ANDREW WESTBROOK takes one of Australia's greatest journeys, when he jumps aboard the Ghan train from Darwin to Alice Springs
It's not often I look forward to a long journey. Don't get me wrong, I love travelling. After all, doing the job I do, I've passed through unknown lands in the backs of cars, buses and trucks more often than Brangelina are rumoured to be splitting up.
And while in hindsight these journeys often prove to be some of the most memorable parts of trips - full of strange characters, blurring landscapes and surreal middle-of-the-night rest stops - I still find it near impossible to get excited about the prospect of spending a day or two trapped in one seat.
But there's something different about trains. Rolling and shaking across the horizon, they're the epitome of romantic travel, oozing old-fashioned charm and timeless adventure - which is why, preparing to head south from Darwin, I was excited about catching the Ghan.
The Ghan is the perfect example of a great train journey. Named in honour of the Afghan camel drivers who criss-crossed Australia's unforgiving Outback over a century ago, the Ghan cuts the country in half.
Twice a week it sets out from Darwin and Adelaide before snaking its way straight through Australia's sunbaked heart, stopping at the likes of http://www.tntdownunder.com/article/2444072668.html[Katherine], http://www.tntdownunder.com/article/2444072543.html[Alice Springs] and http://www.tntdownunder.com/article/2440458170.html[Coober Pedy].
After a morning departure from the http://www.tntdownunder.com/article/2437943351.html[Northern Territory]'s wild and unruly capital, it's just a few hours until we pull into the town of Katherine. With four hours to explore the nearby Nitmiluk National Park, which is home to the headline-grabbing Katherine Gorge, the train eagerly empties.
As one of the main attractions of the Top End, as well as handily-located to break up the http://www.tntdownunder.com/article/2444072602.html[Darwin] to Alice journey, I was keen to make the most of it and experience the gorge both from above and within.
And so, never one to miss a Hollywood moment, I jump aboard a http://www.travelsearch.bugbitten.com/search_tours/TNT_Down_Under/trip_search/?search=helicopter+rides[helicopter] and lurch towards the skies.
Strapped in and with "The Ride of The Valkyries" blasting through my mind, Apocalypse Now-style, we swoop, dip and dive over the low-lying shrubs that follow the Katherine River, which has twisted and carved its way through the sandstone to form the dramatic gorge, split into 13 sections all lined by imposing orange cliffs.
From being close enough to admire the gorges' intricate nooks and wallowing water buffalos, we soar upwards to see the plunging crevices against the backdrop of an endless Outback. This is nature viewing at its most exciting - and I celebrate by firing off my camera like a trigger-happy gunner.