The Ghan train trip from Darwin to Adelaide operated by Journey Beyond, is one of the world’s great rail journeys and an iconic Australian outback experience.
Taking a trip on The Ghan railway has been high on our bucket list for so long!
For few years we’d been building up our Qantas point balance to use on a trip to Europe in business class. But after the pandemic hit and it became clear that Australia wasn’t opening international borders for a looooooong time. So, we decided to use our points to tick an item off our bucket list and take a trip on The Ghan Expedition train in 2021.
After thoroughly checking The Ghan booking policy (in case a local outbreak and border closures impacted our plans), we decided to book the train trip from Darwin to Adelaide.
Given Australian tourism operators experienced a massive blow during the pandemic, we wanted to support them where we could. So, we decided to plan an epic journey from the Top End of Australia to the bottom.
We kicked off our holiday with a few days in Darwin, followed by a 2-day road trip from Darwin to Kakadu and back, then we hopped on The Ghan train which took us from Darwin to Adelaide over 4 days. We finished our weeklong itinerary with 2 days of wine tasting in the Adelaide Hills – a great spot for a weekend getaway!
If a trip on The Ghan is not currently on your Australia bucket list, we recommend adding it ASAP! It was the perfect mix of adventure, food, wine, and a little bit of indulgence. Plus, we got to see some of the most iconic landmarks in Australia!
In this article, we detail everything you need to know about travel on The Ghan train in Australia. From timetable, route options, ticket inclusions and off-train experiences to photos of The Ghan cabins, and the best time to book! So, let’s dive right in…
READ ON FOR OUR REVIEW AND TIPS FOR TRAVEL ON THE GHAN DARWIN TO ADELAIDE TRAIN JOURNEY
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In This Post:
The Ghan Timetable
The Ghan train timetable runs from February to November. The train does not operate in December and January as this is the rainy season, which can cause flooding of the train tracks and schedule interruptions.
The Best Time to Travel on The Ghan Train
The best time to travel on The Ghan is the high season which runs from May to August. This is also the most popular time as the temperature in the desert is much cooler during the day, making off train excursions a more enjoyable experience.
The second best time to travel on The Ghan is during the months of February to April, and September to November (inclusive), which is the shoulder season. If you’re looking to save some money, this is when you’ll find The Ghan ticket prices to be slightly cheaper, but the weather during off train excursions in Alice Springs, Coober Pedy and Katherine is a little more extreme. In saying that, transportation during the day excursions is via luxury airconditioned coaches.
The Ghan Route
The Ghan train journey between Adelaide and Darwin offers four uniquely different routes to choose from, depending which direction you wish to travel in:
- The Ghan Expedition from Darwin to Adelaide (4 Days + 3 Nights)
- Outback Spirit Journey from Adelaide to Darwin (3 Days + 2 Nights)
- Adelaide to Alice Springs or vice versa (2 Days + 1 Night)
- Darwin to Alice Springs or vice versa (2 Days + 1 Night)
What’s the difference between the Adelaide to Darwin route and the Darwin to Adelaide route? Because the journey from Darwin to Adelaide is 4 days (instead of 3), it offers an extra day of sightseeing in Coober Pedy plus Dinner under the stars at Telegraph Station in Alice Springs. Unfortunately, the journey from Adelaide to Darwin is only 3 days and does not include these two experiences.
Taking a trip on The Ghan has been on our Australia Bucket List for so long, and we wanted to experience the best that the train had to offer. The Ghan Expedition route from Darwin to Adelaide is the original historical journey through the centre of Australia and is considered one of the world’s great train journeys. So, we opted for this route as it is the longest and arguably the best.
After speaking with a few of the staff on board, almost all of them agreed that The Ghan Expedition route offers the best variety of things to see and do during your journey through the centre of Australia.
The Ghan Cabins
If you’re planning to travel on The Ghan, then there are a few different cabin types you can choose from. Unfortunately, if you’re travelling on a budget, then you are probably in the wrong place. As I mentioned, the Ghan is one of the world’s great train journeys and as such, it doesn’t come cheap.
The Ghan offers luxury private train accommodation with all-inclusive dining, beverages, and off-train excursions. The Ghan train offers three different classes to choose from:
- Gold Class
- Platinum Class
- The Chairman’s Carriage
Platinum Class Cabins
What is the difference between Gold and Platinum class on the Ghan?
