Thursday, February 12, 2009


FEBRUARY 7, 2009 - 30/102 - THE GHAN (DAY 1)
The shuttle to our train, The Ghan, picks us up at the hotel at 7:45AM along with a dozen other passengers. It has continued to rain during the night and it is pouring for the trip out to the terminal, south of Darwin. Fortunately, after one final deluge, the rain decreases to a drizzle and we can get off the bus without getting too wet.

Now we come to the luggage check-in. When we got on the bus, the driver took our larger bag, tagged it, and lifted it into the bay under the bus. At the station, a baggage handler removed it from the bay and took it into the terminal. In the terminal, they lift the bag onto a scale to weigh it and tell us it is over the 20 kilogram weight limit set for health and safety of the workers. Now mind you, this is the same bag that was weighed, approved, and handled in Sydney and then again in Perth, they have lifted and moved this bag at least three times already in Darwin. Oh, well, when in Rome, etc., etc. Carolyn removes two travel guides, the bag is weighed, approved, tagged and placed on the baggage wagon to be loaded into the baggage car.

We have to reboard the bus to be taken to the train which is right in front of us on the tracks. However, there is no track-side cover and the rain is still threatening. We are driven at least a kilometer around the area so that the bus can pass down the side of the train and drop people right beside their carriage. We check our confirmation and are in carriage "M", Births 7/8. We get off at M, the last carriage with people on the bus, and are last in line to be checked onto the train. The conductor has no record of us and someone else is already in births 7/8. After a quick conference, it is determined that we have received a complimentary upgrade to the new "Platinum" level cars and service. We, along with a conductor, haul our luggage through the train, five or six cars to carriage "P5, Births 7/8."
What a pleasant surprise! Our Platinum compartment is two and one half times the size of our Gold compartment on the Indian Pacific train. It contains a comfortable sofa, fold down double bed (no climbing into a top bunk), a coffee sized table, two stools and a full bath comparable to that in our motor home; no pull down facilities like last time. One of the nicest features is that you can sit on the couch and watch out of both sides of the carriage at the same time since they have placed a large window in the hall wall of the compartment.
After a light lunch, we arrive in Katherine and board a bus to take us to Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk National Park) for a power boat trip up part of the system of 13 gorges. It is THE WET here also and the river is 3-4 meters above its normal level and rising. This allows the tour operator to use a power boat capable of taking us past the second set of falls into the third of the gorges. At the boat launch, the trees are crowded with Flying Foxes (Fruit Bats) and the guide points out a small olive python in the tree above the launch. He assures us that the snake only eats the occasional small child.

Normally, the trip would only go to the first set of falls at the top of the first gorge and to go further, you would have to get out and walk or portage your canoe. At the first falls, there are 100 yards of Class I rapids which the boat powers through easily. The next two sets of falls are buried in the high water and do not display any rough water as we pass them. The gorge is sacred to the aborigines and our guide, an aborigine himself, explains his people’s religious belief about the area. I suppose that with study, one could begin to understand their "Dream Time" beliefs, but I must confess that they make no sense to me at this point. To each his own!
The gorge is beautiful to see, especially so far up into it. The walls are red sandstone with plentiful wet season water falls and green vegetation. At the fourth set of falls, we turn around and head back down the river. At the first falls, we are warned to put cameras away in the garbage bags with which we have been provided and with good reason. As we power through the rapids, we take awave over the bow and all of us get a good soaking. Oh, well, it is warm and we are dressed to get wet. Because of a twenty person limit on the boat trip up the river due to the rapid, high water, it takes two loads to get us all up to see the gorge. Each trip takes approximately 40 minutes. While we wait for the second group to take their trip, we visit the park’s visitor center where we enjoy a well done display on the geology and human occupation of the area.

We are due back at to the train by 4:30PM and our bus driver, apparently inexperienced, stops in town to allow some of the passengers to visit a grocery store. There is the inevitable slow mover and we wait for one woman who finally shows up twenty minutes after the time set to return to the bus.

There is one seating for dinner, 6:45PM. The menu is Australian weird. Dick, an adventurous eater, has a duck salad and tries the kangaroo filet, grilled mushrooms and sweet potato mash. Carolyn tries a mushroom and butter bean soup that we both decide is not to our tastes and a chicken dish with roasted new potatoes with a strange tasting tomato and caper sauce.

We are both quite sleepy by the time dinner is over. It is raining, the light is gone and we are in bed and asleep by 9PM.

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