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Riding the Ghan across the Australian Outback

  INTERACTIVE GALLERY

(CNN) -- Just a century ago, folks hopped on camels to reach the heart of Australia.

These days, travelers yearning for the adventure and romance of the Outback have a more relaxing way of getting there -- The Ghan.

The railway service, named after the early camel drivers from Afghanistan, connects once each week from Melbourne and Sydney. From Adelaide in south Australia, it covers more than 1,500 kilometers (about 1,000 miles) on the way to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

"It's magnificent country," said The Ghan's Genelle Fenton. "Just coming out here, you actually see the heart of Australia, which is very, very good."

The train, which crosses the Simpson Desert, passing sandhills and ancient mountain ranges, made its first run in 1929.

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    "And when the train came through it put the cameleers out of business," said Ted Egan, a historian and songwriter. "And so the train is called The Ghan in their honor."

    Leisurely route to Alice Springs

    Sure, taking to the skies is a more modern way to reach the Outback -- faster, certainly -- but the train has its own appeal.

    "You see so much more," one passenger said. "And that's what I've come to see, the country -- not to fly from A to B. It's much more interesting."

    "The highlight is the scenery, Australian native wildlife, kangaroos, camels, and, of course, the enjoyment of other people on the train," said Stephen Bradford of Great Southern Railway, which operates The Ghan.

    The Ghan offers three levels of service, with first-class providing private cabins and elegant dining. A one-way, first-class ticket from Sydney is $1,308 (US $705) and $778 (US $419) from Adelaide. Coach is $390 (US $210) from Sydney and $197 (US $106) from Adelaide.

    It takes 19 hours to get from Adelaide to Alice Springs, and the journey is as enticing as the destination -- including three-course meals prepared right on board.

    One menu offers pumpkin soup, Caesar salad and filet of kangaroo, plus alternative dining options for those disinclined toward marsupials.

    Mealtime also gives guests a chance to mingle.

    "I think it's one of the most important things on the actual train, because that's where everybody comes in and meets and talks," chef Dan Duka said.

    And just beyond their windows, the Outback in all its rugged magic passes by.

    "I would describe it to people back home as an experience of a lifetime," a rider said. "It's absolutely delightful."



    RELATED STORIES:
    The Top End: Australia in the rough
    September 15, 2000
    A dash over the hump, down under
    July 13, 1997

    RELATED SITES:
    The Ghan
    CDC Travelers' Health: Australia and the South Pacific
    U.S. Consular Information Sheet


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