In Michael Portillo’s Tracks – The Ghan

October 24, 2019
Man in Aussie Hat

This Saturday on BBC Two, British journalist and broadcaster Michael Portillo, heads Down Under to experience one of the greatest rail journeys in the world; The Ghan. We’re following in Michael Portillo’s tracks, keen to hear what he thinks about this luxurious adventure and one of our top Freedom things to do in Australia.

Read on to learn about the route Portillo takes aboard the Ghan, where he’s going next in the Great Australian Rail Journeys series, and then hear from our knowledgeable Australia Product Manager, Jen, as she tells us all about her recommendations for your very own rail holiday aboard The Ghan.

The Ghan
The Ghan Train

Portillo’s Route on The Ghan

Boarding The Ghan in Port Augusta, just north of Adelaide, Portillo travels nearly the length of Australia, from South to North, in the BBC’s fascinating new series. Introducing you to the locals he meets and the things he learns along the way, you’ll find episode one about The Ghan, an insightful watch. Be spellbound as views change from the rusty red of Australia’s real Outback to the tropical colours of Darwin, whilst also experiencing the first class yet distinctly ‘Aussie’ hospitality that this train is iconically known for.

The BBC says “[Portillo’s] 1913 Bradshaw’s Guide tells him ‘a transcontinental railway is being constructed’ and he traces its route from the southern harbour of Port Augusta to the port of Darwin on the north coast.” They continue with “Michael uncovers the history of the ambitious project, which stretches nearly 2,000 miles across Australia’s red centre, and learns why it took nearly a century to complete.”

Red Sand at Ayers Rock
Red Sand at Ayers Rock

Portillo enjoys many off-train excursions along the route. These include dreaming stories and bush-tucker with the the indigenous Arrente people of Alice Springs, a visit to Brolga’s Kangaroo Sanctuary to meet insanely cute but sadly orphaned joeys, Tilly and Max, and amongst other things, a history lesson about how Bond Springs Cattle Station came to be in the early 20th century, from the family who run it now.

Where is Portillo Going Next in the Great Australian Rail Journeys series?

In the BBC Two series, Michael Portillo experiences many more exciting rail journeys. In episode two, he boards the Indian Pacific for another exciting expedition of Australia. This time, he’s travelling between Sydney and Perth. Again, Portillo enjoys exploring beyond the tracks, something we encourage our Freedom Destinations customers to take advantage of too.

Indian Pacific Travelling Through The Outback
The Indian Pacific Train

The Indian Pacific is another hugely iconic Australian train with world class service and an incredibly intrepid route, accessing parts of Australia you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Our Australia Experts highly recommend the Indian Pacific Indulgence rail holiday for anyone whose interest has been piqued by Portillo’s recent Australia rail adventures.

Jen’s Recommendations for your Ghan Rail Holiday

Our beloved Australia Product Manager, Jen, has also been fortunate enough to witness first hand the wonders of The Ghan. In her 15 years of professional travel across Australia, she says it is still her best Down Under experience due to its distinctly ‘Aussie’ vibe.

Jen and The Ghan
Jen and The Ghan

Combining the attention to detail and enthusiasm of high class customer service with rural, inaccessible Australia, a rail journey Down Under, and in particular The Ghan, is something everyone should get to enjoy at least once. We asked Jen three questions about why she loves it so much.

1. What are the highlights of travelling aboard The Ghan?

Where do I start?! The list is endless. I could talk about the chocolates on my pillow or the free postcards with postage included, but I’ll try to pick out just a few of my absolute favourite Ghan highlights.

Entertainment The Ghan
Authentically Australian Entertainment

For me, a real highlight of travelling aboard the Ghan starts as soon as you arrive at the train platform. The Ghan staff behave as if it’s their very first Ghan journey, which of course, more often than not, it isn’t.  The station is buzzing with authentic Australian entertainment, warm personal greetings and immediate boarding, which is made possible by earlier hotel check in – genius!

The food aboard The Ghan is another distinctive highlight. Far from the packet of crisps and dry sandwich we are used to on a typical British train (Jen rolls her eyes), The Ghan offers impressive menus with ingredients sourced from local suppliers. Therefore, the meal you enjoy whilst you travel through South Australia’s wine regions will be totally different to the meal you enjoy as you approach (or leave) Darwin and its cattle stations in the north. Yes, the food is that local.