The Ghan Platinum Class cabins offer the epitome in luxury train travel. A slightly more spacious cabin with larger windows for better viewing and deluxe furnishings. The cabins were recently refurbished before my trip.
The size of Platinum Class cabins is much larger than a first-class suite on an international long-haul flight. The cabins feature lounge seating during the day with ample space to move about in your own cabin. At night the seating is converted into either double or twin beds (not bunks) by the stealthy train fairies (aka. your private butler).
All Platinum Class cabins come with:
- Power outlets
- In cabin TV and audio system with train commentary
- Complimentary tea and coffee station
- 90kg luggage per guest
- Private transfers to and from the station at the start and end of your journey
Each carriage also has a mini bar station with tea and coffee, snacks, and drinks.
Click here to see a full 360° view of a Platinum suite (please note; at the time of writing some of the photos on The Ghan website had not yet been updated to reflect the new refurbishment).
Gold Class Cabins
The Ghan Gold Class is the most popular choice of accommodation on the Ghan. There is a choice between Gold Twin, Gold Single, Gold Superior, and Gold Access cabins. Each of the different cabins is detailed further below.
We chose to travel in a Gold Twin cabin. The cabins are quite small with a compact bathroom but have everything you would need on the train. They were larger than a first-class suite on an airline and were very comfortable. My husband and I were able to move about in the cabin, get changed, have a shower and sit and enjoy the views out the window.
During the day, the top bed is folded up, allowing more space to move about the cabin and the bottom bed is set up as a long three-seater lounge. At night, the top bed is folded down and a ladder installed allowing access to the top bunk.
Both beds are made up for sleeping by the train attendant while you enjoy dinner in the dining carriage and then packed away while you’re at breakfast. The beds are compact with good-quality mattresses, allowing you to sleep comfortably on the train.
There is plenty of space under the lounge seat to store luggage. And the cabin even had a small closet which was just large enough to fit both of our coats.
We found that the only time we spent in our cabin was sleeping, showering and change. Most of our time on the train was spent in the lounge or dining carriages.
All Gold Class cabins come with:
- Power outlets
- In-cabin audio system with train commentary
- Complimentary tea and coffee station
- 60kg luggage per guest
- Shuttle bus transfers to the station at the start of your journey (from selected hotels)
Pro Tip: Some Gold Class cabin seating faces the front, and others face backwards, if you don’t like travelling backwards, be sure to request forward facing seating at the time of booking.
Gold Single Cabin
The Gold Single cabin is roughly the same size as a Business Class suite on an international long-haul flight. The Gold single cabin features a comfortable lounge chair that converts into a single bed at night and a larger shared bathroom facility.
Click here to see a full 360° view of a Gold Class single cabin (please note; at the time of writing some of the photos on The Ghan website had not yet been updated to reflect the new refurbishment).
Gold Twin Cabin
The Gold Class twin cabins are roughly double the size of a Gold Single cabin. Each Gold Twin cabin features a 3-seater lounge during the day, that is converted into twin bunk beds during the night and a private compact ensuite.
Click here to see a full 360° view of a Gold Class twin cabin (please note; at the time of writing some of the photos on The Ghan website had not yet been updated to reflect the new refurbishment).
Gold Superior Cabin
The size of the Gold superior cabin is approximately double the size of a Gold twin cabin. The Gold Superior cabin features a ¾-size double bed plus an additional fold-down bunk, a full-size ensuite, a lounge area, TV and DVD player, and a private minibar.
Click here to see a full 360° view of a Gold Class Superior cabin (please note; at the time of writing some of the photos on The Ghan website had not yet been updated to reflect the new refurbishment).
Gold Access Cabin
There are also Gold Access cabins available which are reserved for mobility-impaired guests. These cabins feature a larger entry door, two seats that convert into two lower berths at night, and an accessible ensuite bathroom.
The Ghan Restaurant & Lounges
The Ghan Train features two restaurants and lounges:
- The Platinum Club carriage (restaurant and lounge for Platinum guests only)
- The Queen Adelaide Restaurant (for Gold Class guests)
- The Outback Explorer Lounge (for Gold Class guests)
The food and wine onboard The Ghan was absolutely fantastic. I was genuinely surprised at the quality of the meals. Given the small kitchens, I didn’t have high expectations of the food before boarding. But the onboard chefs certainly do a great job at planning and executing their menus. The food ended up being a highlight of our trip on the Ghan.
I am vegetarian and the chefs had no issue with accommodating my needs. Most of the menus featured at least one vegetarian choice. But the staff were very obliging if I asked for an alternative. Each meal was 2-3 courses, so you certainly won’t go hungry!
