Along The Old Ghan

The Old Ghan, originally called the Great Northern Railway, is a tale of the triumphs of pioneering Australians in a landscape of extremes.

Railway Crossing

Or so the information sign says. It continued by telling me;

The Ghan opened the way into Australia’s remote interior. Unofficially called ‘The Ghan’, it provided isolated residents with a physical and emotional link to civilisation. During World War II the railway was pushed to its limits, yet barely a decade after peace resumed in 1945, it was rejected.


I’ve been cycling along the old railway line since I left Lyndhurst.

Just out of Lyndhurst a car pulled up to ask if I was ‘the Dutch girl‘ after confirming this they handed me a little envelope. An amulet, made by Talc Alf.

Talc Alf

Talc Alf had shown me around his place the previous day. He’s discovered the secret of letters and has explained me what my name means.

Talc Alf explaining my name

(it was something about a journey and the sun rolling over hills..)

He must have set out to carve my name in stone straight after I left, it’s now dangling of my handlebar-bag.



When the railway line was first build in 1878 there was need of constant maintenance, so every 15 or 20 km they build a little house where 3 or 4 man would live to look after the tracks. In places the only job they did was shovelling sand off the lines from dawn to dusk and do it all again the next day. Some of these old railway sidings are still standing in various states of decay. They make for a nice shelter from the wind.

One of the old railway sidings

It’s been busy on the road.

With ‘busy’ I mean about 20 cars a day. This is because there is water in Lake Eyre.  Having water in a lake might not seem like a very unusual thing to us Europeans… But out here it is a big deal. The last time this lake, wich lays 15 meter below sea level and is with that Australia’s lowest point, was full was way before I was born. From the road I could see Lake Eyre South. It’s huge. Most people would take a flight to be able to see it properly. I asked what it was like, apparently it’s like a big lake with water in it. Didn’t overly surprise me. Still, it’s special.

At Lake Eyre South

Because there is so much of not a lot out here every little thing is a sight.

bearded dreagon

So it happened I came across a pole. Now, this is not a normal pole, it is part of the overland telegraph line, Australia’s first telecommunication  link to the outside world. Between 1872 and 1896 it connected Darwin with Adelaide and ultimately London. Very little remains of the original line, but here is one of the Cypress Pine Poles…

Telegraph Pole

Another famous piece of wood stands just north of Oodnadatta, the Angle Pole is the point where the telegraph line changed direction.

Angle Pole

Another time I was rather surprised to see a big thing on the side of the track waving at  me. I waved back and continued along my way.

a thing, waving at me

Devils Horn

With so few things around it seems I have become a bit of a sight myself, I might be the most photographed cycling Dutch girl on the track this month. Sometimes I don’t like it when big cars just slow down and take a snap shot without even saying hello, or without even slowing down. Mostly it’s fine when they stop and have a yarn on the side of the road.

I really don’t mind at all when they then offer me water…

Or a tea with blueberry muffins…

Tea & Blueberry muffins

Or a cappuccino with chocolate on top and a chocolate…

Or pork chops for lunch…

Or fresh fruit…

Or a cold can of coke…

Thanks for the coke!

Or a cold beer and air for my tyres when the pump broke…

Or a feed at the end of the day 🙂

It all happens along the Old Ghan.

Algebuckina Bridge

A funny thing I found is that men often ask about my gear where the ladies ask how I keep my hair looking good 🙂

The Old Ghan travelled past the William Creek and Cowards Springs sidings, during the war the stops were reduced from 10 to 2 minutes due to the amount of alcohol consumed on the train… The hotelier complains were ignored. In 1945 the trains were ordered not to stop at all anymore. However, the train would travel very slow, the passengers would jump off the train before the station, sprint up to the pub, buy their drink and run after the train. Lucky I had a little more time to enjoy a beer in the iconic William Creek Hotel.

at the William Creek Hotel

I didn’t plan to have dinner there as well, but three nice gentlemen from Melbourne invited me to have some kangaroo with them. It sure beats pasta & tuna!

It gave me so much energy that I cycled/pushed 100km the next day, a bit of a feat for me on these roads where my average is around 70km a day.

my way

Clay Pan


Barry Tydeman and John Glover’s are scientist who came up between ’69 and ’71 to study the desert Goby, a small endemic fish found only in the waters of the Lake Eyre Basin.

“Then we came up. It was a bit wet and we ended up on the tracks because it was too boggy along the road so we were riding along the sleepers on top. John’s driving and we’re riding -boom boom boom boom, like that. I just had this uneasy feeling and I looked around and there’s this bloody great locomotive right behind us! I don’t know how long he’d been there, hadn’t said a bloody boo you know, and I said to John; ‘I think we better get off the track’. He said; ‘Why?’ I said; “Have a look behind you”. He looked in the mirror and panicked and went down the side… The locomotive came past and slowed right up and he slid the window back and this guy said;”You guys alright?” and we said “Yeah… we’re trying to keep out of the water along the track” He said;”OK, no worries” and boom, boom, boom off they went and that was the Ghan.”

Railway Siding

Every now and then I get the idea the universe must like me. Like the day I lost my little camera…

Where my Camera used to be...

The handle had snapped and looking back through pictures of that day (on my big camera, got two ‘just in case’) I realized it must have happened over 30km ago. The Creek where I was when I discovered was very salty,

Salty Creek

So with the amount of water I had going back wasn’t an option…  I kept going. When I stopped a car about an hour later another coming from my direction stopped as well. They had my camera! Two men had found it and given it to them, after snapping a pic of themselves.

the men who found my camera

So thanks random strangers and thank you universe!

