From Alice Springs, the train makes its way due south across the red desert.
But as I’ve seen on previous trips, it’s not all flat expanse out there.
We even cross the Finke River, where I spent a whole week upstream two years before.
We cross into South Australia as the sun sets on our full day on the Ghan.
We take a turn about the town, and saw some interesting sites, including this mural at the back of Coles Supermarket.
And then for our last stop we climbed atop Anzac Hill for a panoramic view of the Alice.
The MacDonnell Ranges are never far away and look as spectacular as ever. Pity that this visit is so short.
We could even see the Ghan from the top. Look closely, and you can see that it is ridiculously long.
One last view of the Territory State flag.
And its state flora, the Sturt Desert Rose.
Next, we visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum. The Flying Doctors (RFDS for short), has been servicing the medical needs of remote Australia since 1928, and though we now live in a technological age, their services are more needed than ever.
The Alice Springs base began in 1939, and currently services an area of 1.25 square kilometres – that’s more than the size of South Africa or more than five times the size of the UK. It’s a large area, so they need a good, modern fleet of planes.
These planes host a medical team as well as vital medical equipment that enables patients to be treated and transported, no matter their condition.
The service is so essential to Aussies in these parts that there always seems to be a fundraiser for the RFDS in many outback towns I’ve visited. Coastal Aussies might only know of the service from TV, but perhaps it’s one that should be better supported by them, because you never know when you might need a flying doctor, particularly if you’re planning on travelling the Outback.
We really only got a glimpse of the Red Centre landscape, but I can’t help be enchanted by the white-trunked gum trees.
There were a few specimens at the Telegraph Station, and some were quite an age.
I loved the details of that smooth trunk, that isn’t as white as it seemed from afar.
The construction of the telegraph line was a mammoth undertaking, but crucial to Australia as a nation. It meant that communications to the wider world (particularly to the Mother Country), need not take months, but hours. The line was build through the middle of the country, from Adelaide to Darwin, where it met with an undersea cable to Indonesia (or the Dutch East Indies, as it was then called).
Camels were used to haul gear – and they needed handlers – hence Afghani, Pakistani and Indian cameleers came with the camels. It took a couple of goes to get the materials right – the earlier wooden poles were chewed to the ground by termites!
There were no satellites back then, so the signal needed to be relayed after a distance. A series of relay stations were established, and Alice Springs was one of them.
Afterwards, the line had to be maintained. So a whole army of men, called linesmen, were dispatched along the line to inspect and maintain it in shifts. What a job they had, especially in the desert summer heat.
Black and white relations in the Red Centre has a chequered history, like in much of Australia, but it wasn’t all bad. This stationmaster had a particular respect for indigenous people and culture and went on to write a book about it.
Jumping on to the bus, we were off around Alice Springs for our tour.
Our first stop was at the Old Telegraph Station – the reason that Alice Springs was founded in the first place.
The early explorers thought that this place had a permanent water source. Unfortunately, they didn’t realise that the area had just had a downpour, and that the springs were only temporary.
We saw some wildlife though – a rock wallaby in particular – so there must be some water somewhere out there, though not enough to sustain a settlement.
The next morning, we were up with the sun for breakfast.
As dawn rose, it was obvious that we weren’t in the Top End any more – everything was red!
We must be getting close to Alice Springs for sure, and on cue, the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges made their appearance.
Time to explore.
The rainstorm lasted less than ten minutes – brief like most Northern Australian storms. The clouds very soon cleared, and it was as if it had never been.
As we cruised back to our starting point, we were able to enjoy some beautiful afternoon light, and temperatures that were 10C lower than when we started.
Then it was back to the train, ready for our next off-train adventure.
Rain is a big factor in the Gorge in the Wet. These trees were bent at an incredible angle by the sheer force of water that rushes down-stream.
And sure enough, rain wasn’t far away that day. I had just landed to view some rock art…
When the rain came rushing down. Even the pandanus looked forlorn.
The temperature dropped by 10C in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, I did get a quick glimpse of the 3 metre high rock art on the cliff face before I was forced to return to the boat.
The walls of the Gorge towered above us as we cruised up-stream. You can see the layers of sandstone really clearly.
There were also many interesting rock formations, particularly along the cliff-tops – the product of some major weathering. Well, it does rain an average of 1,040mm per year here – much of it between January and March!