sandstone beach rock
Aside from the cars being on the wrong side of the roadway (and the phrasing "only in 7 News" instead of "only on 7 News"), this might as well be Los Angeles.
The lead loco on The Ghan at Darwin station
The second loco
Boarding at the unprepossessing Darwin terminal of The Ghan, several kilometres south of the city, and requiring bus transport from CBD hotels (included in the fare)
We are 830m long, comprise more than 33 carriages led by two locos, and have about 200 pax aboard.
I am four carriages from the front in car A cabin 9 - exactly the same as for the Indian-Pacific. Between me and the locos are two baggage cars, and a staff car.
It is 0224h and we are right in the middle of the desert at Tennant Creek, where there'll be a driver change, and some train provisioning for a little while.
I awoke on my own accord and saw the unmistakeable road junction on my sat-nav which told me where I was. I turned down the screen's light intensity and looked out the window for a bit.
I knew there was a three-quarter moon - I had seen it late in the afternoon as we explored the Nitmiluk Gorge at Katherine - and so there would be sufficient illumination to see a bit of detail. And so it proved - with the moon in the NW sky and us headed in a generally southern direction, it was bright enough to cause a moon-shadow of the carriage on the desert floor.
So a little bit brighter than most scenes of this series of Game of Thrones.
I could see the glow of the Tennant Creek lights in the distance, and then the blinking red light of the airport arose over the horizon and could be seen through the sparse tree-cover.
It's also one of the few places on the route where there is connectivity, and I needed to see if I could get a post from home letting me know about the fate of an aged quadriped member of our household who was last reported in a grave state.
The post gave me good news - he's recovering.
So now I am awake and have connectivity, I'll post some material which takes you up to last night.
I awoke early on Ghan boarding day, and had a last walk along Darwin's Esplanade in the cool of the morning, overlooking the Timor Sea from the elevated vantage-point offered at the cenotaph.
Darwin had been bombed in February 1942 with much loss of life in the city, and also at the wharf where a large number of military ships from the Australian and US navy had been berthed. Air-watchers at Bathurst and Melville Islands had sought to give a few minutes warning, but it was to little avail.
Darwin was evacuated, with much of the civilian population moving south. Military bases were also established south of the city, including at some of the places on the train journey south through which we would shortly pass.
Adelaide River was one, and allied airforce personnel from Australia, the UK, and the USA had variously been stationed there. I remembered airstrips dotted the Stuart Highway south, including one opposite the Defence property I had lived on as a school-kid called Sattler Airstrip.
It was a fraught time in northern Australia for a few years until the tide of the war changed in the Allies' favour.
Anyway, it was soon time to muster in the hotel foyer for the bus pick-up, and then, once loaded, head off about ten kilometres south and east of the CBD to the Darwin terminal.
Once aboard, I discovered I was allocated the same carriage and the same room as for the Indian-Pacific. That would save confusion, I thought.
Handily, that carriage was near the head of the train, and directly opposite the small terminal building where we disembarked the bus and found our cabin luggage.
As the train was 33 carriages in length, and 830 metres, there were many passengers who had a more substantial hike than I.
I took some pix and then went aboard.
The train left on schedule at 1000h, slowly at first as it left the Darwin built-up area, then picking up speed as it got into the start of the nearly 3,000kms journey through the outback.
We passed through a low-intensity grass-burn, done at this time early in The Dry to burn-off the grass and help promote new growth. Kites circled overhead ready to dive onto any small animal fleeing the flames. The area burnt looked like it was using the rail corridor as its western edge and the flames came quite close. For a time, our speed was reduced to 50kph, likely due to the smoke reducing visibility, but after a time we were back up to cruising speed around 90kph and a bit more.
The smoke was to have ramifications for some of my fellow-passengers, as I discovered later that evening.
We dined a little after mid-day, where I met Tammy from SE Queensland. Tammy seemed a little older than I, but she had travelled extensively in recent years. She told me of her visits, mostly to European countries as is the way with many older Australians. I had buffalo curry as my main.
Shortly afterwards, we readied ourselves for our first off-train excursions. Most seemed to be going to Nitmiluk Gorge (previously known as Katherine Gorge before it reverted to its Indigenous name).
There are several connected gorges at Nitmilik, joined up in one moving torrent in The Wet, but separating into several as the flow is reduced in The Dry. Our trip was up the first two of the series, cruising in small barges operated by the Jaywon people whose land we were on.
In The Wet, salt-water crocodiles can make their way along the water-course from Kakadu, upstream. Salties are the killers. You'd not want to be in the water with a saltie nearby.
There are freshwater crocs as well, and we saw two of them basking in the sun as we passed by. The freshies are smaller, and less dangerous to humans. The larger of the two we saw was probably a bit more than two metres in length.
