Running approximately 620km from Marree in the south to Marla in the north, the Oodnadatta Track is a great little adventure to get a taste for Outback Australia. Most of the way you will be following the old Ghan railway line and that in itself the main reason why most people travel this route, but there is much more to see, let me show you.
Marree, South Australia, is where this adventure kicks off and was once the end of the Old Ghan Railway when it reached Hergott Springs (later to be named Marree) from Port Augusta in 1884. The fortunes of Marree have ebbed and flowed over the years, tourism its main attraction these days.
While the Great Northern Hotel dominates the skyline, one thing you don’t expect to see is the building that houses the Lake Eyre Yacht Club. The store next door has a good range of supplies and is also where you fill your fuel tanks. Across the road is Australia’s first mosque built in 1861, giving the Afghan cameleers a place to worship.
Having dropped some air out my tyres, I stopped at the road conditions sign for the obligatory photo before heading east along the Oodnadatta Track. The remnants of the Old Ghan Railway are evident on your left, what looks like a levy bank is where the track used to lie. The first set of ruins is Wangianna, sections of whitewashed walls covered in graffiti and the roof starting to collapse, this is still one of the few railway sidings that exist on the track.
Not far up the track, you will come across something you would never expect to see, the Mutonia Sculpture Park. It is well worth parking up and walking around the strange pieces. When you reach the nearby Lake Eyre South, you will find yourself 12m below sea level! With all the water flowing into the northern section of the lake now, you might be lucky enough to find water at this lookout towards the end of the best time to travel (April to October).
Curdimurka is the next well-preserved siding built in 1888. The local Aboriginals thought that a giant snake named Kuddimuckra lived at Lake Eyre, so they avoided walking along the shoreline. When they saw the Ghan approaching for the first time, they fled! Curdimurka was also home to the Outback Ball that ran during the 1980s and 1990s. The black-tie ball used to attract thousands of people each year.
One of the most popular attractions on the Oodnadatta Track is the mound springs just south of the Coward Springs historic siding and campground. These natural artesian springs are created from water in the Great Artesian Basin that has reached the surface forming The Bubbler and Blanche Cup. There are many mounds within the Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park that are now extinct, but thankfully a couple are still there to enjoy.
Coward Springs is a great place to camp for a small fee and at the same time explore the restored Engine Driver Cottage and museum before relaxing in the thermal spa. If you’re with Optus, you can make Telstra mobile users very jealous.
Not far past the Beresford ruins is the turnoff to Strangways Springs and the ruins of the old Strangways Telegraph Station. The signage isn’t the best so I found the walking track to the dry mound springs but couldn’t find the ruins. It turns out I was looking the wrong way.
You can’t drive the Oodnadatta Track without quenching your thirst and killing your hunger at the William Creek Hotel. Trevor Wright is the Mayor of William Creek and a great bloke to have a yarn with. There is a tidy caravan park opposite the pub and if you want to check out Lake Eyre from the sky, you can jump on a flight with Wrights Air from here. Fuel is available and Optus is the only mobile coverage you will get out here.
The most photographed bridge on the Oodnadatta Track is Algebuckina Bridge that spans the Neales River. There’s also a set of ruins nearby and a couple of lonely graves on the northern side of the river. You can camp by the bridge, but if you follow the track on the right-hand side before crossing the river, you’ll find the Algebuckina Waterhole, a great little spot to stay a day or two. Just remember to leave only footprints and take only photos as this is private property.
The township of Oodnadatta is situated 56km up the track. The famous Pink Roadhouse provides fuel, mechanical repairs, tourist information, cafe and a good range of supplies. They also look after the caravan park behind the store. There’s free camping available opposite the pub and a great community museum in the old railway station.
The final 220km to Marla is good going and although there isn’t much to see it is still a great drive. An old well can be found just past Wooldridge Creek and then you will hit some corrugations as you near Todmorden Station. Keep an eye out for cattle on the road, especially from dusk ‘til dawn. The roadhouse at Marla has fuel, limited supplies, a restaurant, accommodation and a nicely grassed caravan park out the back. Don’t forget to air up your tyres and I hope you enjoy the Oodnadatta Track as much as I did.
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