This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2011 Travels February 18

FRIDAY 18 FEBRUARY     ADELAIDE

We followed the same morning routine, breakfasting as the train passed through Port Augusta. This was our last train meal.

The route from there to Adelaide seemed to me to be a bit round about as it wound around, but was interesting, as we passed through little towns at regular intervals.

The corridor outside our compartment

Just out of Crystal Brook, we saw where the line where the Indian Pacific train, from Sydney, joined ours. We’d already added the Indian Pacific journey to the bucket list – a mutual decision. The Indian Pacific and Ghan shared the same route, from Adelaide, to Tarcutta, north of Port Augusta, where the line to Perth headed west.

Daytime travel mode

Pulled into the Adelaide terminus about midday. It wasn’t the old, main station I’d assumed, from where I’d sometimes caught the Overland to Melbourne, but one on the western edge of the city – newer.

After getting off the train we had to wait around for what seemed like ages, for our luggage to appear, on trolleys. It was pouring rain. Then there were not enough taxis, so we had to wait for one of those, too.

From Darwin to Adelaide in three days and two nights

We were booked into the Comfort Adelaide Riviera Hotel, on the northern edge of the CBD. The only reason we were overnighting in Adelaide was to give a buffer time, between the train getting in and our flight to Melbourne going out. Delays can happen and it seemed smarter to have some wriggle time.

We had decided to fly back to Melbourne rather than catch the Overland train. That would have been a long day trip, sitting up, with no private compartment. The idea did not appeal.

Our room was adequate, but not in the same class we’d become accustomed to! Our room window looked out onto a light well, hence a wall. Yuk. It felt a bit gloomy and caged in. But it was clean enough, even if some parts were showing their age. The staff were very helpful – a plus.

I went online on the laptop and got our Qantas boarding passes for tomorrow. Had them emailed to the hotel, then went down and got them printed. Good service.

John wanted to go for a walk in the CBD, find some food, despite the rain. I wasn’t keen, especially as we could get what appeared to be perfectly adequate meals in the hotel. But off we went.

We got very wet as we walked the few blocks to Rundle Mall. There were the usual city centre shops in the Mall. There were also performers from the Comedy Festival that was happening. We wandered up and down the Mall for a while.

Ended up eating in DJ’s food court. John went for the usual pie and pasty, I had a Nando’s salad. That was late lunch/early dinner.

Walked a different route back to the hotel. It was still raining. John was looking for a place to buy some takeaway alcohol, but such are pretty rare in city centres and he didn’t find same.

Back in our room, I read the paper, John watched TV. I snacked on chocolate biscuits bought in Darwin.

Repacked for the plane, transferring our train stuff back to the big cases. Kept our on board items to an minimum, not being sure what we could take on a Dash 8 plane.

Our room was, at least, quiet, and we slept alright.


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2011 Travels February 16

WEDNESDAY 16 FEBRUARY     ON THE GHAN

Woke to the alarm at 6am.

The wind had dropped overnight. However, the BOM was forecasting that a Category 1 cyclone – Carlos – would develop, with winds to 100kmh. There had been 367mm of rain from 9am yesterday to 9am today. The airport was closed.

The path of Cyclone Carlos

Breakfasted on oranges, weetbix, toast, then threw out the remaining food – not much.

We were downstairs, with our luggage, at 8am, for an 8.10 pickup. Another lady was waiting there too.

The bus was late. Eventually the Reception lady rang to check it was coming. It arrived a bit after 8.30. The lateness was understandable, given the conditions.

We made several other pickups at accommodation places around town, before heading out, to the Ghan Station. driving was a delicate operation. Trees were down, traffic lights were not working, there was much debris on the roads.

There were more passengers at the Station, and a second bus. We stayed on the same bus which was about half full, as was the second bus when we pulled out again. That meant it was reasonably comfortable, at least, with room to spread out a bit.

Left the Station about 10.15am, which would have been about train departure time.

As we were passing Palmerston,  and crawling through water across the road, the driver told us how “they” made the Tiger Brennan Drive extension too low for the big semis, at one point where another road goes over it. The solution was to lower Tiger Brennan Drive by a metre or so, whereupon the water table was intersected. Now, there were ongoing problems with this. Only in Darwin…..

In sections, one side of the dual road Stuart Highway was flooded, and so traffic became two way on the other side. I wondered if the road builders had elevated one side for this reason, or if it was a lucky fluke? We were lucky to get through at all.

