I spent Sunday, the 2nd of November 2014 on the Firefly coach from Adelaide, South Australia to Melbourne, Victoria. The 725 kilometres takes approximately 8 hours or longer depending on how many stops you make and how long your breaks are. For those in a hurry, there are 19 flights daily that take about an hour and 20 minutes. For train buffs, the Overland makes the trip on Mondays and Fridays, taking around 11 hours.
In my journal I wrote, “On the Firefly coach to Melbourne – We are just completing our first stop. I had a bacon & egg McMuffin-type sandwich, and bought some licorice.” “Hotel room in Melbourne – It was fun to see the small towns and to see how the landscape changes from South Australia to Victoria.”
The bus terminal in Melbourne is the Southern Cross Station which is a 20 minute walk from The Citigate hotel where I spent my last night in Australia. The Citigate was undergoing renovations when I was there, and is now the DoubleTree by Hilton.
31 October 2014 – Adelaide was sort of the ‘wild card’ for this trip because I didn’t know anything about this city in the state of South Australia. I only decided to go to Adelaide because that is the terminus for the Ghan; if the train ran from Alice Springs to Melbourne, I would never have gone, and that would have been a terrible pity because I really liked Adelaide.
I wrote in my journal, “Today is warm in Adelaide (32C) but tomorrow will be cool (17C) so I think I will spend this afternoon drinking (got a jug of Frank’s Sangria), eating (ordered the Dip, Dukkah & Dough), and writing. I will spend tomorrow wandering all over Adelaide in the cooler temps.”
I did not get to do most of the things I had planned because my timing was off and things (including the shops) closed rather early for a Saturday. The aboriginal museum closed at 4 p.m. ( I got there at 4:30 ) and the South Australian museum closed at 5 p.m. ( I got there at 5 ) but I was able to walk all over the place and saw lots of lovely, old buildings and churches. Earlier in the day, I went to the National Wine Centre of Australia which is part of the University of Adelaide. I won a Gold Medal for my virtual Shiraz and celebrated by having a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Windows Estate winery.
I stayed two nights at The Franklin Boutique Hotel. The bar at the Franklin is a rocking place on Friday and Saturday nights so it might not be ideal for those who prefer ‘early to bed and early to rise’ even though earplugs are part of the amenities package. The espresso machine and milk frother in the room is a lovely touch. I also really liked the complimentary mini-bar (2 bottles each of cider, beer, and water, as well as a bag of chips, and chocolate).
Before catching the bus for the next part of my adventure, I headed to the Adelaide Central Market where I bought Australian grown olives.
As I was walking, trailing my suitcase, from the Desert Rose Inn to the Alice Springs train station on the 30th of October, 2014, a young woman approached me and asked if I was looking for the Ghan, which I was. I had seen its distinctive, red locomotives from the top of Anzac Hill, so I knew in which direction I needed to head. I had a map that the Korean girl at the Red Ochre Grill Restaurant had given me but if not for Haley, I might have missed the path that leads directly to the platform as it was not indicated on the map.
The Ghan was #13 on The Telegraph’s list of the 25 greatest train journeys in the world. Michael Williams wrote that it is “one of the greatest train marathons of the world…” and “there’s no train window view like this anywhere else…”. I had paid a little extra to secure a window seat in the Red day/nighter car. I could have spent a lot more and had a compartment all to myself with a Gold Service Single Cabin but I do not regret being frugal. My seat partner, Francoise, asked if we could see the single cabin in the Gold car. We both agreed that we were happy we had chosen to sit in the Red car because we found each other’s company to be enjoyable.
I had packed my journal in my checked luggage so I bought a lovely red souvenir journal with matching pen in the gift shop of the Alice Springs station. I had intended to use the hours after sunset and before I fell asleep to write but I ended up sitting in the Matilda Cafe car with Haley (Australia) and Francoise (France), drinking red wine and talking.
I awoke on the morning of the 31st of October to the view of a flat-topped mountain not too far off in the distance. Both days, I saw a few kangaroos and lots of sheep and cattle but the surprise for me was the dead cows near the tracks. It wasn’t clear if they had died from being hit by trains or if they were just there because that happened to be where they were when they died.
Of note, the 24 to 25 hours from Alice Springs to Adelaide is non-stop and smoking is not allowed anywhere on the train so I could not have taken this trip 18 years ago.
Exactly half way between Adelaide and Darwin lies Alice Springs, Northern Territory. It is, without a doubt, a desert town. Lots of aborigines can be seen on the streets and there are loads of birds. I also saw a pool cleaning robot – no kidding! When it would surface, its wheels made a squeaking noise like a dolphin which made me laugh every time.
I stayed in two hotels in Alice. I had originally planned to spend a night in King’s Canyon but that didn’t happen so I had an extra night in Alice Springs. The first hotel, the Alice Motor Inn, was on the east side in a more suburban area and had the pool cleaning robot. The second hotel, the Desert Rose Inn, was near to the train station and Anzac Hill. Both of the hotels had swimming pools, kitchens, and coin-operated laundries. They were both $90 AUD
At the reception desk of the Desert Rose Inn, I was able to arrange a trip to the Desert Park which was, quite simply, amazing – I wish I had got an earlier start or had a second day as there is so much to see and do. The driver who took me there and picked me up said some people complain that there is nothing to do!?!
That evening I went for a walk and ended up at the Aurora. I had Emu Salad, a bottle of wine, and a conversation with the staff. One of the staff was a young woman from Korea, and another was from Argentina.
The next day I climbed Anzac Hill to see the panoramic view of Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges, then went to Hungry Jack’s, an Australian fast food restaurant, to get some breakfast. I went back to the hotel, checked out, and finally was able to get on-line.