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Down Under: Darwin to Alice Springs

Now that I’m ready to hit the road in the outback, the question is how, and what is the best means of transportation?   Let’s first put some perspective on this.

Did you know that Australia is the world’s 6th largest country by area, after Russia, Canada, China the USA and Brazil, it’s the 53th largest country in the world in terms of population and it’s one of the least densely populated countries in the world.   Take a look at the following stats:CountryAreaEstimated Population

2018 FebruaryAustralia2.97 million square miles/ 7.69 sq. km> 24.6 millionUSA3.80 million square miles/ 9.83 sq. km> 327 millionUK94,058 square miles/ 243,610 sq. km> 65.5 million

I love visuals and this link from BuzzFeed has some pretty good visuals comparing the size of Australia to other countries, click here to take a look.

Given Australia’s vast area, approximately only 2% of the population live in the outback, the rest live in cities along the coastline. Approximately a quarter of Australia’s population live in five cities [Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide].

2% of population in yellow

So, as I consider the vastness, the driving distances and terrain, I considered three options to get me down the middle of the country, 1] The Ghan train, 2] driving 3] the bus.

The Ghan is a train that travels up and down the middle of Australia from Darwin to Adelaide, approximately 1850 miles and stops in Alice Springs and Coober Pedy. According to the Great Southern Rail website:

Originally dubbed the Afghan Express, The Ghan train was named for the pioneering cameleers who blazed a permanent trail into the Red Centre of Australia more than 150 years ago. Many cameleers were migrants from an area now known as Pakistan. However, according to outback lore in the 1800s, these men were believed to come from the mysterious outpost of Afghanistan and were considered Afghans – ‘Ghans’.

The original Ghan line followed the route of explorer John MacDouall Stuart. On Sunday 4 August, 1929, an excited crowd gathered at the Adelaide Railway Station to farewell the first Ghan train.

This train carried supplies and over 100 passengers bound for the remote town of Stuart, later to be called Alice Springs. The train’s whistle pierced the silence of the MacDonnell Ranges surrounding Alice Springs two days later, on 6 August.

The train was steam hauled, and the service had to contend with extreme conditions including flash flooding and intense heat. As such, it was often an irregular service. The old Ghan ran on a light, narrow-gauge track well to the east of the track it travels today.

As well as termite damage, the track was often savaged by fire and flood. Flash flooding, when the normally parched river beds spilled out onto the low lying desert plains, frequently washed away the track completely. Legend has it The Old Ghan was once stranded for two weeks in one spot and the engine driver shot wild goats to feed his passengers.

The Ghan looked like a great opportunity, until I found the cost was between 3,000 – 5,000 AUD$. I was thinking about other travel I could do with that amount.

Driving appealed to me, but after much discussion with the helpful representatives at Tourism Top End, I was dissuaded not to take the self driving route. Why? The driving distance is approximately 930 miles / 1500 kms, approximately 15 hours. That’s like driving from Miami, FL to Richmond, VA.  Driving from London to Edinburgh is only 404 miles, and driving from Bangkok to Chaing Mai only 422 miles both half the distance.

Add to that the scenery is pretty much, well IS the same, why not let someone else do the driving?!  Check it out here:

With Greyhound Australia you can purchase a ticket point to point or purchase a number of kilometers and hop on and off the bus as you like until you reach your maximum allotted kilometers.

Since I was working my way direct from Darwin in the north straight down the middle of the country to Adelaide and Melbourne in the south, I opted for hop on/off for flexibility.

The bonus was they advertised Wi-Fi onboard, that was great, except it never worked until on a later journey I reached close to Adelaide. Time to bring out the kindle.

the scenery Darwin to Alice Springs

The view en-route was vast and barren. The journey was non-eventful with the exception of a couple of near misses with kangaroos bouncing across the road.

Not quite sure how they manage to be in the road just at the time a vehicle decides to come cruising along, then again they were here long before roads were built and vehicles created.

A stop for a nature break en-route

Sleeping on a bus is just about as bad if not worse than trying to sleep on an airplane in an economy seat, it was luck that most of us had an available seat next to us.

Arriving into Alice Springs, feeling a bit rough, I was keen for a shower and ready to make my way toward Uluru aka Ayers Rock.

I had seen these neat little camper vans advertised and as I walked around in Alice Springs looking for options I opted more for a 4 wheel drive decked out with camping gear, primarily because the rental companies restrict or invalidates coverage on certain roads without a 4WD.  There were no 4WD camper vans to be found.

My 4 wheel drive w/camping equipment

loaded with cooler, kettle, utensils and more

Ready to go, I make a stop at the local supermarket, decide which direction to take and hit the road; ahh, without that shower, little did I know for another few nights.

In order that this post is not too lengthy, I’ll save the journey to Uluru and more about Alice Springs for the next post so, stay tuned for the drive through the MacDonnell ranges and Uluru and my camping experiences in the outback.

Happy Journeys,


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