The wine list featured wines from some of the best wineries around the Adelaide region, sparkling wine from Tasmania, and other really well-known Australian wine labels. I loved that the wine list (as well as the food menu) really showcased the best of Australian produce!
Platinum Club Carriage
Guests travelling in Platinum Class have exclusive access to the Platinum Club carriage, where meals and pre-dinner drinks are served. The Platinum Club carriage offers gourmet breakfasts, two-course lunches, and four-course dinners served with some of the best Australian wines, beers, and French champagne.
Breakfast and refreshments for Platinum guests may also be served in your cabin upon request.
The Platinum Club carriage also features a beautifully styled lounge where guests can mingle throughout the day. But as Platinum Class guests are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want (within reason), we met a few Platinum guests who joined us in the Gold Class lounge one evening for drinks (although we were not permitted to use the Platinum Club carriage – just like an airline won’t let you into First Class when you’re flying in Economy).
Queen Adelaide Restaurant & Outback Explorer Lounge
Gold Class guests enjoy breakfast, lunch and three-course dinners in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant carriage featuring gourmet Australian produce and a selection of Australian wine, beer, and spirits.
The Outback Explorer Lounge is also open to Gold Class guests to enjoy drinks and snacks throughout the day while mingling with other guests.
A note for solo travellers: The Gold Class dining carriage features shared tables, so you’ll always be seated with other guests allowing you to meet fellow travellers. The Outback Explorer Lounge is always filled with guests mingling and chatting about their experiences and spent time with a few solo travellers on our journey. You won’t feel isolated at all!
Pre and Post Journey Tours
We highly recommend adding a few extra days in Darwin and Adelaide (as we did) before and after the train trip. Journey Beyond offers several organized tours in Darwin and Adelaide that you can book as an add-on to your train trip. Click here for more information. Alternatively, you can do as we did and explore Darwin and Adelaide on your own.
In Darwin, we recommend staying at the Vibe Hotel Darwin or Hilton Darwin. Enjoy a harbour sunset cruise, a day tour to Litchfield National Park, or a day trip to Kakadu. Or, if you have a few days up your sleeve, then hire a car and plan an overnight trip out to Kakadu National Park.
In Adelaide, we recommend staying at the Mayfair Hotel or The Playford Adelaide. The Adelaide Oval Roof Climb is a unique experience, or you can take a day trip to the Barossa Valley for a delicious winery lunch. Alternatively, rent a car and head out to Mount Lofty House in the Adelaide Hills for a romantic getaway.
Looking for a hotel pre or post-journey? Click here to browse hotels on Booking.com.
Off Train Excursions
Each day of the journey aboard The Ghan involves an off-train excursion. Excursions are inclusive in the price and there are usually a few options to choose from. This is a great way to tick off a few Australia Bucket List experiences in one journey.
During our trip on The Ghan Expedition Darwin to Adelaide, we got to experience three off-train experiences in Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.
While the Ghan ticket price is all-inclusive, some of the off-train excursions (such as the helicopter tours) require an additional supplement to be paid onboard. However, each destination offered several tour options that are included as part of the package.
You don’t actually book the excursions until you board the train, but it pays to check out what’s on offer beforehand. To view the complete range of current off-train excursions, check the official Journey Beyond website here.
The first day of our trip involved an off-train experience in Katherine. We boarded the train in Darwin in the morning and enjoyed our first meal (brunch) onboard. The train attendants came around to note down our preference for excursions at each destination. After approximately 4 hours we arrived in Kathrine and got off the train for our first excursion.
We were given the option of taking a cruise in Nitmiluk Gorge, an authentic outback experience on a working cattle station (which is apparently highly rated), or a helicopter ride over Nitmiluk Gorge.
While most guests chose the cruise in Nitmiluk Gorge, we chose to pay an extra $200 each for a 20-minute helicopter flight over the Gorge which was an absolutely spectacular experience.
The second day involves an off-train excursion in Alice Springs. You will arrive at Alice Springs station shortly after breakfast and board a bus that takes you to your chosen experience. There are several options available – including hiking in Simpsons Gap, Mountain biking around the unique desert terrain, or watching the bird show at Alice Springs Desert Park.
We chose to do mountain biking, which was by far the smallest tour group and the most active. The mountain biking trails around Alice Springs are world-class, but they are relatively easy, so you don’t need to be a very experienced rider (I’m certainly not!).
