|The Oodnadatta Track - Quick Facts|
William Creek Hotel
The Oodnadatta Track passes through a mixture of plains and undulating countryside, skirting at its south eastern end the vast expanse of Lake Eyre. Largely following the route of explorer John McDouall Stuart and, later, the Old Ghan railway, remnants and sidings of which feature prominently on the trip, the track is a natural earth road. It’s generally well maintained, wide and reasonably smooth, however like any outback track its condition can change. Expect corrugations, potholes, loose stones, sand patches and occasional bulldust.
It is generally passable to conventional vehicle nowadays, although you should ask for updates on the road conditions as you go along and take care. After rain, it is probably only suitable for 4WDs.
There is plenty of water along the track in springs and bores but none of it is drinkable, so take your own. It is also advisable to take wood with you for campfires -- there are many railway sleepers around, but it seems a shame to destroy them as they are part of Australia's rail history.
Apart from the railway, highlights of the track include relics of the Overland Telegraph Line, which was erected between 1870-72 to open up communications between Port Augusta and Darwin, the mound springs in Wamba Kadarbu National Park and access to Lake Eyre National Park, via William Creek. You will need a Desert Parks Pass for the national park.
Marree is a little place, once a major railhead for cattle but now the commercial centre for the region and the jump-off point for both the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Tracks.
Just out of Marree, a road to the right will take you to Lake Eyre North via Muloorina Homestead, a distance of about 90km. After crossing the famous Dog Fence, which runs from the Great Australian Bight up to Queensland, the track passes through increasingly hilly country until you come to a turnoff to the left. This is the Borefield Road, the main route from this part of the country to the mining towns of Roxby Downs and Andamooka which are well worth the detour if you have the time.
A little further will bring you to a couple of short tracks which lead to lookouts. These offer magnificent vantage points over the vastness of Lake Eyre and provide access to its shores. Don't attempt to drive on the lakebed -- it's strictly forbidden and anyway, just below that beautiful salt crust lies a slimy, black ooze that will swallow your vehicle in no time. About once every eight years the lake fills with water, an amazing and unexpected sight which becomes the breeding ground of an enormous number of birds such as pelicans, silver gulls, avocets and gull-billed terns.
The surrounding national park takes in all of Lake Eyre North and the Tirari Desert and is a massive 1,228,000ha. Tirari is known for its vast north-south dunes and salt lakes -- in one, Lake Ngapakaldi, important fossil deposits have been discovered.
Curdimurka Siding, although deserted, has been preserved as a reminder of the Old Ghan with a stretch of rail, a fettlers' cottage, water tower and water softener tower still intact.
Twenty-four kilometres from here, a track to the left leads to the Bubbler and Blanche Cup mound springs, an absolute must see and part of the Wamba Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park. Created by pressure from the Great Artesian Basin, the springs are beautiful to behold and a great way to cool off! Signs have been placed around them offering interpretative details and make for an interesting read. The track continues in a loop past the springs, coming back on to the Oodnadatta just before the turnoff to the old Coward Springs rail siding.
Coward Springs was once a small settlement - the 'ruins' are now restored with one open as an interpretive centre, much used by campers and visitors. The whole site is heritage listed and very much alive with travellers and activity. There is a campground here with toilet and shower facilities and you can swim in the pool created by the bore sunk in the 1880s to service the local community.
The ruins of Beresford rail siding lie 24km away, opposite the extinct mound spring that is Beresford Hill and not far from a trail leading to an historic rocket tracking emplacement, used during rocket launching tests at Woomera a couple of decades ago. From here, it is only 13km to the Strangways siding ruins, bore and springs and the ruins of the Strangways Telegraph Repeater Station, built in 1872 and now under a State heritage listing. Like Coward Springs, Strangways was once the hub of a tiny community, long since departed from the region.
Beyond Strangways, the track crosses ancient floodplains and dunefields, past the salt Lake William, finally reaching William Creek. One of the smallest town in South Australia (a population hovering around 7), William Creek lies within the boundaries of Anna Creek, the largest cattle station in the world at over 30,000km². Originally built as part of the Overland Telegraph, the town developed as a rail siding and today consists of an old pub and a couple of houses, servicing the surrounding homesteads and playing host to the annual gymkhana and picnic race meeting held the week before Easter.
Facilities at the William Creek Hotel include accommodation, campsites, a telephone (apparently the world's first solar-powered one), meals, fuel and tyre and minor mechanical repairs. The hotel can arrange joy flights around the local area from March to November.
Across the road is the relatively new William Creek Campground and General Store, which also has cabins and Dingo’s Licensed Café and Grill.
Seven kilometres before you reach William Creek is a right turn on to an access road to Halligan Bay, on the edge of Lake Eyre North. It’s a 64 km trip, suitable for 4WD vehicles only, and you must be self sufficient in food, water and fuel.
