|This year, Australia’s legendary long distance train, The Ghan celebrates 10 years since its inaugural transcontinental journey across Australia.|
|On 1 February 2004, The Ghan train departed the South Australian city of Adelaide for the very first time on its 2,979km crossing through the heart of the country to the Top End. Two days later, the train arrived at the Northern Territory capital of Darwin. To mark the milestone, The Ghan gives us 10 reasons to explore Australia by rail this year:
1. Size matters
When it takes three days, two nights and a staggering 2,797km to complete a rail journey, you know you’re in for an adventure of sizeable proportions
2. Train your palate
More than 1.3 million restaurant-quality dishes are served aboard The Ghan every year. Whether you’re up for grilled saltwater barramundi, pasture-fed pork cutlet with macadamia and sage, Coorong Angus beef medallion or wild lime and coconut tart, it’s on the menu.
3. Half a million tracks made
4. All-inclusive, all year round
Platinum and Gold Service guests on board the Ghan can now enjoy fully regionally-based dining, on-board beverages and fascinating Off Train Excursions at key stops, as standard extras.
5. Prestigious history
While the Ghan has traversed Australia for the past decade, the train itself actually dates back to 1929 when it used to travel between Adelaide and Alice Springs.
6. 40,000 years of history in a day
More than 35,000 guests last year enjoyed the ancient wonders of Katherine Gorge. Marvel at the sheer sandstone cliffs, Aboriginal rock art and cruise the tropical waters where you might even spot a croc!
7. Meet new mates
The on-board Outback Explorer Lounge is open round the clock, where you can enjoy a complimentary beverage or two and meet some new travel companions.
8. Visit a town called Alice
There’s nothing malicious about the quintessential Outback town of Alice Springs, which you can explore with your choice of complimentary Off Train Excursions.
9. Go your own way
Whether you’re up for a backpacking adventure in Red Service, travelling in comfort by yourself or with a partner in Gold Service or immersing yourself in luxury in Platinum Service, there’s on-board accommodation to suit all needs and budget.
10. Early bird specials
Book your Ghan adventure by 30 April 2014 for travel from 1 November 2014 onwards to save 25% off your journey. Prices start from £964 per person for Gold Twin Service with dining, beverages and Off Train Excursions included.
Book your Ghan Adventure now!
Alternatively, take a look at Great Rail Journey’s epic 22 day tour of Australia, which as well as the Ghan journey itself also takes in The Great Barrier Reef, dinner under the stars by Uluru, Sydney and the Blue Mountains, a Barossa Valley wine tour and 4 other scenic railways, including the majestic Kurunda Railway, with return flights from London Heathrow, from £6,075 per person.
10 Ghan facts to go’han about
1. The name and symbol of the Ghan was inspired by the pioneering cameleers (many of them Afghans or as they were widely known, ‘Ghans), who more than 150 years ago first established a permanent trail to the Red Centre.
2. In World War II, the Ghan played a vital role in transporting troops. Each year, The Ghan pays tribute to veterans with its special Anzac Tribute journey between Adelaide to Darwin.
3. From Adelaide to Alice Springs, the Ghan track originally consisted of wooden sleepers. The desert termites dined on the sleepers as quickly as they were laid. Flash flooding also frequently washed the track away so in 1980, the old rail track was abandoned in favour of a new standard gauge line built with concrete sleepers.
4. When the Ghan departed Adelaide for its inaugural journey to Darwin, it was the longest passenger train in Australian history, stretching more than 1km with two locomotives and 43 carriages.
5. The 43 carriages on the first journey to Darwin included four ‘Special Carriages’ – the Chairman’s, Sir Hans Heysen, Sir John Forrest and Prince of Wales carriages.
6. The average weight of The Ghan is 847 tonnes (single – 16 carriages) and 1,344 tonnes (double – 26 carriages), excluding the locomotive. For the inaugural journey to Darwin, the total weight exceeded 2,000 tonnes.
7. Work on the 1,420km line commenced in April 2001 with the eventual cost reaching AU$1.34 billion – AU$741 million from private enterprise and AU$559 million from the government. It remains one of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure projects.
8. When construction was finally completed in January 2004, workers had used 15 million cubic metres of earthworks, 146,000 tonnes of metal rail, 2 million concrete sleepers, 3,500 tonnes of structural steel, 2.8 million tonnes of ballast and built 93 bridges.
9. The average speed of the train is 85km/hour with a maximum speed of 115km/hour.
10. The total length of the journey is 2,979km, which takes 54 hours to complete.
Ever taken a trip on the Ghan train? Tell us how you found it!
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Depending on who you believe, the remote Danish picture book island of ærø can either be pronounced as it sounds – as in aerodynamic – or if you’re a stickler for the Danish language, it can sound a bit like a particularly violent sneeze.
But there’s nothing remotely violent about the island itself – whose main claims to fame are being home to the world’s largest solar power plant and seeming to be plucked from the pages of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. All woozily angled bungalows and eye-catching doors, brightly painted in pastel shades and wearing the year of their build with pride in iron horseshoes.
