Oodnadatta Track Guide

The Oodnadatta Track is 620 kilometres of legendary outback track that takes travellers on a journey of discovery, exploration and imagination.

By Amanda
Article from Travel Outback Australia

You might be thinking that all outback tracks are the same: lots of wide open spaces and not much to see or do.

You might also be thinking that you need very advanced driving skills and lots of special recovery gear in your vehicle to see these places.

Well, we’d like to introduce you to the Oodnadatta Track.

It’s the ideal track for first timers to offroad driving in the outback, and yet it’s got enough to see and do along the way to satisfy even the best-travelled outback explorer.

Oh, and did we tell you that it’s Amanda’s most favourite outback track? She’ll make us drive on it at least twice every year.

Dive in and find out why we love this legendary outback track so much.

Why You Should Go

Although the word ‘Oodnadatta’ sounds remote, tough and dangerous, the Track is actually one of the easiest outback tracks to drive.

In our opinion, it’s the best introduction to remote area driving (and bush camping) in the entire outback – which is one BIG reason why you should go.

Most of the time, the track is a very good, well maintained gravel road (except after rain). We’ve been able to travel along some sections at speeds of up to 110 km/h.

This makes the track a very real alternative to the Stuart Highway if you’re travelling to or from the Northern Territory.

In fact, the track is so good, we’ve seen those bright green ‘Jucy Rentals’ vans on it several times.

However, there’s more than just great outback driving here.

For a start there’s artesian hot springs to swim in and great waterholes to camp at. There’s some fabulously picturesque places to camp at along the way:

Then there’s the track’s history to explore. You’re following the route of the original old Ghan Railway from Adelaide to Alice Springs, so there are plenty of historic railway sidings and buildings to stop and explore.

And of course, there’s Lake Eyre. From the Oodnadatta Track you pass right by Lake Eyre South.

Just seeing Australia’s largest lake with your own eyes has got to be worth the trip!

Getting There

The Oodnadatta Track begins at Marree in South Australia and travels roughly northwest for 620 kilometres through the tiny town of Oodnadatta before looping back to the Stuart Highway at Marla.

Although we’ve seen people travelling the track in ordinary vehicles, we really do recommend that you take a 4WD. Any 4WD will be better on this track than a 2WD sedan (or a Backpacker van!).

Along the way, the Track passes Lake Eyre, and you can stop for a quick beer and bite to eat in William Creek, all the time following the historic route of the old Ghan Railway.

The Track also passes by the largest cattle station (ranch) in the world: Anna Creek– and some of the world’s most unique desert features: mound springs.

You can get to the Oodnadatta Track from a few different places:

  • From the south, via the Flinders Ranges, Lyndhurst and Marree
  • Alternatively, you get onto the track along the Borefield Track from Roxby Downs and Woomera
  • From the north, via the Stuart Highway at Marla or be even more adventurous and join the Track from either Charlotte Waters, Andado or after a Simpson Desert crossing
  • From the west, you can get to the track from Coober Pedy and Cadney Park

A trip along the Track is easy to combine with other Outback trips and destinations:

  • Flinders Ranges tour and then head south or north along the Stuart Hwy
  • A trip to Ayers Rock via either Marla or Charlotte Waters, Finke and then Kulgera
  • Travel to Alice Springs via the Old Ghan Heritage Trail or via the Andado and Binns Tracks
  • A visit to Dalhousie Springs
  • The ultimate desert adventure: drive up to Dalhousie Springs and then cross the Simpson Desert
  • A trip up the Birdsville Track (pictured above)

See and Do

As we’ve said above, the Track is perfect for those who’ve never driven a remote outback track before.

But what’s fabulous about the track is the incredible amount there is to see and do along the way. We’ve driven the track numerous times in the past few years and we STILL haven’t seen everything there is to see yet.

You can start the track from either end (Marla in the north or Marree in the south) and still see everything we’re writing about on this page.

Marree to William Creek (215km)

Starting at Marree (the southern end of the track) means you start in an iconic outback town – the site where both the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Tracks begin.

There’s quite a bit to see at Marree:

  • The Blitz Truck that belonged to the famous Birdsville Track Mailman, Tom Kruse
  • Grab a beer, a bite to eat, or stay overnight at the famous Marree Hotel
  • Historic Hergott Springs (just outside of the town)
The famous Marree Hotel: make sure you have a beer!

