The name The Ghan, stems from the pioneering Afghan cameleers who blazed a trail into Australia’s red centre more than 150 years ago. Today pulling more than 25 shimmering silver carriages and offering a new Platinum service, the legendary train matches the world’s best in luxury travel.

Story By Paula Heelan

As the Ghan rolls through Australia’s red centre celebrating its 80th anniversary, it provides a striking contrast to the first Ghan service in 1929, which comprised a single-steam locomotive and 12 wooden carriages. Adding to the gold service and the red service (popular with backpackers), the new Platinum service allows passengers to make the 2979-kilometre journey between Darwin and Adelaide (or vice versa) in private deluxe cabins fitted with polished Tasmanian myrtle. The Platinum cabins convert from a private lounge during the day to a compact bedroom at night. And with an ensuite with premium fittings and full-size shower, this is no ordinary mode of train transport.

The plush Platinum class comes with all the trimmings from 24-hour cabin service, complimentary pyjamas and double the space of Gold Service (the former top class) to morning and afternoon teas and nightly bedcover turn-downs with hot chocolate or liqueur. Leather ottomans slide under the portable coffee table and a writing desk pops up from below the window. While you’re at dinner, comfortable beds magically spring from the wall and disappear the next morning while you’re at breakfast.

Soon after climbing aboard in Darwin, while tucking into a platter of warmed bread, olive oil and dukkah, along with a glass of sparkling wine, travellers are given an introductory talk by their cabin attendants. The next 54 hours on board, at an average speed of 85km/hr, is a chance to see spectacular and diverse landscapes, to enjoy excellent gourmet dining and high-spirited camaraderie.

Ghan passengers are from around the world – many are train buffs, others are experiencing the train trip they’ve planned for years. Seasoned travellers Betty Griggs, 89, from Bellerive, Tasmania, and Ness Leal, 85, from Nerang, Queensland, are having the time of their lives. “We’ve been friends for more than 45 years and often travel together,” Ness says. “Travelling in Platinum is magnificent and the service is exceptional. We’re taking our stewards, Tim and Damien, home with us. They have been waiting on us hand and foot and nothing’s too much trouble.” During the train’s first whistle stop at Katherine, Ness, a former Royal Australian Air Force member, booked a helicopter tour and flew over the 13 gorges of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge).

This story excerpt is from Issue #65

Outback Magazine: June/July 2009