Nitmiluk is very photogenic. I'm glad I now run a digital camera rather than a 36-shot film one.
After about three hours, we were back aboard, and amongst the first of the returnees. I met a pair in the lounge who had elected to take a 90-minute flight option over and along the grge and into Kakadu and Arnhem Land. I spotted that option on the list and considered it, despite its $400 per pax cost. There was also a helicopter 20-minute flight option for $200, overflying a few of the gorges.
I took neither, but the couple who'd taken the fixed-wing were told as they took off that the smoke from the fires meant they couldn't fly into Kakadu, and their flight was just over non-desccript bush country instead. They were a bit miffed as I would be in their circumstances.
I don't think there's any point in taking scenic flights in the Top End during the May-June burning season. The smoke-haze is considerable. Visibility will be poor over a vast distance.
Anyway, a Cointreau on ice was soon mine, followed by a shower, then a change for the evening meal and the chance to bump into new dining companions for my 2030h sitting.
A grass fire is alongside the tracks, with kites circling above
Nitmiluk Gorge cruise
Some warnings were in evidence about freshwater croc breeding areas
And a couple of freshwater crocs were also enjoying the sun. These were both around two to three metres long. I did not check.
I dined alone in splendid isolation last night in the late sitting. I am not fazed by that, by nature I am a solitary person, and enjoy private cogitation time.
Most tables were well into the menu by the time I arrived, likely all ravenous after their earlier exertions, and perhaps also naturally, 1930h diners by choice.
I went the full native: a crocodile entree, a barramundi main, and a macadamia and ginger dessert. They were all delicious and I felt both proud and patriotic.
Writing about the names of the courses brings to mind one puzzling aspect of one language: two people, which I encountered when dining in the USA. I feel now is the right time to get it off my chest.
In the USA, "entree" seems to refer to a main course - the main meal of a multi-course dining experience. I had never before and nowhere else seen "entree" used that way. You just need to look at the word to see its meaning, as defined by our French friends.
An entree in Oz dining experience is the smaller starter dish, usually to give the diner a taste of something, rather than a meal of it. It's the way you might "enter" the meal.
The main course is called - uh - the main course.
I provide this advice to our North American cousins as a public-service announcement so when they visit here, they don't go off at the front-of-house staff when they order an entree and become offended by its diminutive portion-size.
Anyway, please excuse the digression.
By way of a general train announcement, I found out The Ghan would be making a servicing and driver-change stop at Tennant Creek overnight.
Tennant Creek is a small mining town just south of the crossroads of the Stuart Highway - the main route north-south; and the Barkly Highway - the main route east to Queensland. There's nothing much to be seen there, but it would be a shame not to stop were you travelling by road, during daylight. Indeed, it's a handy overnighting town as it is a one-day drive north from Alice Springs on the way to Darwin or Queensland, and usually the second stop for lodgings when going south.
It also happens to be where my grandmother is buried.
It has a completely complicated back-story, but this English-born woman - the mother of my English-born, Scottish-raised mother - is buried in a marked grave in the middle of the Australian desert.
I knew there would be no ability to get near the graveyard, but I did want to know what time we were likely to be in Tennant Creek in case I was awake and could pay my respects from slightly closer than the usual 2,500kms away. I was told it was to be around 0100h to 0300h.
BTW, in a typical Oz place, flora, and fauna naming convention, where there is no need to go above and beyond (or even above *or* beyond), the small settlement north of Tennant Creek which has that three-way road junction, is called "Three Ways".
Reboarding at Katherine Station and the journey's next stop Alice Springs
Thanks for the detailed trip report and Photos! I'm really enjoying following along.
Could you please take some pictures inside the train of cabins and common areas?
Roger wilco. I'm happy to oblige.
The Ghan's layout is identical to the Indian-Pacific's, so you've not missed out and I have time to do so.
I think the only bit of interiors I did to date was the wiggly single-cabin carriage corridor, and the shower room, so I'll get onto the others shortly.
When I was about eight or nine years old, and first introduced to ordering for myself from a menu, I questioned why the main course was called the "entree." Even though I had not taken any French classes yet, I puzzled over the etymology of the word "entree" and decided its meaning was OBVIOUS and the standard American use of the word was WRONG (children are pretty sure of themselves). Eventually, I grew up and decided it was not my duty to reform my culture's improper usage of the word. I resigned myself to being a barbarian. I understand what is being referred to by the word "entree" whether I am in the USA or in Europe. Now I know that Australia is among the civilized countries that use the word properly.
Some on-board shots.....
Last night's dining menu - all meals are included in the fare.
View attachment 13631
The train's drinks menu (the bar tab is included in the fare, and the bar is open from about 1100h to 2200h or so).
Separate names with a comma.