Once you leave Marree, you’ll pass:

  • Muloorina Station (Lake Eyre access and fabulous camping area)
  • Lake Eyre South
  • Ghan Railway sidings to stop and explore: Callalanna, Alberrie, Margaret Siding, and Curdimurka. Curdimurka is especially well preserved.
  • The outback’s most unexpected sculpture park

When you get to Coward Springs, stop and take a swim or should that be bath in the hot tub? (Yes, it really is a spring-fed hot tub, but there’s only room for 5 or 6 people).

Coward Springs is a popular campground, located next to a natural wetland and nestled beneath a grove of massive Athel Pines. Oh and for travellers with Optus cover it has its very own tower.

The campground can get busy here, but whenever we’ve stayed, we’ve always been able to find a place to camp a little away from others.

The current fees for the campground (2018) are $12.50 per adult, with children half price.

As well as the hot tub, Coward Springs has showers and toilets, camel tours (during winter), a small museum and several walks. If you’re into birdwatching then it’s a must!

Coward Springs has its own great website, where you can book accommodation, camel tours and learn more about this special oasis in the desert. They also have their own Facebook page. Please make sure you check out: www.cowardsprings.com.au

Right near Coward Springs (less than 10 minutes) is the Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park where you can see some pretty unique mound springs:

  • Blanche Cup
  • The Bubbler

It will only take you a few minutes to drive out to these unique springs from the main track, and they’re well worth a look. They are hugely important water sources for the fragile ecosystem in this area, and were used by Arabana (Aboriginal) people for several thousand years.

The Bubbler is a great little spring that does exactly what it says -bubbles- but not quite as you’d expect.

Heading north again up the Oodnadatta Track, you’ll come to Beresford Siding, another of the old Ghan railway stops.

Beresford has a few things to look at. The prominent tower that’s pictured below was used for the desalination of artesian water which was used in the steam trains. Also, there are the ruins of the fettlers’ cottages to explore, a flowing bore and a tree-lined dam.

You could take a swim in the dam, but I’m sure most city folk would be too faint-hearted to try!

Returning to the Oodnadatta Track from Beresford Siding, you’ll notice a hill. On the west side of this hill is a historical site which has equipment used to guide and track rockets launched by the Woomera facility.

The Strangways Historic site is next along the way, on the west side of the track.

Strangways was the site of the first homestead on the pastoral property of the same name (it’s now called ‘Anna Creek’ and is the biggest pastoral station in the world).

Strangways was sold to the South Australian government in 1870, and became a repeater station on the Overland Telegraph Line.

At its peak, it was a small village with a number of buildings. The site was selected as it was next to a mound spring. This mound spring, unfortunately, is now dry. The station was closed down in 1896 and moved to William Creek.

Heading north, you’ll find the turnoff to Lake Eyre and Halligan Bay, a few kilometres out of William Creek.

A side trip to Lake Eyre is well worthwhile if you’ve got the time and 4WD experience to do it.

We’ve written an entire guide to Lake Eyre, so if you’re interested in doing this side trip, you can learn all about road conditions, camping and more by clicking here.

William Creek to Oodnadatta (207km)

William Creek is the next stop along the way.

It’s most famous for its pub, where you can also get fuel, meals, ‘donga’ style accommodation and book flights over Lake Eyre.

At the very least, have a drink at the bar! It too has Optus cover.

There’s a campground across the road from the pub (you can’t miss it – there is nothing else in William Creek!)

Observant people will also spot some Oppenheimer Poles left over from the Overland Telegraph Line when it ran through here.

Heading north from William Creek, the next point of interest is a cairn marking the Elders Scientific Expedition and Edwards Creek village ruins – which mark the halfway point on the track.

Not far from the Elders’ Cairn, you’ll find a turnoff on the east side of the track to the Peake Telegraph Station Historic site.

This makes an interesting side tour, but BE WARNED: it’s 25km in to the ruins and it is a slow 4WD track (took us an hour to get in, towing a camper trailer).

Although it’s slow going, the side trip to Peake is worth it.

Peake was not only a telegraph repeater station, it was also a village and a mine. You can spend several hours wandering around the ruins (which are in reasonable condition), and exploring the nearby mound spring.

You can no longer camp at the Peake Telegraph Station site.