Gold Service Lounge
Drinks in the Gold Service Lounge

Lastly, one of the most unexpected Ghan highlights for me, is the social aspect. 80% of clients aboard the Ghan are Australian, which makes for an incredibly interesting journey as you discover the Outback with local people, who are as keen as you to see these rural and vast parts of the country. Central Australia is largely inaccessible for many vehicles, making The Ghan a clear choice for tourists and citizens alike. With unlimited drinks and such a friendly ‘Aussie’ culture, the journey onboard is equally as fascinating as the scenes that pass by outside the window.

2. Why should visitors see this part of Australia by train?

That’s easy. The Ghan experience is literally a moving postcard. Where else can you witness these types of landscapes from the comfort of a train cabin, with a cabin manager who is there to assist you with anything and everything you might need?

Platinum Cabin
Platinum Cabin

Jen always tells our customers at Freedom Destinations the following when it comes to choosing whether or not to travel by train:

  • Visitors often see a lot of Australian airports and not a lot of Australia – the train helps you to actually see Australia, a lot more of it than most people ever do, even people who actually live here
  • There aren’t many places left in the world where you can really disconnect from day-to-day life and fully relax with world class customer service – switch off (literally, with no signal aboard most of the route the Ghan travels) and reset
  • The road from Adelaide to Darwin takes a whopping 32 hours to drive – so let someone else take care of the route and the logistics whilst you enjoy your holiday, accompanied by a top selling, full bodied, local glass of wine that is being regularly topped up in your hand
The Ghan
The Ghan Train

Jen enjoyed The Ghan Expedition on her Australia rail holiday; a great choice for those looking to enjoy off-train excursions similar to Portillo’s experience, as well as the luxury of The Ghan’s onboard service.

3. Jen, tell us what’s new for The Ghan in 2020?

This year (2019), The Ghan celebrated its 90th Anniversary. With such a long standing history of traditional travel, and the recent TLC it received to celebrate its birthday, now really is the best time to travel aboard The Ghan.

Additionally, in 2020, The Ghan itinerary will allow for a split stay in Alice Springs for the first time ever, meaning that customers who would love to spend longer in the Red Centre can now do so. Explore the wonders of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon unrushed before boarding The Ghan to continue your journey a few days later. We offer an abundance of Ayers Rock experiences for your holiday.

Ayers Rock, Northern Territory
Dreaming Stories at Uluru

Did you know, it’s also the Indian Pacific’s 50th Anniversary in 2020 (the train that Portillo rides in week three of the BBC’s Great Australian Rail journeys series). We can help train enthusiasts enjoy these two incredible rail journeys together in one sensational Australia rail holiday.

Our chat with Jen concludes with her stressing the importance of booking these types of adventures early, using our advance purchase fares to avoid disappointment. The Ghan is a popular experience Down Under so don’t delay in arranging your tickets for your Australia holiday.

Jen and The Ghan
Jen and The Ghan

When it comes to luxury rail travel, nothing rivals The Ghan. Nearly a kilometre in length, it is Australia’s longest passenger train, and one of the longest trains in the world. The Ghan is hauled by two locomotives with four kitchens, five restaurants, five bars and 23 accommodation carriages onboard.

Journey Beyond says “Join Michael Portillo this weekend as he hits the tracks Down Under and takes you on some of Australia’s best railway adventures. The first of six Great Australian Railway Journeys episodes will air on BBC Two this Saturday, 26 October at 8pm.”

Be inspired by Portillo’s adventures and discover your own great Australian railway journey in 2020/21. Whether it’s the mighty Ghan, the indulgent Indian Pacific, or any of Australia’s fantastic rail experiences, there is no holiday quite like a long distance train journey through a magnificent country like Australia.

Start planning your Ghan adventure today with the Australia Experts.

Photos by Jen Snow
WRITTEN BY
Karen Kingsbury

Karen joined the Marketing Team at Freedom Destinations after spending an incredible year in Australia, New Zealand and Bali, campervan road trippin’ into the wild Outback, enjoying eco tours on beautiful islands and making friends for life.