Flavours of Australia on The Ghan

7th October 2020 | Alison Turner

Last year, The Ghan celebrated 90 years of outback crossings. In 2020, the legendary train expedition that takes guests between Adelaide and Darwin was forced to stop travelling at the end of March, thanks to our old friend COVID-19. But as borders have been opened in South Australia and the Northern Territory, The Ghan has once again been able to take to the rails, offering the same exceptional service, unforgettable sights and sumptuous meals, albeit with a few adjustments to adhere to COVID-safe regulations.

Travelling on The Ghan (pronounced like the “ghan” in “Afghanistan”) allows guests to taste Australia as they travel across it, with every meal on the a la carte menu carefully chosen to hero local ingredients that showcase various regions as the train passes through them.

“Our inspiration is drawn from the places we travel through,” explains Matthew Snare, The Ghan’s General Manager of Food and Beverage. “And going from Adelaide to Darwin and return, we’re travelling through some really interesting areas.”

Flavours of Australia on The Ghan
Each dish is a celebration of the region through which you travel.

The best of South Australia

South Australia is an incredibly diverse region offering world-class produce. So, as guests depart from Adelaide, they’re treated to a wide array of some of the state’s best food.

“I love to put on local seafood out of South Australia,” says Snare. “I think the waters off South Australia are some of the cleanest on the planet. And the variety and diversity of produce is some of the best quality seafood you can get anywhere.

“Then we have rich grazing areas down the Limestone Coast in South Australia. So we put on some beef from there, and chicken from Saskia Beer Farm Produce from the Barossa. The Yorke Peninsula in South Australia also produces a really great variety of legumes.”

The kitchen might be small, but the flavours on The Ghan are larger than life
The kitchen might be small, but the flavours on The Ghan are larger than life.

And on to the red centre

As guests depart from South Australia and begin heading into the Northern Territory, the menu changes to reflect the remarkable landscape of the red centre.

“The centre of Australia is very dry, very desolate,” Snare says. “So here we start to draw inspiration from the local native ingredients. Desert limes, samphire, sea succulents.”

For this, the team has sought the input of chef Andrew Fielke. He’s an expert in native foods and provides advice on how to use the ingredients, and which regions they’re from.

“The way we use native ingredients is not heavy-handed; they just give you a little bit of an accent,” Snare says. “Our guests really like that information – that ‘Australiana’ accent to our dishes. It’s a bit of a show-and-tell and a storytelling opportunity for our guests. As they’re travelling through these regions we can call out some of these dishes.”

The menus have also been beautifully illustrated by a local tattoo artist who specialises in native botanicals. Each menu highlights the different foods featured, as well as a map that shows the location of where the meal is being served.

Flavours of Australia on The Ghan
Beautiful barramundi in the Queen Adelaide restaurant onboard.

A unique experience

“As we’re travelling further up into the Northern Territory, into the tropics, we have to have barramundi on the menu, of course,” Snare continues. “And mangoes. We’ve also put crocodile on the menu up there. Just a small entrée of crocodile. It’s not something you want to eat a lot of because it’s really not very exciting. But we offer it because people like to be able to say they’ve tried crocodile.”

All meals are provided for, from breakfast, lunch and dinner through to supper. The chefs onboard have been trained to work magic in the limited kitchen space available. But despite the space restrictions, guests can still expect a five-star dining experience.

“It’s everything you’d expect in a restaurant – linen cloth tables, tall stemmed glassware,” Snare says. “But it’s also surprising. I often ask our guests how they thought they would be dining on board, and they always say it totally exceeds their expectations.

“You’re travelling in a fine restaurant through the red centre of Australia, but you’re eating fine foods and drinking fine wine out of beautiful glassware. It’s a unique experience.”

Flavours of Australia on The Ghan
Enjoy a sunset meal at Alice Springs’ Telegraph Station, followed by a spot of stargazing.

Hunting for opals

Dining experiences are also available off-train. The trip from Darwin features a spectacular meal under the stars at Alice Springs’ Telegraph Station. After the meal, members of the local Indigenous community also lead a special stargazing experience.

Further afield, in the sparsely populated red-hot outback community of Cooper Pedy, guests get to enjoy their lunch in an underground opal mine.

“It’s quite a fun surprise,” Snare explains. “They’ve dug out the dining room with channels for dining tables to come through. We have a three-course lunch underground. Guests even get to get to chip away at the walls and see if they can find an opal.”

As well as offering a once-in-a-lifetime experience, The Ghan also creates employment and an important income stream for local producers, foodservice and tour operators.

“We’re bringing income into these regions, but they support us well,” Snare says. “We’re all very passionate about what we do. We love the places we travel through and places we go to, and they love showcasing what they’ve got.”

A casual underground lunch in Cooper Pedy can be followed by some impromptu opal mining
A casual underground lunch in Cooper Pedy can be followed by some impromptu opal mining.

Grab yourself a deal

While The Ghan is back in action, COVID regulations mean that numbers on board must remain limited. Meanwhile, other train trips offered by the Journey Beyond Group – Indian Pacific, The Overland and Great Southern – have yet to recommence.

“We can only have guests from South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland,” Snare says. “Our market is pretty limited. So you can get a good deal at the moment.

“The main thing is that it’s great for our staff. We’ve got 500 people working for the company, and while we can’t bring all of them back just yet, those who we can are the cream of the crop. We have a very passionate group of people working for us. The staff are also a huge part of the experience for our guests.”

As overseas travel is unlikely for the immediate future, more Australians will look for opportunities to explore their own country. For those seeking a memorable (and delicious) way to experience the most extraordinary parts of Australia, The Ghan is just the ticket.

For information and bookings on The Ghan, head to journeybeyondrail.com.au

LATEST VIDEO Towri Sheep Cheeses: local QLD artisan produce ewe'll love