Another example is my 16gig memory card breaking… just after I uploaded (almost) all my pictures!

I would have hated to lose the pics I took only the night before when I pushed my bike to the top of a hill only to be able to see the full moon rising (and setting) over my tent.

Moon Rise

A magical night with a 360 degree view of surrounding hills and a crystal clear sky with Dingo’s howling down in the valley…


And a big water tank conveniently located only a km away on the next hill-top…

Thanks again…

Adam & Lynnie Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta is, as the name kinda explains, very pink. This is good because I like pink. (my toothbrush is pink, and my towel too)

Road House

And so I liked this roadhouse, but that had very little to do with the colour.

Pink Roadhouse

More the very friendly welcome I got. A group of 10  travellers who passed me on the road 20 km’s earlier offered me breakfast. (thanks guys!) And I spent the next 4 hours or so charging things, cleaning clothes and myself eating chocolate and drinking coffee. All clean and satisfied I rode out-of-town while a little boy shouted;” Hey! Where’s your man??” …. Now, there’s a question 😉

The very next day the wind was against me. And believe me, in these parts if the wind decides to be against you, you do not move. A lot.

Sturt Desert Pea

After a windy night at a windmill I made it 15km up the road to Hamilton Station.


Where a sign told me Junk Mail and Jehovah’s are not welcome. Since it didn’t mention cycling folk I called in and didn’t leave for two days.

Hamilton Station

I was welcomed by Warren the owner. Together with Josh he was the only one around at this time and the were busy with jobs around the homestead.



He gave me a room in the girls-quarters where I could recharge and clean both my gear and myself. It was an oasis in this barren country side.

Just after climbing on top of a water tank to get a good shot of the station Warren mentioned I could get a bit higher up for a picture. Only seeing flat plains around me I asked where…. He then took me to the shed where he pulled out a small yellow plane… And he flew me over the property 🙂

Small Yellow Plane


Station from higher up

Four of Warrens friend came up for a night on their way cross the Simpson Desert. A good laugh, BBQ and reciting poems later I decided to catch up with these fellows one day later at Dalhousie Springs.

New Friends

This water comes from the largest Artesian ground water basin in the world (lying underneath 1/5 th of Australia. When it rains up in Queensland the water filters through this basin and comes up in places like here and Coward Springs around  two-million (!!!) years later… But where as Coward Springs had just a little luke-warm bath of about 2square meter, here a huge 37 degrees pool appeared out of nowhere. A great relaxing dip. And when you sit real still the tiny little ‘Dalhousie Goby’ comes and nibbles on your toes.

Dalhousie Springs

early morning dip

I did spend the night camping with my four new friends and after jumping in the hot water at sunrise I set of on my tredly while they packed up and got ready to make the Simpson desert crossing.

on the road again

At my next destination all my carefull planning and timing suddenly got thrown upside down.

But more about that next time.
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12 thoughts on “Along The Old Ghan

  1. Weer een super verhaal en superfoto’s! In williamscreek zijn wij ook geweest, ik herkende het meteen op de foto. Het visitekaartje van Gerdo hangt ook aan die muur. Overigens: complimenten voor de layout van je website! Leest gemakkelijk en ziet er heel goed uit.
    Groetjes, Gerdo en Wilma

  2. Hoi Mir,
    wat een verhalen weer, zet hem op he, ben benieuwd naar het vervolg. Hier alles goed; Stella zindelijk en Tieme kruipt.
    xxx Karin

  3. En dan nu weer naar mt. Dare. Schitterende foto’s én verhalen trouwens weer. Leuk om de plaatjes en verhalen te zien en te lezen bij de spots die ondertussen op google earth staan.
    En ook erg leuk je van de week gesproken te hebben! In een deel van Australië waar je meestal geen bereik hebt is het dan wel weer eens leuk om even bij te praten.
    Nou, we houden je route in de gaten de komende tijd en zodra het weer kan nemen we weer contact op. (en nog bedankt voor de sms op onze trouwdag..:-) )

  4. Leuk bericht weer, grappige foto van de twee mannen die je camera hadden gevonden. Heb laatst even bij papa en mama op google earth je route bekeken, dan heb ik wat meer een beeld erbij. Hier alles goed, net weer een week aan het werk.
    Ben benieuwd naar je volgende verhaal,
    x esther

  5. Mirjam, I lost track of your direction a bit. Where are you heading for? North, south, east or west? Please let me know if you’re heading for the Eyre Peninsula. As my brother nowadays lives in Whyalla with his family. Great story, great pictures as usual. You should consider writing a book or organise an exhibition about your journey.

  6. Hi Mirjam…We spent the night around the camp fire in Coward Springs. You asked us to call in on Talc Alf and thank him for the amulet he sent by tourist to catch up with you on the road. We did call in…boy can he talk–just like you said…he was glad to hear from you and wished you all the best in your travels.

    Keep safe and keep cycling.
    Stephanie and Lex Van Huisstede

  7. Hi Miriam love reading your blogs.We met you in cunnamulla and again in eulo(Graham,Eris,Rose and John).The pub at eulo had burned down the night before and the car rally people arrived about when you did. keep safe and we will continue to pray for you when you come in to our mind.enjoy australia

  8. Well done Miriam. I am lucky as i drove the old Ghan train back in the late 70’s but to do it on a bike …well that’s remarkable. It sure was hot out there ? Cheers Jim

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