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Northern Territory Holiday Journal – Part 1

The first holiday my wife and I took while we were living in Australia was to the Northern Territory.  Australia is composed of six states and two territories; the Northern Territory is one of those territories with the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT) where the national capitol Canberra is located being the other.

Image from here.

When looking at the above map try to picture the continental United States over laid on top of Australia because that is how big Australia is, which means the Northern Territory would be roughly the size of the American Midwest.

To reach the Northern Territory we planned on driving from our home in Victoria to the South Australian capitol city of Adelaide.  From Adelaide we would board the famous Ghan Train to take us into the interior of the Australian Outback where the small city of Alice Springs is located.  From Alice Springs we would hit our first major tourist destination which was the world famous Ayers Rock, which is called Uluru in Australia.  We planned on camping for two nights out at Uluru before driving back to Alice Springs to reboard the Ghan train to continue our journey north to what the Australian’s call the “Top End” of Australia.

The major city in the Top End and the Capitol of the North Territory is the city of Darwin and that is where the Ghan train ends at and we planned on beginning our campervan tour from there. With the rented campervan we planned on traveling to the major attractions in the Top End such as Kakadu National Park, Katherine Gorge, and Litchfield National Park before getting back on the Ghan and heading back home to Melbourne. The total distance between Melbourne and Darwin is approximately 2000 miles one way we covered by both road and rail. As you can see Australia is truly a vast country.

The Journey to Adelaide

Living in Victoria you tend to feel you live in a small state because Victoria is so much smaller than most of the other Australian states. However, when you have to drive across Victoria you realize how big the state really is. To put the state of Victoria in to perspective, crossing the entire state would be like driving from Atlanta, Georgia to the city of New Orleans back in the United States. So basically the state of Victoria is the size of the American south and this is considered a small state in Australia, so you can imagine how big the other states really are.

We had to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide in order to catch the Ghan train heading to the Northern Territory. The drive between Melbourne and Adelaide is mostly an extremely boring 9 hour drive through pastoral land. Between Melbourne and Ballarat there are some hills which are famous in Australia for the Gold Rush they produced in the 1860’s and the gold that can still be found there today. The highway is a modern two lane highway with a maximum speed of 110kmph (65mph). Once past Ballarat the highway turns into a small single lane highway all the way to the city of Murray Bridge near Adelaide. It is amazing to think that a major interstate highway in Australia is a small single lane highway. To make matters worse the speed limit is 100kmph (60mph) on the interstate.

Even with the speed limit this low, there are still slow pokes on the road that halt the flow of traffic that you have to pass. Fortunately there are usually passing lanes about 20km to pass these people. Another annoyance on the highway is that the single lane highway goes through every poe dunk town along the route. So you have to slow down and stop at traffic lights and navigate your way through the town to get back on the highway again. Australians I’m sure are used to this, but coming from the US the slow speeds and single lane interstates are very annoying.

Really the only scenery along this single lane portion of the highway are the Grampian mountains. You can spot the mountains about 4 hours into the journey from Melbourne. The mountains are quite beautiful in contrast to the flat surrounding countryside.  Once past the Grampians it is 5 hours of nothing but flat farm land. You do cross the muddy Murray River which is the largest and longest river in Australia (which isn’t saying much), but besides that, nothing until you get to Adelaide.

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The mighty Murray River.

Before you can enter Adelaide you have to cross the Adelaide hills. These hills reach up to a 1000 meters in altitude and are a steep drive up and down them into Adelaide. These hills are quite nice and green and a welcome change from the hours of nothing we had to cross.

Once we descended the hills the road emptied right into the city of Adelaide. Adelaide is just like other Australian cities to where the interstates just empty into the city and you have to make your way around without the benefit of a highway with exit ramps, like we are used to in the states. Good city maps are essential in Australia because it is easy to get lost in these cities. Even Aussies who live in the cities carry the maps to get around with because the streets can get so confusing.

Anyway we had two hours before our train departed and I followed the map directions to the Adelaide train station which is right in the middle of down town and it took me forever to find parking. I finally found a parking garage, parked my vehicle and we walked over to the train station. By this time we had about an hour and 15 minutes before the train left and we were shocked to find out that the Ghan train does not run from this station it runs from another station from a different part of town.

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Sunsets on the Ghan Train in Adelaide

From what I thought would be an easy journey to the train station had suddenly turned into an episode from the Amazing Race. We ran to get back to my Jeep and then I began again trying to drive through heavy traffic and read a map to find the other train station. Fortunately we found the correct station for the Ghan and there was even plenty of parking room. We pulled into the parking space with about 30 minutes to go before the train departed.


Sun sets on the South Australian city of Adelaide.

We were supposed to check in our bags one hour before departure but checking in our bags late didn’t turn out to be a problem with the staff there. I asked about leaving my Jeep parked for two weeks there and they said it was free which was nice, but they couldn’t guarantee security of the vehicle and recommended that I made sure there was no valuables in the vehicle. It was 16:30 and we boarded the train, found our seats, and relaxed after the initial stress of making sure we made our train. We sat back and watched the sun begin to set over Adelaide and South Australia, however I couldn’t help but think that maybe my wife and I are not ready for the Amazing Race, but we were definitely ready for our holiday in the Northern Territory.

Next Posting: To the Red Center

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