From Sunrise to Sunset

Mon. 29th April 2019

Sunrise by The GhanI’m far away in the land of nod and my hand is gently being squeezed. Opening my eyes, it is still dark. Which I then realise is down to my eye-mask. Removing it, I find Janet holding my hand and the lights are on. Better yet, there are two cups of coffee on a tray at the foot of our bed. It turns out that Tija has delivered our early morning call, along with the coffee; Janet has opened the door to let her in and then been to the loo. And all the while, I’ve been snoring nicely. In my defence, I spent a lot of the night not quite getting to sleep with all of the clanking and jostling of the train – not as soporific as the rolling of a ship at sea.

Catching the colours of sunriseThe train has stopped for sunrise and breakfast outside of the (tiny) town of Marla 100km or so south of the border between South Australia and Northern Territory. (One of the many good things about The Ghan is that the journey is broken up and there are off train activities like this included within the ticket price.) When we get off the train, there are a couple of bonfires blazing, a trestle table set up with more tea and coffee and staff walking round with trays of egg & bacon sliders (baps) and Vegemite twirls. Yes please to the former, not so much for the latter!

Waiting to get going againAs the sky lightens, we get a bit of colour but there isn’t really enough cloud for sunrise to be spectacular. Still we try to engage our photography brains and snap away and try and find a combination of composition and lighting that works. As we’ve said before, this is travelling and not holiday!

River crossing!Then, its back on the train for the run up to Alice Springs which is about 6hrs away – especially as the train has to run slower on some sections of track that are under repair. The landscape just rolls by – very flat orange-brown dirt dotted with hemispherical Saltbush plants and (Australian) Acacia trees which are the source of the wattleberry seeds that Janet enjoyed in her ice-cream last night. The only variety is when we cross a (dried-up) river over a long bridge. The Acacia trees get us thinking of the African landscape that we grew to love so much. This is similar, but different – and, crucially, we haven’t seen any kangaroos yet.

Monument for 1 Millionth sleeperThe marker for the border between SA and NT is unremarkable but more interesting is the monument for the 1 millionth sleeper laid on the track for The Ghan. I’m certainly pleased with the sharpness of the photo grabbed out of the window of the moving train, though I am helped by the announcements giving a 5-minute warning of points of interest en route. We do let ourselves get distracted by brunch and the accompanying Pinot Noir (the Chenin Blanc in Janet’s case) and that Late Harvest Riesling.

Looking back at Heavitree Gap where the train came inAll too soon, we’re heading into Alice Springs (which we later find out was originally called Stuart – see tomorrow’s post). The train’s arrival literally brings the town to a standstill. Its not just the passers-by that stand gawking (phones out) at the length of the train but the track crosses over one of the main roads in town and at the level-crossing barriers the cars queue back as the train slowly trundles by.

The crowd at sunsetWe get to the apartment that is our base for the next 3 nights contented and relaxed but distinctly in need of some exercise to revitalise our legs and to start to work off some of the indulgences of the last 24 hours. Lonely Planet and Janet both suggest that sunset from the top of ANZAC hill is worthwhile and about a 45-minute walk away. This sounds just about right and after getting ourselves settled in we head off. Almost immediately, we turn around and head back to the apartment. Whilst we’d judged the temperature right what we hadn’t expected was the attention of the local flies buzzing round our heads. They seem to particularly like ears and noses. Don’t seem to be biting, but now we know why Aussies have corks on strings around the brim of their hats (not that we’ve seen any of these yet).

War memorial at sunsetLooks good from either directionAfter spraying with insect repellent and donning long sleeves we try again and head up alongside the dry bed of the Todd river and through town to the hill with the war memorial atop. It turns out to be quite a popular spot with both locals and tourists and given the view out over town, it is easy to see why. With ANZAC day not long past, the memorial is surrounded by wreaths and flowers. It is still strange to our eyes to see the wreaths are not predominantly poppies.

Sunset over Alice SpringsThe smattering of clouds also meant that we were graced with a fair sunset. There was a simple photo composition to be had with the memorial in the foreground and the sunset behind, but there was a fringe of trees that obscured some of the view. The challenge was to find an alternative composition with both foreground interest and the full sunset.

Thank you for a great experienceIt’s fitting that as the sun sets, we see The Ghan pull out of the station on its way up to Darwin where we will be in a couple of months’ time. As you have probably gathered, we loved our time on the train. The food and the wine were good; we got talking with some interesting folk; our cabin was comfortable; the scenery was amazing; and the service was uniformly excellent. All in all a great experience and one we’d highly recommend. Happy birthday Janet.

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