We wanted to see the interior of Australia, that vast dry landscape that fuels novel after novel, starting for me with The Thorn Birds, on through the mysteries of Arthur Upfield (The Bone is Pointed). Everyone in Australia knows the true stories of exploration by Burke and Wills, who completed their crossing of the continent, dying of starvation at the end of their journey. There are ranches (stations) of more than a million acres, where drones are starting to be used to track animals. We wanted to see a region that is so resistant to encroachment by man.
Australia is both huge and largely empty, and travelers who want to leave the principal urban regions have to go prepared. Having left our camping and RVing days behind us, we decided that taking the train from Darwin to Adelaide would give us a chance to see some of the “Red Center.” We booked our trip on the Ghan, choosing the expedition version that stops each day in the 4 day/3 night journey for a side trip. This was perfect for us. We took the Indian Pacific train across the country from Sydney to Perth last month, and it didn’t work out at all, so with a bit of trepidation, we set off for the Darwin train station.
This time, the trip started on time, and after an early lunch–who doesn’t enjoy a dining car?–we stopped in Katharine, a mere 300 km down the road, for an afternoon visit to Katharine Gorge. We took the relaxing trip, a boat cruise along the sides of the gorge with a stop to look at aboriginal rock art. There is more spectacular rock art in Australia, but most of it requires a healthy hike in the high heat and humidity. I asked our boatman whether the holes in his hat were from a crocodile bite. (He laughed.) We did see a salt water crocodile on our cruise. They have a very pointed nose and are only 4-6 ft. long. They couldn’t even get your foot in their mouth…..
Back on board the train, we watched the dry scenery until sunset, then met new people at dinner. Most of the other travelers were Australians taking the trip to see more of their country, though we chatted with people from the UK, the US, and New Zealand. Overnight, the Ghan crossed a lot of empty territory. We watched the sun come up over a dry, dry landscape. It’s not desert with sand dunes, but desert with colored rock, low scrub bushes, and sparse grass.This was Day 1. More soon.