In order to get to Alice Springs, I’d chosen to go via the train, as it has a backpacker seat option which comes in just a little bit more expensive than a flight at $279 (unfortunately, these tickets are going to vanish some time next year so if you’re interested, I’d advise doing it quickly).
Darwin’s train station happens to be pretty much on the far side of town where no public transport ventures. So in order to get there, you can either take a taxi, or rely on the provided shuttle bus. This took a little bit of investigating as the pick up point has changed while the website hasn’t, but the bus arrives outside the Mitchell Street Transit Centre sign on Mitchell Street, rather than the actual Transit Centre. It costs $15, and leaves about 8:30 for the 10am train on a Wednesday – although will take at least an hour to get there as it goes and picks up the Gold and Platinum Class passengers from their hotels along the way.
The Red Section is actually pretty classy for budget. The walkways have plenty of room, and the 2 seats swing around like the ones on the Japanese bullet trains so you can talk to those behind you (or in my case, avoid motion sickness while reading – doesn’t effect me if I’m going backwards for some reason). There’s 2 toilets, and a shower, much to my surprise, along with dozens of towels for use.
In the other carriage, there’s the cafe and about six table seats for eating. The food isn’t actually unreasonably priced – the meals are about $15, but are actually cafe quality, and the snack alternatives are better priced than my usual train fare – even lunch, in the form of a wrap or sandwich, was only $7.50. We also got an attendant who was there to help with anything we might need when she wasn’t making food.
As a final bonus, the carriage wasn’t too busy – I had 2 seats to myself, and plenty of space (which came in handy later). The only downside was that the seat’s armrests didn’t go up, so I couldn’t stretch out over 2 seats.
Thanks to this, the first three hours or so pretty much flew by while I read or watched videos on my laptop (my Tumblr’s been going crazy over ‘Gravity Falls’ so I finally snapped and decided to see what all the fuss was about) and before I knew it we were in Katherine.
We’ll be here for about 4 hours, so there are tours and excursions available. However, thanks to my budget I’m reluctant to do any, and eventually decide to take the $30 shuttle towards Katherine Gorge and walk around myself, rather than take the $120 tour. Course, when I get there, the bus driver tells me just to hang around the information centre as it’s too hot to walk the trails.
Sorry, but I didn’t just spend $30 to mope around. I take a look at the walks and figure I can make it to at least one of the lookout points – if nothing else I can give myself half an hour to see how far I get, and then head back.
He isn’t kidding about the heat, but the higher you go, the more shade there is, and the cooler it gets. As such I easily make it to my intended destination with 10 minutes to spare.
Katherine Gorge is pretty spectacular – Its rare to see so much water these days considering the drought, and the rocks and landscape are incredible. I risked going up even further, and the view just gets better.
I considered pushing on, but I honestly didn’t know how long it would take me, or how hot it might get, so backtracked and made my way back to the information centre to cool down in air conditioning. Can’t decide if the bus driver was impressed at my gumption or at my stupidity.
When the train gets moving again, I watch the landscape while trying to write – eventually giving up and grabbing a pie for dinner and trying to get some sleep once the sun goes down. This proves to be problematic…the seat does go down to a pretty respectable angle, but there’s nowhere for me to stretch my legs – the one thing I really need to do if I’m going to sleep. After a while, I realise a lot of people have abandoned their chairs and are sleeping along the floor, having stolen most of the towels to make blankets. Decide to give this a shot and using my hoodie as a pillow, catch a few hours before my freezing feet make me realise I’m not going to get back anytime soon.
The solution? Shower. Grab the one towel still free and let them soak in some hot water for a while before shoving a pair of hiking socks over them and walking into the cafe car to marathon run some more Gravity Falls. When I finally finish season 1, its about 3am and I go crash back on the floor to try and get some more sleep.