Driving down the up side, with flooded highway in distance

At Noonamah, we pulled in by a servo. The other bus was there – broken down, apparently. So its passengers were loaded onto our bus. Every seat was full. It became really stuffy, very quickly – the air-con was ineffectual in these conditions.

Maybe in an effort to distract us from our discomfort, maybe because he liked the sound of his own voice, the driver kept up a running commentary, on local facts, environment, history, events. Some of it was just factually wrong, according to what I knew. It became really annoying.

Then the driver announced that we would not be stopping, as had been planned, at Emerald Springs, for a break, but “for operational reasons” would continue through to Katherine without a break. This was rapidly becoming the bus trip from hell.

Stuart Highway under there.

John had to use the on board bus toilet. He reported that it was very hard for him, with the bus swaying, in the confined space, and not all that clean…. I preferred to go thirsty and not drink much of my bottled water, trying to ensure I didn’t need to use the toilet.

Some of the passengers were from overseas and did not have any idea of the distance involved, from Darwin to Katherine. They didn’t even have any water and none was provided on the bus. They were really cross and disgruntled. I decided we were travelling with some sort of local outfit, organized at the last moment, and not really set up for comfortable travel over several hours.

We passed through the Katherine outskirts and were taken straight out to Nitmiluk, where we got out of our torture chamber. Obviously, I had not been the only person annoyed by the driver’s errors – the woman in front of me as we disembarked, said sweetly to him “Oh, by the way Jawoyn is pronounced……” (not the way he had mangled it). I couldn’t top that one.

It had stopped raining so heavily after about Pine Creek and now was more just showers.

Lunch was served to us at the Nitmiluk Visitor area. It was a buffet style one for Gold and Platinum Class passengers. Red Class ones had to stay on the bus. I guess they got dumped in Katherine to fend for themselves.

After lunch we were given the chance to do the one hour boat trip on the Gorge, for free. Clearly, there was some compensating going on for our altered experience, to date. Some chose not to do the boat trip, but we wanted to. We hung back from the initial rush, and so got a place on the second, smaller boat.

Katherine River near the Visitor Centre
Red rock walls of Katherine Gorge
Not how most tourists see this cave feature….

Aboriginal guides take the boat tours. The commentary by our guide was interesting. He only spoke when there was something worth pointing out or telling us. A marked contrast to our bus driver!

The river was high and flowing quite strongly. Because of this, and the green-ness, it all looked very different from how we’d seen it on previous trips. Back in ’93, we’d canoed along this same stretch.

Swirling currents in the strongly flowing river

In places, there were little waterfalls coming down the cliffs.

Black staining on the rock walls shows waterfalls

After about 40 minutes, we turned about and went back down river to where we started. Because of the currents, it was faster going that way.

Back near the Visitor Centre

The tour was worth doing. I’d have paid for it, certainly. At one hour, it was just enough to give a good taste of the Gorge at this time, without becoming boring. We’d seen the first part of the Katherine Gorge system in a mode that most tourists, visiting in the Dry, had not.

We climbed back on the bus – fewer people now, as the Red Class and the non-boat trippers had already gone. And thus to the train – at last! By now it was 4pm.

I suppose I’d been expecting the standard sort of train station platform, like in Melbourne, so was surprised to find that we accessed the train from ground level, via little mobile stairs.

Our carriage – H – was towards the back of quite a long train. We were checked on board at the doorway to this. Our compartment – 7/8 – was dinky! We had a carriage hostess, who introduced herself.

The lounge seat was also the lower bed, so it was about two metres long – plenty of sitting room. The compartment  was not very wide, but there were two little robe cupboards, and adequate storage space, under the bed and on top of the bath cubicle roof. But I could see why we’d had to limit our onboard luggage, with our main suitcases checked into the luggage carriage – we hoped! Given the earlier bus trip experience I wasn’t totally confident in their ability to transfer our cases from bus to train.

We had a nice big window – no problem seeing the passing country from that. The carriage layout was a corridor down one side that gave access to the compartments, so the latter were almost the full width of the carriage.

Our en-suite bathroom was a bit of a challenge. There was a fold-up toilet, which needed some care in operating! A fold-up hand basin was above that. To shower, one pulled a curtain across in front of the door, toilet and basin, but that didn’t stop the floor from getting wet, of course, and – as we were to discover – it took ages to dry.

