You’ve bought the ideal tow rig and the caravan is “built for offroad” but where’s the best place for a shakedown run before you tackle the hard stuff? The Oodnadatta Track in South Australia is the perfect place to start. It’s remote yet easily accessible, it’s corrugated but not so much that your fillings will fall out and there’s little bitumen to be seen along its 620km distance. Here’s why you should spend a few days exploring the Oodnadatta Track while testing your setup.
HIT THE TRACK
At the southern end, the Oodnadatta Track begins in the town of Marree. Originally named Hergott Springs by explorer John McDouall Stuart after his German botanist Joseph Albert Herrgott discovered the springs in 1859. There are two caravan parks in Marree but many people camp at historic Farina campground, especially when the bakery is operating.
The Oodnadatta Track is an added adventure on The Explorers Way, a route that takes you from Adelaide to Darwin. It follows the general direction that Stuart took and that the Overland Telegraph and railway line later followed.
Australia’s first mosque was erected in Marree by Afghan cameleers in 1861 and the heritage listed Marree Hotel opened in 1883. The railway station is a popular photo spot and across the road is the roadhouse, last stop for fuel and supplies before passing the Oodnadatta Track sign. It’s here that I recommend reducing your tyre pressures (generally 20 per cent) on both the vehicle and the caravan. This will make the trip more comfortable, especially over the corrugations.
GET TO THE GHAN LINE
It’s time to begin your Oodnadatta Track adventure and follow the old Ghan railway line. The Ghan was named as a tribute to Afghan cameleers who transported goods all over the outback and helped with the construction of the Overland Telegraph.
As you get into the rhythm of the road, passing an old water tower, the ruins of a railway siding you will come across an amazing spectacle, the Mutonia Sculpture Park. This is the perfect opportunity to stop and wander, spend the time. It is a good chance to give your setup a good look over; check the tyres, the stone guard, under the bonnet, the caravan. Is anything loose or leaking? Is dust getting into your caravan? Is the lock on the fridge door?
Back on track, you’ll soon be driving below sea level as you approach the lower reaches of Lake Eyre South. It is rare to see water from the lookout, but with the huge amount of flowing down from western Queensland this year, you may be lucky. There’s an information bay explaining Aboriginal and European history of the region, the flora and fauna, the geology of the Lake Eyre basin and where the water comes from that feeds the lake.
Curdimurka is one of the most complete sidings left on the track and in years gone by hosted the annual Curdimurka Outback Ball where thousands of tuxedo and taffeta-wearing revellers would converge and party on.
Wonderments of nature are the next highlight in the Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park. Here, the Bubbler and the Blanche Cup are fed by artesian spring water from far below the earth's surface, creating mounds of mud, salt and dirt that grow quite large. There are several extinct mounds too with Hamilton Hill one of the largest.
PERFECT BASE TO EXPLORE
Not far from here is Coward Springs, a great place to park the caravan in the campground and spend the afternoon exploring the museum housed in the restored Engine Drivers’ cabin before soaking your cares away in the natural spa. You can explore the property on a self-guided walk or see why this is a popular spot with twitchers as a variety of birds enjoy the wetlands.
Enjoy a late start and lunch at Beresford ruins; if the flies are running rampant, this is a good place to hide while you have morning tea. A little further north of Beresford is Strangways Springs, once home to a telegraph repeater station. There is no signage to indicate the turnoff, so keep an eye out as the ruins can’t be seen from the road. The area is significant to the Arbana people both physically and spiritually so please remember this as you wander the area.
William Creek is also a great place to park the caravan in the campground and see what is on offer. The rustic and heritage listed hotel serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week and is the perfect place to hear the stories from fellow travellers as well as the latest track conditions and points of interest you shouldn’t miss.
If you’re keen about a scenic flight over Lake Eyre, the nearby Painted Hills or even Dalhousie Springs, go and talk to the team at Wrightsair situated next door to the pub. Make sure you book a flight before you get here though to avoid disappointment. One surprise is that if your mobile phone is with Optus, you’ll have reception in William Creek, but if you’re with another carrier, continue to enjoy being incommunicado. You can buy Optus cards at the hotel.
Before heading off on the next stage on your journey, run your eyes over everything. Again, check the tyres, check for leaks or loose items, check fluid levels under the bonnet, check your batteries. The reason why you should check for issues is the unsealed William Creek Road to Coober Pedy is just north of here so you can head there if you discover anything major.
The track north is part of Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station in the world. The Davenport Range sweeps its way across to the east and you’ll come across an old rusted car wreck with a nice set of ruins in the distance. You can access the ruins via the track next to the wreck. A little further on you will see some of the last remaining railway sleepers lining the old causeway. If you have a wander you will find some of the spikes still lying about.
From here you’ll experience an increase in the number of dips, creeks and floodways, so reduce your speed so there are no surprises. The gibber plains stretch forever with hardly a tree to be seen. The biggest river that crosses the Oodnadatta Track is Neales River and the Algebuckina Bridge spans its width. Another cracking camp spot, you can choose to park up near the bridge or head out to the permanent waterhole via the gate opposite the bridge.
There are three graves on the northern side of the river near the start of the bridge, two unmarked and one for James Helps, a young prospector who drowned in the river during a flood. The crushed FJ Holden was hit by a train when the driver tried to use the bridge to cross during a flood. Thankfully, he survived.
STOCK UP ON SUPPLIES
Oodnadatta and the famous Pink Roadhouse are next, with fuel, supplies, hot coffee and the ‘Oodnaburger’ available. The roadhouse also provides 24-hour recovery, mechanical and welding services, comforting to know. You can camp out the back in the caravan park or enjoy the free camp opposite the hotel. The old railway station has been converted into a fantastic museum, with a key available from the pub or the roadhouse.
If you’ve had enough of the track you can take the unsealed Kempe Road to Coober Pedy, otherwise, enjoy the final 210km to Marla. You’ll most likely come across the worst of the corrugations as you approach Todmorden Station. Prior to that though, you will pass the ‘Angle Pole’, a memorial to the Overland Telegraph. There is also an old well just past Wooldridge Creek that is worth having a look at.
The Oodnadatta Track concludes at Marla, a good place to enjoy some grass under a shady tree in the caravan park. If you do need some work performed on your vehicle or caravan, there is an RAA approved mechanic onsite, otherwise, kick back, relax and recharge after your amazing adventure. I hope you agree that not only was the Oodnadatta the perfect test track for your setup, but also an extremely memorable journey.
- John McDouall Stuart was the first person to cross the continent from Adelaide to the Van Diemen Gulf as commander of the South Australian Great Northern Exploring Expedition in 1861 – 1862.
- The town was officially renamed Marree on 20 December 1883; however, the railway station was named Hergott Springs. This was eventually changed in 1917 with anti-German sentiment after WWI.
- In 1872 the Overland Telegraph was completed, connecting Darwin and Adelaide, was one of Australia’s greatest engineering feats of the 19th Century.
- The Old Ghan railway reached Oodnadatta from Port Augusta in 1891 and it wasn’t until 1929 that it reached Alice Springs. The final train departed Alice Springs on 26 November 1980.