DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
The Oodnadatta Track is one of the most scenic and interesting drives in Australia. The country is flat to gently undulating for the most part and the gravel road is generally kept in good condition.
The Oodnadatta Track runs between
Marla on the Stuart Highway and Marree, at the southern end of the Birdsville Track.
The most interesting parts of the Oodnadatta Track lie between Oodnadatta and Marree, so the best way to run it is by avoiding the Marla to Oodnadatta section in favour of a drive through the spectacular Painted Desert.
The tracks to this area run from Cadney Homestead on the Stuart Highway, or in times of flood, from Coober Pedy.
There are two alternative routes to Oodnadatta from Alice Springs that avoid the bitumen Stuart Highway.
One is via the Old Ghan Track to Finke, with an optional 90km return side trip to Chambers Pillar. This track is nearly always very rough and corrugated. The other is via Santa Theresa and Old Andado Station.
Both these routes join at New Crown Station and pass through Abminga ruins and the beautiful campsite at Eringa Waterhole. From there it’s
an easy run south the Oodnadatta.
The Oodnadatta Track parallels the Old Ghan Railway Line south of Oodnadatta as far as Marree and the roadside is dotted with railway stations and other relics. Train nuts can spend days on this road!
The bridge at Algebuckina crosses the Neales River and makes a brilliant photo at sunset. If you bush camp there you can hear the bridge creaking as it cools down at night.
You used to be able to have a shower under the operating bore at Beresford, but that’s been capped in the interests of saving Artesian Basin water, so you can save your tub for the warm spa at Coward Springs, named after one of the members of Warburton’s 1858 expedition.
Coward Springs was an important link on the Old Ghan railway line and once boasted a hotel and a general store. Today, it’s notable for its excellent campgrounds and a restored engine-crew rest house that is now a museum.
Only a few kilometres east of Coward Springs are the bubbling mound springs at Wabma Kadarbu.
These mound springs were important wate sources for Aboriginal people and for early white settlers.
Sadly, the springs have lost pressure because of excessive bore use and the now calm spring once called the ‘Bubbler’ needs to be renamed.
A 50cm water line built in 2016 for the uranium mine at Roxby Downs will most likely kill off flows from the few remaining mound springs in this region.
A relatively recently developed highlight of the Oodnadatta Track is at Strangways Springs. Former pastoral buildings and unique stone stockyards have been partially restored; as have buildings constructed for what was a repeater station on the overland telegraph line.
The site features
marked walks around this mound-spring area and informative plaques provide excellent information about this historic area.
William Creek was established as a coaling station for the Old Ghan railway line in 1889 and boasted a general store and a pub with a dining room for train passengers.
The Old Ghan’s heyday was during World War II, when the number of trains per week leapt from three to as many as 56!
Today William Creek is a popular tourist stopover on the Oodnadatta Track, with fuel, a roadhouse, a pub and campgrounds. There is a display of pastoral, railway and rocket range relics in front of the roadhouse. The rocket remains come from the flight path of tests carried out at Woomera during the
early Cold War years.
At William Creek there’s a sandy track leading to ABC and Halligan Bays on Lake Eyre, and another runs from just north of Marree, via Muloorina Station to another part of the Lake.
From here it’s a mostly good gravel and sand road to Lake Eyre, but the surface is badly corrugated over the last 10 kilometres. Along the route is a sombre memorial to a German tourist who perished of thirst here in 1998.
Halligan Bay comes as a pleasant surprise after the brown and grey waste of ABC Bay. At Halligan Bay the lake edge is made up of vegetated, low dunes that run down to the salt encrusted, silt lake surface. Halligan Bay is the lowest point in Australia, at 15.2 metres below sea level.
The picnic area has composting toilets and shaded tables, plus a bush campsite that can accommodate three or four vehicles.
The run to Lake Eyre through Muloorina Station is graded dirt and is generally easy going, apart from some corrugated sections, occasional deep ruts and sandy stretches.
The track cuts through the modern Dog Fence and later, through an alignment of the original Fence. There’s an excellent campsite at Muloorina Waterhole, complete with flushing toilets and this makes an ideal base for exploration of Madigan Gulf, on Lake Eyre, some 40 kilometres to the north.
Useful phone numbers are Oodnadatta Roadhouse (08) 8670 7822 and Police (Marla) (08) 8670 7020 (Marree (08) 8675 8346.