Travelling on The Ghan takes you deep into the heart of Australia, on a trip that is widely regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys. The name ‘Ghan’ is an abbreviation of ‘Afghan’ and refers to the camel drivers who were brought from Afghanistan in the 19th century to help with transport through central Australia. The importance of these camel ‘trains’ is remembered in the naming of The Ghan which travels from Darwin to Adelaide (and vice versa).

It is possible to travel on The Ghan from one to three nights, depending on your budget and how much time you have available for the journey. Highlights include the comfort of a private cabin (the budget Red Class carriages have been retired), all-inclusive fine food and wine, lively conversation with newfound friends in the bar and dining cars, and stunning scenery. Excursions at each stop are also included so you can truly experience the dramatic scenery of central Australia.

Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your time onboard The Ghan, from what type of cabin to book to who should do the trip and what you should do at each stop. Read on to discover how to get the best value for money from this iconic train journey.

The Ghan isn’t just for ‘oldies’

In the past this train trip had the reputation as a ‘must do’ for older travellers. However, these days it is simply a ‘must do’. I met a 23 year old Danish girl at Litchfield National Park who had completed the journey from Adelaide to Darwin as a solo traveller and loved it. On our trip, the average age was late forties to early fifties, with plenty of older and younger travellers as well. Some were single travellers, others were couples and there were also groups of friends celebrating significant birthdays or wedding anniversaries.

Meet the new breed of Ghan travellers (including the Danish solo traveller on the right)

Allow time to explore Adelaide and Darwin

It is worth adding a couple of days onto your trip to explore these two destinations before and after your journey on The Ghan. Spend a few nights at the Hilton Darwin and go on a sunset sailing trip around the harbour, check out the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre or explore Litchfield National Park. In Adelaide, take a day trip to McLaren Vale and experience this region’s sensational wines and stunning natural scenery.

Sunset cruise views


Silver Sands Beach in McLaren Vale

Choose your direction of travel in advance

This won’t be an issue for everyone but if you are prone to motion sickness, or simply don’t like ‘going backwards’ on trains, request a forward facing cabin when you book. When I got on board there were quite a few people trying to change cabins because they had been allocated a cabin which didn’t face the direction of travel. Of course, there are only so many forward facing cabins to go around and not everyone was successful (myself included).

Not all cabins face forwards

Go solo in a single cabin

The Ghan helps single travellers say goodbye (and good riddance) to the dreaded ‘single supplement’ with a single Gold Class sleeper cabin. These compact cabins feature a bed that converts to a seat by day and shared shower/toilet facilities located at the end of the carriage. With a large modern tiled shower, excellent water pressure and brand name toiletries, these shower facilities would look equally at home at an upmarket hotel. The single travellers I spoke to were pleasantly surprised that they never had to wait to use the shower, not even at peak times such as before or after dinner.

Skip the Double Cabin

The Ghan does have double cabins, however, the beds in these are very small. Unless you and your partner are slim, you will probably be more comfortable in a twin cabin with a bunk bed that folds down from the ceiling.

Pick up at your hotel is free

If you are staying at a centrally located hotel in either Darwin or Adelaide, you can request a complimentary pick up which takes you from your accommodation to the train. Your checked luggage is tagged before you get on the bus, so you relax and simply board the train when you arrive at the station. Checked bags are made available for collection at your final destination.

Check your suitcase and board the train

Take a carryon bag

Cabins on The Ghan are compact and the trip isn’t that long. You will be much more comfortable in your cabin if you check your suitcase when you get on the bus and bring a small day bag or carry on for the train journey. I packed a fold up duffle bag in my suitcase and repacked this with essentials the night before I got on The Ghan.

Choose your preferred dining time

Your cabin attendant will tell you what time your lunch and dinner bookings are each day. These can be early or quite late, such as 2.15pm for lunch, so if you have a preference make sure you get in early with your request. Breakfast is free seating so you can come in whenever you are ready to eat, anytime before 10am.

Choose your preferred dining time

Don’t rule out paying extra for excursions

While excursions are included in the cost of your fare, there are also some truly amazing excursions available for an extra cost. I went camel riding in Alice Springs which was excellent and well worth the extra spend. The helicopter trip at Katherine is also highly recommended, especially if it is a beautiful day. You don’t book excursions until you get on the train so there is time to check the weather forecast before you reach for your wallet.

Camel ride at Alice Springs

Cicada_Lodge, Tiana_Templeman

View of Northern Rockhole at Katherine on the helicopter tour

Enjoy the socialising

One of the great joys of this trip is socialising with other travellers in the lounge car. Passengers on The Ghan tend to be well-travelled and excellent company, with plenty of interesting tales to tell. Drinks are included in the cost of the fare so it is easy to shout them a round!

Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of Great Southern Rail.