It’s currently Day 16, but the last week has passed in a blur of trains and busses, so many things seen and done.
Chill-out Day was mildly successful . . . I got talked into going to Crocosaurus Cove, which is a crocodile and reptile exhibit/aquarium right in the middle of Darwin. Basically, it sucked. Don’t go. Spend the extra $50 and get yourself on a boat on the Adelaide River and go to see the real jumping crocs. Luckily, I sweet-talked the innocent little front desk dude into giving me the seniors rate, so I did manage to save $5 for being awesome and cute, but really, give this one a miss.
The afternoon was much more relaxing – barracuda and chips down near the wharf, and spent the rest of the day lying on the grass in the sun chatting to some backpackers who were also staying at my hostel. Michelle, from Belfast, was going on the Ghan the next day too – train buddy!!
I stayed at the wharf until sunset, and a really nice couple from NSW gave me a lift back into town where I grabbed some Vietnamese food (since Darwin is so close to SEA, it’s full of yummy Asian restaurants) and had a few beers at the hostel. Went upstairs to repack . . . and the A/C was off. Inquired of this phenomenon to some of the other guys in the room, and it turned out that the crazy drunken old crackpot man who’s been living there for 3 years turned it off and took the remote because he thought someone owed him an apology for leaving the door open. Are we 6 years old?! After a few calls to the hostel and some very evil eye glares directed at the appropriate people, all was restored to order and I got all organized for the next day.
Early wake up call on Saturday, as the shuttle from town left for the train station at 7:30. Bit of a to-do getting my key and dishes deposit back, but eventually made it into town on time. Note: Don’t stay at Frogshollow Backpackers. It’s dirty, it’s smelly, the staff are mean and disinterested and overall I would recommend you stay far, far away. Met Michelle at the shuttle and we chatted on the way to the station, 25 minutes out of town.
The southbound Ghan that day wasn’t very full, so my seat buddy, Lousie (also from Ireland, Dublin this time) moved across aisle. We chatted all morning and that afternoon pulled into Katherine for a quick’ish stop. I went kayaking up the Gorge for an hour – such stunning views! It was a really nice afternoon, and there is a cool British family who did the same ‘Whistle Stop Tour’ so we had a nice time chatting. There were even wallabies in the picnic area!
Back on the train, we all showered and got ready for a nice dinner. I’d never showered on a train before the Indian Pacific to Perth, and quite enjoyed the experience, however, the showers on the Ghan are far more incredible. Strangely, they don’t look any different, but the water is hotter and the pressure more consistent. We all said it was the best shower that we’d had in days; far better than most hostel showers could ever be. Go Ghan Go!
We had a great dinner in the diner (the food on the Ghan is also far better than on the I-P) and stayed chatting until pretty late. Even though I was so tired, I still had a terrible sleep, and ended up playing free cell until something like 1 am, until my computer ran out of batteries.
The next morning we were delayed in leaving Tennant Creek, and soon after leaving one of the locomotives broke down, so we were stopped again on the tracks for about an hour and a half. The train had broken down in the same spot on the way up to Darwin 2 days earlier – the area around Tennant Creek is supposedly the UFO capital of Australia. Coincidence? Perhaps . . .
We got into Alice Springs 90 minutes late, and spent the afternoon rushing around trying to get in to see the few attractions Alice has to offer. I whizzed through the Pioneer Women’s exhibit at the old Alice Springs Jail. Really too bad I didn’t have more time there, the herstory of Australia is quite incredible, and I would recommend a visit if you have the time. The last tour ever of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in its old Alice Springs headquarters was that afternoon at 4, and Michelle, Lousie and I made it just in time and even managed to squeeze in a look at the museum. The tour was pretty cool, and it’s just incredible how the RFDS works: random isolated cattle stations in the middle of nowhere have to keep dirt runways up to snuff so that the jets can land on them in the day and sometimes night, and there are medical chests with a diagram of the body all numbered and lettered, and doctors in the radio room can prescribe medications from thousands of kilometres away. Definitely a place to go, especially since the old buildings are already getting demolished to make way for a new display facility.
That night we met up for dinner at my incredibly clean, tidy and well-presented hostel, Toddy’s Backpackers. I had a camel steak with chips and salad, and it was delicious! Camels were introduced to Australia over 100 years ago to help build the telegraph and railway lines, and were then just let to roam free. At last count, there were 1.3 million of them running wild over Australia, so don’t cry for the camel that made my steak. Off to bed for an early nights sleep, the next day I was headed to The Rock!