The Ghan Express train journey spans the entire landmass of Australia. Travelling from the southern wine country in Adelaide to the tropical sunsets of Darwin in the north, passengers watch the raw beauty of the Australian landscape change from rolling vines to red dust to rainforest.
‘Ghan Express’ is a nickname said to be associated with the Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia to help the Europeans reach the country’s inhospitable interior in the late 19th century.
Today, this train journey is popular with tourists keen to see the heart of Australia, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock). Here is a data-driven list of the highlights along every stop of the way, according to global travellers.*
Some of Australia's best wines grow around Adelaide
Wine travel - Adelaide
Long overlooked in favour of Melbourne or Sydney, Adelaide has finally come into its own as a food and culture destination. A relaxed and breathable city bathed in sunshine, big cultural events like the Adelaide Fringe and Womadelaide have woken up the city’s creative community but it’s still mainly known for its fine wines.
With the revered Barossa, Adelaide Hills, Clare, and McLaren Vale wine regions all bordering the city, there is extremely easy access to world-class wineries and some of Australia’s best wines. Adabco Boutique Hotel Adelaide is a luxurious and intimate boutique hotel set in a heritage-listed, Venetian Gothic building right in the middle of Adelaide.
See seminal works of indigenous art in Alice Springs
Alternative culture - Alice Springs
Alice Springs is known as the ‘red centre’ of Australia’s Outback and a launchpad to visit the mythical, ancient monument of Uluru. There is evidence that the Arrernte Aborigines have lived here for over 30,000 years and having been displaced by the arrival of the Europeans, their culture is finally being granted recognition.
Explore Alice Springs’ many galleries celebrating indigenous art, notably the Mbantua Gallery, where you’ll find Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Earth Creation, which sold for over $1 million in 2007 and set a record for Australian Aboriginal art. It also houses a collection of historic Aboriginal objects, from religious relics and bush foods, to boomerangs and spears. With a swimming pool, barbecue, and Aboriginal art dotted around the property, Wilmots on Dixon is a perfect Alice Springs property.
Stay underground to escape the heat in Coober Pedy
Desert - Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is a strange place. Its name comes from the Aboriginal, ‘Kupa Piti’, meaning ‘white man in a hole’; a very literal name given that white men have indeed spent the last 100 years digging holes here since opals were discovered in the dust in 1915. It’s also a searingly hot place, so hot that the mining settlers were forced to live underground in tunnels and caves (so desperate to get gem rich they wouldn’t move to a cooler place).
Today about half of the population still inhabit this subterranean town, most of them continuing to work in the opal industry. It’s a fascinating place to visit, if not for its history and unusual setting then for its incredible stargazing opportunities. For those keen to really experience life in Coober Pedy, the Radeka Downunder Underground Motel offers fully-kitted out dorm rooms, a motel bar, and pool table all carved into the ground.
Kayak and swim in Katherine's hot springs and creeks
Hot springs - Katherine
Further north in Katherine, the landscape turns tropical with waterfalls pouring over ochre cliffs and trees blanketing the landscape. While kayaking through Katherine Gorge you may spot a few saltwater crocs, which are harmless to humans.
Next up, visit the local, natural thermal springs (no charge to enter) where, in the dappled shade of gum trees, the warm, crystal clear water gently flows towards the Katherine River. Several pools have formed along its path, some deep and wide, some narrow like a creek, perfect for a relaxing float.
If you don’t fancy sharing the springs with lots of local school children, it’s best to visit before the end of the school day around 4pm. Cicada Lodge is a blissful property, its swimming pool with wooden decking and sleek parasols looking out over the bush.
Explore Australia's tropical landscape around Darwin
Tropical - Darwin
If you’ve got a soft spot for tropical destinations, you’ll love Darwin. Sensational electrical storms, beaches, and sunsets that glow so many shades of orange and pink you won’t know where to look. Buy exotic fresh fruits from the city’s abundant markets, and have picnics in one of the many parks - namely East Point Reserve, Bicentennial Park, and the Botanical Gardens.
Explore more of the glorious, surrounding tropical landscape by visiting the Aboriginal Arnhem Land, and the Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks offer some of Australia’s most magnificent scenery. The Argus Hotel Darwin is a smart, contemporary hotel in the centre of the city, with an eye-catching waterfall pool and cool, spacious rooms.
**Destinations featured were chosen as a selection of all the major destinations along the Ghan Express railway route. Then the most popular feature of each destination was calculated using Booking.com’s internal endorsement data.