For a moment, I fear I’ve had too much bubbly. But a fellow passenger sees the beast too — there’s a camel in the Australian Outback. We’re enjoying canapés and champagne on one of the greatest rail journeys in the world, so admittedly, we’re a little distracted. But if I’d paid more attention to our locomotive’s name, I probably wouldn’t have been so surprised by the dromedary in the desert.
Our train, the Ghan, which is taking us right through the heart of Australia, was named after the Afghan camel drivers who helped open up this remote continent. The epic 3,000 kilometre journey runs from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south.
In the 1800s, they carried sleepers and supplies for workers building the railway. But when the original line,
THE Ghan Expedition Trip costs from around £1,560 (AU$2509) for a single Gold Cabin, £1,735 per person (AU$2789) for a twin Gold Cabin. Trips run from May to October. www.greatsouthernrail. com.au
The Flight Centre offers return flights from Heathrow into Darwin and out of Adelaide, with Malaysia Airlines, from £879 per person if booked by April 30. www. flightcentre.co.uk Traversing Australia in style
from Adelaide to Alice Springs, was completed in 1929, the men were out of a job, and set their animals free in the desert. It led to around a million wild camels in Australia.
As for the railway, it was rebuilt and re-routed several times. But it wasn’t until 2004 that it was extended right across the continent, allowing people to travel all the way from the Northern Territory to Southern Australia.
The journey typically takes three days. But now there’s a four-day Ghan Expedition Trip, in which the train stops for various excursions en route; I was lucky enough to be one of the first to try it.
We leave the steamy heat and lush vegetation of tropical Darwin, and are soon rolling through dense forest, towards Katherine, 300 km south.
Our first stop is Nitmiluk National Park, the traditional land of the Jawoyn people. There’s a choice of excursions (all included in the price) plus a couple of optional upgrades.
While fellow passengers go for a cruise along the Katherine River, a small group of us take a scenic flight over the area’s sandstone gorges.
We soar over an arid landscape, sliced by the glittering river. The Jawoyn believe it was formed when a cave bat killed Nabilil, a crocodile, and in so doing, pierced the water bag he was carrying with his spear. I spot plenty of waterfalls, spilling over the splintered rockface; there’s even the odd crocodile and water buffalo.
Our pilot reveals that somewhere in the 300,000 hectares below, 40,000-year-old petroglyphs have been discovered in a cave. Apparently Oprah has seen them and he hasn’t.
“I’m a ranger here! How can they not