THURSDAY 17 FEBRUARY ON THE GHAN
Woke about 6am, and got up. We were dressed by the time the hostess brought our morning coffees.
Outside was scrub country, nothing to identify where we were.
Went to breakfast. This was a great spread. Choice of juices, and fruit. We both had the cooked breakfast – bacon, egg, mushrooms, tomato, plus toast and jam. It was all very nice. I could easily get used to the lifestyle we’d enjoyed on this trip!
Outside, ranges came into view – the Harts Ranges around the Gemtree area, I thought. The rail route did pass well to the east of the Stuart Highway for much of the way south from Tennant Creek, which we must have passed through in the night.
In contrast to yesterday, during the night it seemed we had totally outrun the bad weather – blue sky and sunshine outside.
We were back in our compartment, now changed back to day time mode, for a short while, before we cruised into Alice Springs, about 9am.
Passengers were not allowed to remain on the train here, because it was cleaned. Several tour options were offered – user pays. They were all to sights we’d visited in the past, so we really did not want to re-do any as part of a tour group. So we decided to walk into town and wander about there.
A surprising number of passengers left the train totally, at Alice Springs. I speculated that some might stay and “do” the tourist things, then fly elsewhere, or catch the next train, next week, south. I doubted that there were many residents among them.
Where the train pulled in – again a disembarkation down steps – was just a ground level area. We were about a ten or fifteen minute walk from the town centre. There was lots of broken glass on the footpath. It was quite hot to be out walking.
We went to the Mbantua Gallery – a favourite of ours. Here, we browsed for ages; it was that sort of place. They had wonderful and varied art works, at reasonable prices. We ended up buying a small painting on canvas, a sort of “leaf” style, by a young woman painter.
Then we wandered the Mall, looking in a couple more galleries.
My leg – the one affected by nerve damage in my spine – was hurting and my feet were tired. John was tired too, so we walked back to the train, knowing we were allowed to re-embark at 11.40. We timed it well, were checked on and soon back in “our” train home.
Alice Springs, in the brief time we were out and about, seemed more threatening than we remembered from four years ago. We’d passed some large groups of “locals” who muttered and commented as we went and I’d been grateful that on this weekday morning, there were plenty of other people around. Still, in passing, we got some good whiffs of “eau de town camp” or maybe of Todd River bed camp. Either way, most unpleasant.
The train pulled out again, about 12.30. It was interesting to be on it, going through the narrow Heavitree Gap, in the McDonnell Ranges, instead of watching the train from the roadside, as we’d done on a few occasions. Road and railway are close together, through The Gap.
We sat and watched the passing scenery. Adverse weather seemed to have caught up with us again. Storm clouds were building, and John finally got to see a good forked lightning display.
The Red Centre was the Green Centre. La Nina weather conditions for Australia, this summer, had clearly bought decent rains to the Centre.
We went to lunch, as we were – as near as we could work out – about level with Rainbow Valley and the Hugh Stock Route, both of which we’d previously driven. Whilst eating lunch, we saw Chambers Pillar in the distance.
This was our first lunch on board the train, thanks to yesterday’s debacle, and it offered a good range of choices too, and yummy food.
We were just finishing lunch when the train slowed and the speaker system announced we were about to cross the Finke River. John quickly went to fetch the camera, and took photos.
We spent the afternoon in the compartment, watching the passing country. It was all greener and much more lush than we had ever seen it. Overseas, or even local, travellers experiencing the Centre for the first time right now, must be wondering why on earth it was supposed to be arid country.
After lunch, our toilet wouldn’t flush. Much angst, wondering what we’d done wrong to make it malfunction. John went and found our hostess and reported the problem, prepared for us to be embarrassed. Turned out it affected our whole carriage – the air compressor had tripped. No one else had been to hostess, though. Obviously everyone thought it was just them – as we had – and were feeling mortified. It was quickly fixed, thankfully, and clearly a common occurrence.
I sewed a bit. John sat by the window, gazing out and napping.
Went to the lounge car to have a drink, before tea.
There was a small range of souvenirs available to buy. Purchased John a very nice red-brown polo shirt, good quality weave, with a small Ghan logo on the pocket. Unfortunately, there was no stock in my size.
Tea offered lots of choices again. The Ghan food was certainly excellent. Spreading the meal out over three courses passed the time. By the time we finished dinner, the train was stopped at a siding near Coober Pedy and it was dark.
Back in our cabin, magically transformed into bedroom mode, we had a nightcap of our remaining wine, and went to bed.
Again, the night’s sleep was excellent.