The Ghan Expedition 2021


The Jetstar flight from Adelaide to Darwin left early in the morning, so it was an easy trip to Adelaide Airport without the usual commuter morning rush. Even at the airport, most shops were closed and there was a definite lack of hustle and bustle of passengers moving through the terminal, but that was most likely due to the limits imposed by COVID social distancing rules. This was the period between when the spread of COVID-19 was brought under control and when vaccines were distributed.

The social distancing regulations that were in force required everyone in the terminal and on the flight to wear a mask. It was meant that the flight was far from full. The flight was direct to Darwin, so only took about three (3) hours. Jetstar is a budget airline

Originally, Mark and Alexa were booked into a hotel in the Central Business District (CBD), but the owners had decided to renovate - probably because of the reduced tourist travel, even though it was the Easter holidays. This resulted in them being moved to the Vibe hotel in the Darwin Waterfront Precinct.

Talking to other travellers who said that the CBD was "dead" during the Easter weekend, this unexpected shift was for the best. Stepping out of the Vibe placed you right in the midst of the action in the precinct, with its bars and restaurants, boutique shops, water park, including a wave pool and close to the harbour.

It is easy to get to the CBD from the waterfront, because there is a skybridge that goes from the corner of the Vibe up to the Esplanade at the edge of the CBD. This skybridge has a five story lift from the waterfront to the bridge and an optional one story lift at the town end, making it accessible even for those with mobility issues.
Even from a distance, it was easy to see that the Darwin Mall was empty on Easter Sunday. As Mark and Alexa went into the mall, they found Café 21 The Mall was open. The only reason that they knew was that there were tables and chairs outside the shop. The tinting was so dark that the internal lights were not visible. The icy-cold mango smoothies were really good given day was hot and sticky.

The lady in the café said that they had not intended to open, but the boss told them to. Looking at the amount of customers when we walked back, I think the boss got it right.

Because of the high temperature and humidity, any shop that has cold air coming out of their front door was attractive, so Mark and Alexa went into The Bookshop Darwin to cool down and browse. Alexa sat and looked at some craft books while Mark selected a novel to read.

After that, they went to Darwin Souvenirs & Gifts to get small presents for friends back home.

Since they had visited just about every open shop (well, not quite), they headed back to the Waterfront Precinct where all the actioning was happening to have a cool drink and watch the world pass by - often on electric scooters which appeared to be very popular.
For a bit of a change, Alexa and Mark decided to go on a champagne sunset dinner cruise on the 50' (15.25 metres) sailing catamaran Sundancer. Mark and Alexa's houseboat My Lady is a bit larger at 20 metres (65.5'), but designed for the relatively calm water of the Murray River, while Sundancer is an ocean going vessel and fitted out accordingly.

The most important aspect of Sundancer was that Alexa and Mark didn't have to crew the vessel, or prepare and server the food and drink as they sat back at looked at Darwin from the water. They also kept an eye out to the west to see if the sunset would be spectacular or ordinary.

From the moment we got on the catamaran until the moment Alexa and Mark left, the crew was on the go looking after the passengers, serving up food and bubbly as soon as they thought that a glass was getting empty or it looked one of the passengers was running low on food.

In the slide show below, you will see two full champagne flutes - the first two for the cruise. The skipper suggested that they stay where they were, because they would get the best (first) service where they were - he was correct.

Although the sunset wasn't spectacular, it was interesting looking at Darwin from the harbour and chatting with the other people on the cruise. The sails were set just after we left the harbour, but since the winds seemed very light, it was a bit debatable whether Sundancer was being propelled by the sails or the two rather powerful motors, but the sails still added to the atmosphere.

Sundancer had four cabins and is available for overnight hires, but alas Mark and Alexa did not have the time in Darwin to even contemplate an overnight journey.

For anyone looking for an informal dinner cruise around Darwin, Mark and Alexa would recommend that you look into this cruise.

Within a couple of hundred metres of the Vibe hotel where Alexa and Mark were staying in the Waterfront Precinct is the WWII Oil storage tunnels five and six. This site is well worth a look although it was not what Mark and Alexa were expecting.

Before entering, they thought that the tunnels would lead to where the oil had been stored in the usual oil storage tanks. Little did they realise that the tunnels themselves would be the storage tanks.

The tunnels were lined to form the oil storage containers, although this created many issues.

It is flat walking in the tunnels, but some sections are wet because of the ground water leaking into the tunnels. The oil tunnel that walkers can access is 171 metres long, and it can be very humid. For those with slight mobility issues, there are chairs along the way so that you can rest.

Along the length of the tunnel, there are information boards which outline the effects of the WWII and the bombing on Darwin. At the end of the entrance tunnel is a sculpture made for wreckage of the bombing.

At the far end of the tunnel is an emergency exit (not normally accessible) that comes out near the famous Darwin Deckchair open air theatre.

On the Wednesday, it was time to leave the Vibe hotel and catch the bus to the Darwin rail terminal.

Arriving at the station and stepping out, the difference in temperature and humidity between the air-conditioning and the ambient weather became quite obvious as the lens of Mark's camera was blurred by the condensation forming on the camera.

The photo of the engines to the right hasn't been given the soft-focus treatment with Photoshop, it is just a misty lens.

Once entering that station, the true extent of the train became obvious. Mark and Alexa were to later find out The Ghan was 910 metres long - and they were near the rear of the train. As you might guess, after putting their luggage in their cabin, they didn't walk about 1.8km to the engines and back for a photo.

Since the next stop for the day  was Katherine and there had to be enough time for the daily excursion, the train didn't hang around while passengers standing around like Brown's Cows, taking photos.

The slide show gives an indication of the size of the double Gold cabin. If it seems small, then you would be correct as the seat doubles as the lower bunk and the upper drops from the wall to be above the lower bunk.

However, the single Gold cabin is even smaller, and those passengers use a shared bathroom/toilet. The Platinum cabins are much larger with a double bed, but with a price that matching the doubling of the bed size.

There a number of lounge cars that provide sitting space and a bar. The lounge is good for conversing with other passengers and waiting to be seated in the adjacent dining car.