This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2011 Travels February 17

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.

Country to the north of Alice Springs

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.

The Ghan at Alice Springs Station

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.

Stuart Highway and the railway converging through Heavitree Gap (Google)

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.

Storm clouds just south of Alice Springs

The Red Centre was the Green Centre. La Nina weather conditions for Australia, this summer, had clearly bought decent rains to the Centre.

Green countryside to the south of Alice Springs

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.

A bit more arid looking now….

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.

Approaching the Finke River
Finke River with water in it

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.

Into South Australia……

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.


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2011 Travels February 15

TUESDAY 15 FEBRUARY     DARWIN

Woke to strong winds and heavy rain squalls. Turned on the TV to get a forecast. That little tropical low that had only warranted a brief mention, yesterday, now was said to have a 50% chance of turning into a cyclone by Thursday. Bloody wonderful! John wanted to see Darwin in the Wet Season – maybe this was overdoing  it,  just a tad?

Squally wind gusts, to 98kmh were forecast. And rain….

Bleak outlook from our bedroom window

The Stuart Highway south was closed by floods at Noonamah. The Mandorah ferry was not running and had been moved inside the Marina. We could just hope the Ghan makes it through….

The skies were all grey. The winds were strong even in the central atrium of the building.

Rain blown into the central atrium – and onto my camera!

John went down in the lift to get the daily paper. I decided that when I had to go downstairs, I’d use the stairs – didn’t want to get trapped in a power failure in a lift.

While he was down there, John asked the lady at Reception to arrange for the Ghan bus to collect us, tomorrow, then came back and told me he’d done that. I was really cross – I’d clearly told him that I’d arranged this, back with the rest of the trip, in Melbourne. I rang Reception and explained our transport was already arranged, and that my husband was “confused”.

They asked us to bring our balcony furniture inside. Workers were putting the pool furniture – tables and chairs – into the pools at our complex, and the one we could see, next door. This was starting to seem rather serious.

Not much traffic out and about….

According to the paper, last night’s ship was the Diamond Princess, out of Port Douglas, bound for Indonesia. She was in port at Fort Hill Wharf for part of the day – over lunchtime included. Over 1000 passengers would be braving the rain to have a quick look at the town. So that would be an area to avoid.

Drove to nearby Sky City to have their seafood buffet lunch once again; it was cheap with the Monday to Wednesday discount, plus our Action Club one. We had a big feed, because it would be dinner too – in these conditions we would not be going out again, anywhere.

At Sky City, also, workers were packing away anything from outdoors, and sandbagging the bottoms of doorways facing seawards.

Everyone we spoke to today said there hadn’t been weather like this in Darwin for at least eight years. Trust us to land in it. Concern was expressed on the media that there were now a lot of people living in Darwin who had never experienced a cyclone and wouldn’t know what to do.

Then to Nightcliff shops again. It was hard driving, in the wind and rain, and somewhat scary. Something hit the car roof with a thump – a little coconut? There was lots of leaf litter and small debris on the roads. It actually felt quite cold.

At Nightcliff, the lights were out and the shops were on emergency power.

We bought wine and some snack foods for the train. The supermarket shelves were being rapidly emptied – just about every shopper was buying supplies of bottled water.

Refuelled the car, then drove to Stuart Park to return the car. The wind was getting worse all the time. We were very glad to get to Thrifty with no mishap. Their staff were not going outside in these conditions to inspect the car – said they’d look at it tomorrow. We hoped there wasn’t a ding in the roof – or if there was, they would think it happened at their place.

They called us a taxi. We only waited about 15 minutes for it to come, which was pretty good in these conditions.

Back at the apartment, received a phone call from Great Southern Rail. The Ghan train was being terminated at Katherine and we would be bussed down there tomorrow. Damn! I hate bus travel.

We watched the weather – by now a howling gale – out the windows.

Palm trees showing the wind direction…

I packed what I could, cleaned out the fridge.

It turned out that today was the coolest February day on record in Darwin, at only 24 degrees.

The wind howled and wailed through the atrium, all night, making it harder to sleep.