Ghan toilet and shower curtain

We got going – hooray!

John and I went along to the lounge car and had a can of beer each, to celebrate finally being on The Ghan. Then we were called to dinner – there was an order in which different carriages were served.

We sat with an older couple. He was 91 and stroke affected, so his speech was hard to follow against the background noise of the train. They’d lived on the Qld gem fields for years – she had some great jewellery. So we talked fossicking, mostly. They’d lived in a van at The Willows fields.

Dinner gave us a choice between soup or some type of quiche entree, main was a choice between a chicken dish and salmon, which I had. There was a choice of desserts too. We had a bottle of wine with dinner.

The food was wonderful. Beautifully presented and serves not too big.

We took another bottle of wine back to our compartment. While we’d been gone, the beds had been set up. The lounge had become a lower bed and a top one had somehow folded down from on high. The beds were made up and turned down. All very seamless.

We had a glass of wine each, sitting on the lower bed. It had grown dark while we were in the dining car, so there wasn’t much to be seen outside by now. We were surprised to realize that it was already 9.30pm.

John said he would take the top bunk. Noble of him. I was tired. It had been a long day. So we went to bed. There was moonlight outside, so once the interior light was off, we could see trees and scrub passing by.

I had no trouble falling asleep. The slight rhythm of the train was very soothing. I woke a couple of times through the night, to find the train stopped, but could only see bush around. The schedule we’d been given did indicate a couple of stops – maybe to allow other trains past? Or to rotate train crews.

It had been overcast all day, though we’d travelled out of the heaviest rain. Found out later that, essentially, we had travelled through Cyclone Carlos when we first left Darwin, and it was now to the north of us. Over the three day period from 15-17 Feb, Darwin was to get nearly 700mm of rain. Had we been a day later trying to get to the Ghan at Katherine, it wouldn’t have happened.

“Let’s see Darwin in the storm season” he said…….


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2011 Travels

BEFORE FEBRUARY 5…..

After his health problems of recent times, John decided it was time to get serious about some of his “bucket list” items. A couple of these could be bundled together: to travel on the Ghan train, and to spend time in Darwin in the storm season – because he wanted to see the spectacular lightning displays there at that time.

To my later chagrin, I have to admit that I was not really keen on the idea of travel on the Ghan. Back in Uni days, had done a couple of trips between Adelaide and Melbourne on the Overland train, sitting up in seats all night, and had not enjoyed that. But The Ghan was something John really wanted to do, so I went along with the idea.

The Ghan train

I’d worked out a trip that would see us, in February,  fly to Darwin, spend some time there, then travel on the Ghan to Adelaide, from which we would fly back to Melbourne. An initial idea, of driving one way and putting the vehicle on the train one way, did not work out. Truck was over the height limit for the train. John said my Barina car was too small and uncomfortable for distance travel – and it was not air conditioned.

I had attempted to make a booking for the Ghan online, but kept getting stuck in one of those endless loops of no progress and much frustration. Eventually phoned Great Southern Rail direct. It turned out that the online glitch was a very fortunate one, because GSR offered me a package deal that worked out much cheaper: our rail travel, five nights accommodation in Darwin at a venue of our choice, and a day pass on the Darwin Explorer bus. All for less than I would have paid for our rail fares alone, had I managed to book them online!

I built the rest of the plan around the Ghan trip dates, and booked our flights; arranged car hire in Darwin and parking of my car near Melbourne Airport; accommodation in Adelaide, Kakadu National Park, and a second stay in Darwin, for after we returned from a jaunt to Kakadu.

Birdy dog was booked into kennels, which we had visited and inspected first. They also offered some behavioural training – an attractive proposition!

Training……what ‘dat?

As our February 6 departure date was approaching, we watched with awe and trepidation as Category 5 Cyclone Yasi approached the north Qld coast. Apart from its impact on places there that we had visited and loved, there was the possibility that it might behave as previous cyclones in those parts had – continue west, re-form over the Gulf, then hammer the Top End. That could impact our travel plans. In the event, it made landfall further south than originally predicted and dissipated across SW Qld.

The path of Cyclone Yasi (BOM)

The tail end of Yasi did, however, feed into a low pressure trough that brought a deluge to Melbourne on 4-5 Feb.