Day and camping permits for Lake Eyre are available at the William Creek Store. A 24 hour pass, which includes vehicle access and 1 night camping, costs $20. If you’re planning to visit several of SA’s outback parks, a Desert Parks Pass, which is valid for 12 months access and camping, and includes a terrific map/information pack, costs $95. It’s also available at William Creek.
Five kilometres from William Creek is the access track to Anna Creek Homestead and Coober Pedy, 160km away over rough sandhills and barren plains. It passes through the Woomera Prohibited Area, so you will have to keep to the track and be warned -- it is extremely remote and can be treacherous after rain, so check its condition with the pub before setting out.
More ruins of railway sidings and long- disbanded settlements can be seen along this section of the Oodnadatta Track, namely at Edward Creek and Warrina, but the landscape is a little different with creeks running down from the Davenport Range. The Old Peake Telegraph Station and Homestead ruins are particularly worth a look. An historic site, they were once a major centre on the Overland Telegraph Line, the base for explorer Ernest Giles on his western surveys and supported a small copper mining community until the early 1900s. A memorial to Giles lies nearby.
An artesian waterhole lies just downstream of Neales Crossing, a lovely place for a swim on a hot day.
From here to Oodnadatta, you cross the major channel system that is Neales River or The Neales, such an enormous river in flood that the Algebuckina railway bridge that crosses it is over half-a-kilometre long. An artesian waterhole lies just downstream of Neales Crossing, a lovely place for a swim on a hot day, and you can camp around here too. Fifty-eight kilometres later, after traversing sandhills and gibber plains, you'll arrive in Oodnadatta.
Early this century, Oodnadatta was the terminus of the Great Northern Railway and a base for camel drivers and a couple of hundred camels. Camels were replaced by motor transport over the years, work on the new railway about 200km to the west of the old line began in the 1920s, but it wasn't until the Old Ghan ceased service in 1980 that the town changed into what it is today. It now supports a population of around 150, is largely owned by the local Aboriginal communities and captures a steady flow of travellers through the region. The old railway station has been turned into a museum, definitely worth a look while you're in town. Facilities at Oodnadatta include a hotel, caravan park, post office, general stores, police station, hospital, fuel (leaded, unleaded and diesel) and minor mechanical repairs.
All sorts of information on road conditions and the surrounding area can be gleaned from the helpful folk at the Pink Roadhouse, a bit of a landmark in the area. The roadhouse also provides hot food, fuel, groceries, fruit and vegetables, heavy transport services, a caravan park, tyres, repairs, breakdown recovery and vehicle transport.
You'll encounter many of their home made signs along the Oodnadatta Track -- apart from being informative, they're extremely entertaining. If you're wondering about the name, it comes from an Antikirinja word, "utndatta", meaning blossom of the smelly mulga or gidgee.
Just out of Oodnadatta stands the Angle Pole memorial, commemorating the place where the Overland Telegraph line changed course slightly and became a landmark along the track. About 10km from here, you can head north to Witjira National Park via Pedirka. Note that the road to Witjira via Macumba Station is for emergency use only.
The road to Marla is well-maintained and features creek crossings, gibber plains and, in winter, masses of wildflowers including displays of Sturt desert peas. The major watercourse on this leg is the Alberga River, which runs parallel to the track for a while near Todmorden Station -- the creeks running from it provide some good camping spots. A track to the right about 118km from Oodnadatta will take you to the Stuart Highway via Granite Downs Homestead along the old Oodnadatta Track, a distance of around 240km. This is mainly used as a property access road and while scenic, will only be useful if you have a 4WD because it's pretty rough. It will bring you out near the Chandler rail siding, approximately 44km north of Marla.
Marla grew as a service town for the new railway and is a modern, sizeable community on the Stuart Highway. Facilities include fuel (leaded, unleaded, diesel and LPG), mechanical repairs, a roadhouse/hotel/motel, caravan park, camping area, general store, bank, post office agency, police station and medical centre.
Another route that will take you to the Stuart Highway from Oodnadatta runs via the Arckaringa Hills, a trip of around 180km. Passing through the State Heritage Area known as the Painted Desert, the track ends at Cadney Park on the highway and, while less used than the road to Marla, is pretty spectacular, generally suitable for conventional vehicles and well worth investigating. Cadney Park Homestead offers accommodation and meals. Take the Coober Pedy road from Oodnadatta, then turn right to Arckaringa Homestead and Cadney Park about 52km out of town.
Accommodation is available at Copper Hills Homestead, approximately 100km further on. No meals are supplied but there are facilities to cook your own. You can obtain detailed information about this route from the Pink Roadhouse.
Image courtesy of SATC