Under a Blanket of Stars

When The Ghan Expedition rolls into Alice Springs, a gentle ripple of excitement is evident in the guests on board. As each heads off to immerse themselves in the location – whether it’s through a cultural experience and walk at Standley Chasm, a coach tour of the highlights of Alice, meeting the local critters at the Desert Park, taking a discovery walk at Simpsons Gap, or jumping on an e-bike to freewheel around town – the excitement continues to build. Then, after a quick change of clothing, the signature experience begins.

A duo of musicians playing familiar acoustic tunes greets each guest as they walk up the dusty driveway. In front of the historic buildings that mark the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs, round tables sit on the red dirt, white tablecloths framing gleaming silver cutlery. The setting is spectacular, the experience even more so.

In one of the outbuildings, a blacksmith plies his trade, crafting weighty bottle openers in burning embers in front of an audience. In a neighbouring paddock, a small train of personality-laden camels, eyelashes fluttering, take guests on a circular saunter. Bubbles drift lazily to the surface in champagne flutes as the sun slowly sinks, turning the sky pink and orange as it shifts to the other side of the Earth.

The band plays Australian classics as the entrees are served and continue throughout the delectable barbecue-style main course. The buildings glow under yellow lights and braziers are lit to stave off any chill in the air. Naturally, marshmallows and toasting forks are supplied, should the sweet tooths need more of a sugar hit than the delicious dessert offering.

During a pause in the music, the stargazer appears and the guests fall silent as he decodes the night sky, circling glowing constellations with a laser beam. There’s Scorpius, the Southern Cross, Centaurus and dozens more, the commentary punctuated by laughter as the astronomer delivers his punchlines. It’s a memorable moment, the moon peeking through the gum trees. A moment shared by a group of individuals brought together by one special red locomotive.

When the band resumes, the dancing starts, little clouds of dust kicked up in celebration of something indefinable. The wine helps, the meal, the setting, the music, the company. But it’s more than that. It’s a moment that transcends time and place – and it’s simply magical.

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