Other guests on the train who watched the bird show were absolutely blown away, and part of me was wishing I could have done both.
After the tour in Alice Springs, all the passengers come together for an Outback BBQ Dinner at the Telegraph Station. This was a fantastic experience where you get to learn a bit of history about Alice Springs and enjoy a unique outback-style meal under the stars before hopping back on the train for the evening.
The train arrives in Coober Pedy shortly after breakfast and all guests board coaches for a day of sightseeing around the unique opal mining town.
There are three different tour options, all of which include a tour of the opal mines and dugouts (after all this is the main attraction in Coober Pedy). I highly recommend booking the tour that includes a trip out to the Breakaways – stunning colourful rock formations that dramatically rise above the flat desert surroundings.
After the tour, all passengers gather in the desert next to the train for sunset drinks and canapes around the fire. This was such a lovely way to come together with other travellers and celebrate a wonderful trip, before boarding the train for our final evening.
Our Review of The Ghan
What Did We Really Think of Our Trip on The Ghan?
We absolutely loved it! We actually enjoyed our trip on The Ghan a lot more than we expected. At first, we thought we might get a little bored while on the train, but it was quite the opposite. We both packed a good book to read but found that we spent very little time in our cabin and I didn’t open my book once during the entire journey.
The 3-day trip from Darwin to Adelaide seemed to go by very quickly. Each day we were busy enjoying action-packed adventures in Katherine, Alice Springs or Coober Pedy. Whenever we were on the train, we were either sleeping or socialising with other guests in the lounge or restaurant.
What Did We Like the Most?
We loved the food, the staff and the people we met!
The crew on board made for a wonderful experience. They were all very friendly and accommodating of our many requests. My husband occasionally asked for an extra meal, which wasn’t an issue at all. We even requested to leave our tour early in Alice Springs to visit some family members who lived there, and the staff were very attentive to ensure we were back on the train in time for departure.
Meeting other guests onboard was such a great experience. There were people from all over the country, and from all walks of life and we had a great time getting to know them all. The passengers of The Ghan tend to be well-travelled and were great company. We’ve absolutely made some lifelong friends during our trip.
What Did We Like the Least?
It’s honestly hard to pick something we didn’t like because we had so much fun throughout the entire trip. But if I could pick anything, the tour in Coober Pedy was quite long, about 7 hours, and consisted of a lot of hopping on and off the coach. By the end, I was well and truly ready to get back to the train, but we did get to see a lot of the fascinating mining town and our coach driver was a real character.
As a side note, there are shorter tours available but we chose the longer one as we’re not sure if we will ever get the opportunity to visit Coober Pedy again and we wanted to make sure we really got to experience the place.
What is the General Age Group on the Ghan?
We are in our forties and initially expected to be the minority age demographic onboard. This was not the case at all. While travellers aged 55+ did tend to make up a large portion of the guests on board, there was a really great mixture of people and ages on the train. We really clicked with most of our fellow travellers, regardless of age, and even met quite a few who were younger than us!
Is The Ghan Worth the Money?
Absolutely, in my opinion. Although we didn’t actually pay for our trip in dollars (we paid in Qantas points), we still think that the service onboard as well as the experience you get travelling through parts of Australia that are unseen by most tourists is absolutely worth it.
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The Ghan Train Journey FAQs
Here are some expert tips and answers to common questions to help you prepare for your trip:
- What clothes to wear on the Ghan? Smart casual is the dress code suggested while onboard the train. Most guests tend to get a little dressy in the evening, but the general vibe onboard is casual and relaxed.
- What do I need to pack for the Ghan train? Smart casual attire for morning and evening meals. Be sure to pack something appropriate for daily off-train excursions – bring good walking shoes, sunscreen, and a hat. Activewear and sneakers are suggested if you plan to participate in active excursions such as bushwalking or mountain biking. It can get quite cold in the desert at night (even during summer), so be sure to pack a jacket and warm clothes.
- Is there WiFi on the Ghan? Yes, there is. Although, the WiFi signal was not great during some parts of the journey. After all, the train trip does traverse some of the most remote parts of Australia.
- How much luggage can I take on the Ghan? Due to space constraints, you should plan to take carry-on luggage onboard only. Additional luggage can be checked in; however, this cannot be accessed throughout the journey. Platinum guests may check-in up to 3 x 30kg, whereas Gold guests can check-in 2 x 30kg.