We were there for a friend’s wedding and it certainly lends itself well for that purpose. The happy couple had an intimate affair in the end, the distance and expense caused a fair few invitees to drop off – but really getting there is not so hard, if you don’t mind taking a few trains and ferries. 🙂
We stopped off first via an overnight stay in Copenhagen, a very calm, pleasant – and surprisingly quiet – capital city, staying at the Hotel Absalon, an unpretentious modern railway hotel just a few minutes walk from the Central Station. Copenhagen wasn’t quite as expensive as we were led to believe either, with a really tasty and ample Smorebord platter for 2 in one of the main squares coming in at just shy of 25 Euros.
We particularly enjoyed strolling around the orderly landscaped gardens of Kongen’s Have, past the scout hut-like cottage buildings and side streets around Nyhaven and taking in the fine esplanade walk past the grand Gefion fountain, the National Gallery and gawping in awe at the people dangling from the ridiculously high rides in Tivoli Gardens.
It’s a city that often makes you crane your neck to the heavens, we didn’t go in, but the Roundtower looked interesting for those with more time. The main thing that struck us about the city was just how quiet and orderly it was. Even during the midweek rush hour, it seldom had the bustle you’d come to expect from a capital city.
Train to Svendborg
Then we trotted off to the station for a 2 train journey to the ferry port of Svendborg. The station, done out in that dense dark brown brickwork beloved of the Danes, is a perfectly pleasant place to dwell, having retained its wooden struts and typical railway architecture.
The Danish trains we rode on were certainly busy (reservations were definitely necessary), but very comfortable, with wide seats and enough luggage space. We didn’t notice a buffet service or car on this short journey. It’s worth noting too that this journey goes via Copenhagen Airport, whose station is handily directly located in the terminal building.
The booking process using the Danish national operator DSB was noticeably smooth and easy – they even allow you to amend your booking up to a day before you travel at no extra charge. You can print your tickets at home, just remember to have your credit or debit card handy to show the inspector. The return 2 hour journey cost around £80 per person, including reservations.
Some 75 minutes later, having past a few water-based windfarms, farmland and the music festival town of Roskilde, we got into Odense. A tight connection there meant there was no time to explore the town, but if the view from the station platform of grim modern architecture is anything to go by we probably didn’t miss too much.
Odense to Svendborg
Our second journey was shorter and on a smaller train where seats were at a premium. Soon enough though we reached Svendborg, which looked quite charming, if a little sleepy. We struggled to find a cafe that was open on a Sunday afternoon, eventually settling for a table in the quirky, piggy bank festooned pub just around the corner from the station. A real local’s place reeking of rich pipe tobacco.
A few minutes walk from the station is the ærø ferry terminal. The crossing takes 75 minutes and a return ticket will set you back around 200 Krone, or £25. You can buy your ticket on board. The jollily painted ferry is a fair size, with plenty of seats on the two lower decks, picnic style benches on the top deck and a basic cafeteria on board. You’ll pass many small islets, populated mainly by seabirds.
The ferry docks at Aeroskobing, one of the island’s three ‘towns’ and the closet it has to a centre. A few minutes walk from the port you’ll find the main street, mostly impossibly pretty houses, a few gift shops, restaurants and ice cream parlours.
There’s a Tourist Info Office, just by the port, plus a cafe (both were shut when we arrived after 5pm) and there’s a Netto supermarket just around the corner for all your essential supplies. The area’s a bit of a building site currently, as a multi-purpose arts centre is being built, but don’t let that put you off, there’s still plenty of natural and architectural eye-candy to feast upon.
We stayed at Villa Bloomberg, up a quiet country lane (also home to the solar plant) a 15-20 minute walk from the port. This former boarding school building was converted into a hostel earlier in the year. It’s wonderfully set with views of the water, windmills and gently rolling fields.
Being a hostel, the accommodation is fairly spartan, but cosy enough with many double rooms and plenty of shared bathrooms with powerful showers. Excellently run by good humoured retired chef Keld, with a little help from his two sisters, you can expect a very friendly, easygoing welcome here and truly superb traditional Danish food served at generous breakfast and dinner sittings.
Our brief stay on the island didn’t allow for too much exploration, but we would recommend dropping into the Pension Vestergade, for afternoon tea. The pension is a gorgeous 18th century cottage built by a wealthy sea captain at a time when the island was effectively independent and allowed tax-free living – and run today by delightful English emigree teacher Susanna.
Her house, with its beautifully rambling wooded garden, is packed from floor to ceiling with books, stuffed animals, object d’arts and curios in every nook and cranny. It really feels more like staying with your eccentric Danish auntie than at the average BnB.
The town museum, which doubled as the registry office for the wedding ceremony, looked like it would be an intriguing spot to while away an hour or so, but mostly the appeal of ærø lies squarely in going for quiet rambles along the calm coast and farmlands.
There is something ever so slightly eerie about ærø , such is its charming remove from ‘civilisation.’ As tourists dragging our cases from the port on arrival we felt more than a little bit conspicuous. I half expected to be chased by one of those giant bubbles that emerged from the sea in the Prisoner. That said, everyone we met was unfailing friendly and welcoming.
Know before you Go
Depending on your time of arrival, it may be worth arranging your transport from the ferry in advance. There is a (free!) bus service on the island but departure times are sporadic and you will probably struggle to find a taxi. Our helpful hosts offered to collect us by car.
More to see around ærø