Heading north again, you’ll come to one of the best known sites on the Oodnadatta Track, and what is probably Australia’s most photographed railway bridge: Algebuckina.

The Algebuckina rail bridge is the longest in South Australia, at 578 metres in length.

Whenever we visit, we always marvel at the courage of the workers who built it. Imagine living and working out here over summer in temperatures of 45 C without air conditioning!

Algebuckina is located on the Neale River, and there’s a series of permanent waterholes here, which make it fabulous place to camp.

Whilst many people camp right near the bridge, if you want something a little quieter, head back to the Oodnadatta Track and right across the road, on the eastern side of the track, you’ll find some Pink Roadhouse signs and a gate.

Follow these to a much quieter camping area, which is on the banks of another waterhole.

The drive north from Algebuckina to Oodnadatta is probably the worst section of the track, as there’s a lot of corrugations, some bulldust ruts and a series of sharp bends. They have been working to repair this lately.

Be very careful driving these bends.  Several tourists have died on this stretch this of road, as they were simply travelling too fast.

Before you reach Oodnadatta, you’ll pass the Mt Dutton lookout and ruins. Mt Dutton was another of the sidings on the Ghan Railway. These ruins are on private station property, so if you visit them, please leave them as they are.

Oodnadatta to Marla (220km)

Oodnadatta. At last, you’ve reached the little town for which the track was named!

The first place that most people head for is the Pink Roadhouse, previously operated by Adam and Lynnie Plate.

Adam, who was responsible for all the round pink signs found throughout this part of the outback, recently passed away (2012), in tragic circumstances. However, the roadhouse is still going strong with its new owners.

If you call in here for a bite to eat, the ONE thing you must order is the Oodnaburger: Gary’s favourite!

As well as food, fuel, automotive repairs, grocery items and tourist information, the Pink Roadhouse has basic accommodation and camping as well. Guess what? It also has Optus cover.

One thing that REALLY surprised us in Oodnadatta was the museum, which is located in the old Railway Station Buildings. It’s one of the best community museums we’ve seen.

You’ll find high quality displays on Aboriginal history and contemporary stories, natural history, European history, mining, and the Ghan railway.

We came away from the museum with the impression of a community where Aboriginal people and white settlers have come together and are proud of their history, community and future.

Oodnadatta also has a pub with accommodation, a grocery store and a small hospital.

If you’re staying overnight here, take a trip around town to see:

  • the Teamster’s Memorial,
  • the historic Afghan cemetery,
  • the railway dam (where you can swim), and
  • Hookey’s waterhole (heading out on the track that goes to Coober Pedy) on Neales Creek

The final 220km stretch of the Oodnadatta Track takes you to Marla. This part of the track is usually in very good condition, and you’ll be able to travel a little faster along this section than the previous one.

Although there’s not as much to see along this final part of the track, there are a number of gorgeous creek crossings, such as Kathleen Creek, which sometimes have waterholes and make great places to camp.

Be warned however as you may see cattle along this section.

Resources:

Fuel is available along the Track at:

Marree:

  • Outback Roadhouse: (08) 8675 8360
  • Oasis Cafe: (08) 8675 8352

William Creek:

  • William Creek Hotel: ph. (08) 8670 7880

Oodnadatta:

  • Pink Roadhouse: ph. 1800 802 074/(08) 8670 7822

Marla:

  • Marla Traveller’s Rest Roadhouse: ph. (08) 8670 7001

Accommodation (basic hotel/donga-style/camping/caravan parks) available along the Track at:

Marree:

Coward Springs (camping/caravans only):

  • Call Greg or Prue: (08) 8675 8336  /contact via email here

William Creek (donga-style accommodation/hotel rooms/campgroundcaravan park):

Algebuckina (free bush camping)

Oodnadatta:

  • Pink Roadhouse (basic donga style rooms/campground/caravan park/cabins) ph. 1800 802 074/(08) 8670 7822
  • Transcontinental Hotel: (08) 8670 7804 /email: oodnadattahotel@bigpond.com

Marla:

  • Traveller’s Rest (basic motel rooms/donga-style cabins/caravan park/campground): 08 8670 7001

Road Conditions:

The Oodnadatta Track is a good grade, gravel road that is open ALL year round and is suitable for offroad campers and caravans (with care).

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