- Are there showers on the Ghan? Yes. Gold Twin cabins have a compact ensuite with toilet, shower and basin. Platinum cabins have a full-size ensuite, and Gold Single cabins have access to a large shared bathroom facility with showers.
- Is there a gym on the Ghan? No, unfortunately, there is not a gym onboard the Ghan. However, some of the off-train excursions offer an adventurous option, such as bush walks and mountain biking experiences.
- What is there to do on the Ghan? When you’re not sleeping, you can expect to spend a large amount of time onboard chatting and socializing with other guests in the restaurant or lounge carriage. During the day, most of your time will be spent enjoying the off-train excursions at each stop.
- What stations does the Ghan stop at? The Ghan Expedition train starts in Darwin and stops at Katherine, Alice Springs, Manguri (near Coober Pedy), and Adelaide. At these stops, passengers will be allowed to get off the train to enjoy a sightseeing tour of their choice.
- Does the Ghan stop at night? Yes, it does. The Ghan railway is shared with freight trains carrying supplies between Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin. The Ghan train may occasionally stop throughout the journey to allow freight trains to pass, or for scheduled maintenance checks. However, these stops are for technical purposes only and you are generally not permitted to get off at this time.
- How long does the Ghan take to go from Adelaide to Darwin? The journey from Adelaide to Darwin takes three days and two nights with sightseeing tours in Alice Springs and Katherine.
- How long does the Ghan take to go from Darwin to Adelaide? The journey from Darwin to Adelaide takes four days and three nights with daily sightseeing tours in Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.
- How long does it take to go from Darwin to Alice Springs? The journey from Darwin to Alice Springs (and vice versa) takes two days and one night and includes a day excursion in Katherine.
- How long does it take to go from Adelaide to Alice Springs? The journey from Adelaide to Alice Springs (and vice versa) takes two days and one night and includes a day excursion in Coober Pedy.
- Do you have to do the off-train excursions? No. these are completely optional. We had family members living in Alice Springs and chose to spend the day with them instead of participating in the excursion. Just be sure to discuss your plans with the train attendant to ensure you are back on board before the train departs!
- Can you see Uluru from the Ghan? Unfortunately, you will not see Uluru from the train. However, you can choose to upgrade your excursion in Alice Springs and take a scenic charter flight to Ayers Rock.
- What is the best cabin on the Ghan? This really depends on your preference but the Gold Twin cabins are the most popular choice for travellers. The platinum class has much larger cabins and offers superior facilities, food and service.
- Are meals included on the Ghan? Yes, the Ghan ticket prices are all-inclusive. Whether the meal takes place on or off the train, all meals during the journey are included in the price. Some off-train meals include lunch in an opal mine cave-in Coober Pedy and an outback bush dinner at Telegraph station in Alice Springs.
- Is the Ghan all-inclusive? Yes. The Ghan ticket prices are all-inclusive, meaning the price includes all off-train excursions, meals, and beverages (beer, wine and non-alcoholic) throughout the journey. You literally don’t have to pay for anything while you are on board the train.
- How many passengers are on the Ghan train? It varies depending on the number of bookings and time of year. But there can be between 100 and 280 guests onboard plus up to 55 crew members. There can be up to 36 carriages during the peak season to handle the larger number of bookings.
- Are kids allowed on the Ghan? Yes. Children are welcome on the Ghan.
- Does the Ghan go through Coober Pedy? The Ghan stops are Manguri station which is 40km west of Coober Pedy. The Ghan Expedition train from Darwin to Adelaide includes a day excursion to Coober Pedy. However, the trip from Adelaide to Darwin does not include a day tour in Coober Pedy, only an evening stop at Manguri for a desert dinner experience.
- Can I put my car on the Ghan? Yes, you can! If you’re planning to do a bit of travelling before and after the journey, you can pack all your gear in your car and check it in at the departure rail terminal. Read more about the Motorail Service here.
- Does the Ghan run all year? The Ghan train runs from February to November. It does not run during December and January.
Do you have any more questions about The Ghan train trip? Leave us a comment below.
Ready to Plan Your Trip on The Ghan?
We hope this guide and review of our experience on the Ghan train journey has helped to answer some of your questions and plan your own bucket list trip through the centre of Australia!
Enjoy your trip on The Ghan!
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About the Author:
Amanda Twine is the founder and creator of Bucket List Seekers – a luxury travel blog sharing informative travel guides, food guides, hotel reviews, itineraries, and tips about how to make luxury travel more affordable.