Train to Table – A unique dining experience

There’s nothing more enthralling than the everchanging views of long-distance Australian train travel. The tiny towns and the red ochre earth; the emptiness of far-flung landscapes; the blurring of scenery and time.

A journey on The Ghan is not for those in a hurry – especially when it comes to mealtimes, whether you’re dining in the train’s restaurant carriage, or enjoying an exclusive setting off the tracks. Here are some of the mesmerising dining experiences you can look forward to on your all-inclusive train adventure.

You don’t sign up for the 2979-kilometre, four-day Ghan train journey just to get from Darwin to Adelaide. This is an experience in the slow lane, a chance to unpeel the contradictions the landscapes have to offer: hostile and welcoming; at times bucolic then barren. Too often, we fly right over the top of the country, rather than seeing what’s in the middle. We hop from capital city to tourist destination only looking out plane windows to view the sun-scorched land beneath. But there’s something to be said for seeing the in-between – unfiltered – at ground level.

Along your journey, there are diversions at Katherine to visit Nitmiluk Gorge. You’ll wake up to the sight of the MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja), the mountains covering a staggering four million hectares of red earth blanched by dusty greens, all framed by endless blue skies.

After breakfast, the train eases into Alice Springs (Mparntwe), a city of 33,000 people that partly owes its beginnings to the railway line. As the last of the day disappears, you’ll reunite with fellow passengers at Alice’s Telegraph Station, a couple of kilometres out of town.

You’re not here for a history lesson (though that can be part of the experience too) – you’re here to feast. There are bonfires and barbecues, and the smell of grilled barramundi perfumes the air. Musicians greet you, and dapper waiters hand out flutes of chilled champagne. There’s time to explore the beautifully maintained buildings before the sun sets, and even head out on a camel ride. Then it’s time to dine. As you choose your table, you’ll notice a poncho provided should the night turn cool – while days are warm here, when the moon comes out, the evening can get brisk.

The decadent spread of food changes seasonally, but it might include bountiful salads, baked vegetables, flame-grilled beef, desserts that are almost too pretty to eat, and bottles of South Australian wine that never seem to go empty.

You’re far from anything here. There are no streetlights, no high-rise buildings, no cars. In the absence of light pollution, when you look skyward, you’ll be greeted with a mass of twinkling stars. Nothing beats dancing under the bedazzlement of an outback sky – when the band pauses, your host will entertain you with an impromptu comedy session, followed by a talk on the Milky Way above.

After you reboard The Ghan, it’s time to slip south again toward Coober Pedy (Umoona). This town in the desert is the kind of place where any familiar sense of perspective quickly evaporates. The vast moonscape of fossilised shells, sandstone and cracked grey clay is pancake flat, save for hundreds of pits and termite-like mounds that pock the surface of the Earth – opal prospectors have been here for quite some time. Rusted-out cars are everywhere, creating the illusion of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Bundles of buffalo grass are the only foliage, and they spike the ground like tufts of an old man’s beard.

Coober Pedy is officially one of the hottest places on the planet, with daytime temperatures in summer rarely dropping below 35°C. Water doesn’t last long above ground. Nor do humans for that matter, which is why most of the town’s residents live underground.

You’ll descend into one such dugout: the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum, the largest of its kind in the town. It offers fascinating insights into life below the surface, which you’ll get to experience as you sit down to lunch in a very special subterranean dining room. Waiters deliver shared plates of fish and roast beef, salads are passed around, bread is broken, icy beers are opened. It’s a reminder that hundreds of people live this way, although perhaps not with a feast quite like this at their disposal.

Words: Natasha Dragun

 

Learn more about all-inclusive 4-day Ghan Expedition journey here.

 

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