A Taste of the Oodnadatta Track

Trip Start Apr 05, 2011
Trip End Nov 15, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Running from Marree in the south east to Marla in the north west this is a journey that is well worth the effort. For the most part following the Ghan Heritage Trail, this is a route that is full of pleasant surprises, great characters and breathtaking scenery.  Adam and Lyn Plate (from the Oodnadatta Roadhouse) have worked tirelessly to promote this area and have put together a detailed mud map and signposted as many of the attractions along the track as possible.  Without their information we may well have missed so many great sites. 

We just loved getting out along the track and exploring the area for it didn't matter how many times we’d drive the same stretch of road it was different every time and kept us captivated.  Following are a few of our favourite places and experiences starting 110kms south of William Creek at Lake Eyre South.

Access to Lake Eyre South is relatively easy in comparison to Lake Eyre North as the Oodnadatta Track runs along the southern end of the lake with a large viewing area where people often take to camping for the night.  And what a sight it is, this massive body of water just dominates the landscape, glistening under the sunlight day after day.  From here it is an easy walk down to the lake’s edge and when we were there we were able to walk out into the lake, though in saying that we did sink deeper and deeper into the mud as we made our way closer to the water.  We are sure you’d pay a fortune at a Day Spa for the same natural mud treatment on one’s feet so we considered ourselves extremely lucky.  

A little further north along the track is Mound Springs, best known for The Bubbler.  This was an interesting little pool of naturally warm water, crystal clear, which bubbles to the surface through the sandy bed.  Said to be millions of years old it was fascinating to see, as was the surrounding area which was mostly flat plains yet with these mounds just rising up from years of sediment being pushed to the surface and spilling out. 

Just up the road is Coward Springs, an old railway settlement dating back to 1887 now a welcome oasis to any weary traveler along the track

With a mail run already stretching some 600kms, Pete (the postie), doesn’t quite make it there and so whenever we headed this way we also delivered the mail.  Through one of these deliveries we were lucky enough to spend some time with Greg.  We really enjoyed hearing his story and having the opportunity to look through the Station Masters house.  A labor of love, Greg and his partner Prue (a very talented artist) have restored it, along with the Engineers Cottage which now houses a museum.  They have also developed a lovely campground, sprinkled with Date palms and the cleanest facilities we have encountered in our travels!  Perhaps the biggest draw card is the natural spa, a small pool which edges the wetlands.   It was so nice to sit and soak in the soft warm water.  The wetlands always seemed to have an array of birds strolling through, on one occasion there was a pair of brolgas gracing our presence.

Greg having caught and trained wild camels for over 20 years does a couple of camel safaris a year and so if ever you feel the inclination for a little outback adventure this could be just the thing! 

About 40kms south of William Creek is Strangways Springs where the ruins from its time as an Overland Telegraph Repeater Station can still be seen today.  Having only operated from 1872 to 1896 we were amazed by how much of the settlement is still standing.  We found it very interesting and totally unexpected.

Having been raving about the ruins at Strangways we were told that we should see The Peake ruins and so off we set.  About 115kms north of William Creek we turned off the Oodnadatta Track and onto the 15km track that would take us to the ruins.  The term 'goat track’ is fitting of this drive with deep corrugation, large ruts, dry rocky creek crossings and deep water filled pot holes closer to the springs.  It was great fun!

Here the Overland Telegraph Repeater Station operated from 1872 until 1891, then in 1900 the settlement was revived with the opening of a copper mine and smelter.  This venture however was not successful and only operated for 4 years.  The ruins were simply amazing, the lovely stone structures, mostly still standing strong against the elements.  It was a great area to walk around rewarding us with spectacular views around the surrounding countryside and so worth the drive in.

A little further north along the Oodnadatta Track is Algebuckina, an old Ghan Railway siding and bridge.  The bridge was built to span the Neales River and was one of the longest railway bridges in its day.  There is a story of how with the road flooded a character eyed off the railway bridge, obviously a gambling man, he weighed up the odds of a train coming at the same time and opted to drive his car across the railway bridge…Well a train did come along and the car was pushed back along the line tumbling down the embankment where it still sits today! 

To the right there is another track leading off and once through the Peake Station gate there is a fabulous area in which to camp along the river banks.  Scott (cook extraordinaire from the WCH) borrowed one of our kayaks and took an overnight paddle along the Neales River from there and said it was pure magic. 

At Oodnadatta we were thrilled to join about 250 others at their annual Races and Gymkhana Day.  We were surprised to find just how many people we knew once we got there.  Kane, Aaron, Sophie and Jo from Anna Creek Station were all competing in events so it was great to be able to cheer them on.

There is nothing like watching someone ride who is as one with their horse and here the level of skill was just inspiring.  Being such city slickers there was many an event we had never seen or heard of that kept us constantly entertained.

Speaking of skill the winner of the Oodnadatta Cup was owned, trained and ridden by the same lady, brilliant work!  With a running start, the horses would thunder past the winning post along with a cloud of dust not unlike a miniature dust storm!  Oh, how we loved it!

On an overnight camping trip we headed north of Oodnadatta and ventured off the track up to Dalhousie Springs on the edge of the Simpson Desert for a night under the stars.  As we drove across the Fogartys Claypan we encountered a light shower of rain, and with previous rain having fallen, there were clumps of red clay flicking up and showering our car like cow paddies! 

Being intrigued by the history of the Ghan we couldn’t resist a stop at the old Pedirka Siding to look through the ruins.  Traveling across the grassy plains we were in awe of the rich red soil that spread out along the road leading up to the blonde grasses, this combined with the dramatic stormy sky made it so very pretty and dramatic.  We just loved the drive, mesas and creeks cropping up unexpectedly here and there.  A couple of bustards caught our attention as they made their way across to a waterhole.

In places the roads were so smooth, in others there was merely a track and yet we enjoyed the variety and experience even when we thought we would be stuck due to the rain.  We stopped at the Dalhousie Ruins, lovely remnants of a bygone era with gorgeous date palms still looking strong and healthy adding to the beauty of the ruins.

At Dalhousie Springs we were delighted to find a fabulous camp ground and the springs themselves were just brilliant.  A large and deep waterhole bordered by flora it was so nice to step into 37 degree water, it was like a nice bath and the water was so much cleaner and softer than the artesian bore water down at William Creek.  The Dalhousie Goby, a small fish unique to this waterhole would have a little nibble on us whenever it got the chance.

The only down side was having to get out of the springs as there was a cool breeze blowing!  Whilst it would have been an awesome place to camp we decided to carry on to Mt Dare and camp at the hotel as we were keen to tick this off our list of ‘Outback Hotels’ we have visited.  The road was nothing more than a rough track which at times was challenging for it was getting later and we were driving for the most part directly into the sun.

When we arrived at the hotel there looked to be a decent number of people around and so we got a camp site and opted to go back in for dinner.  To cut a long story short, we had to preorder and prepay for our dinner, which when presented was well less than average, the place was devoid of atmosphere and we felt completely ripped off!  Not wanting to give them any more of our money we went back to our camp, lit the fire and sat around the camp fire with a delicious glass of red and admired the twinkling night sky.

Taking a slightly different route back we stopped off at the ruins of the first Kidman homestead at Eringa Waterhole, a cracker of a spot to camp and a popular one looking at all the used camp fires.  There was an abundance of birdlife around this large waterhole and they must all have strong lungs for there was deafening squawking!  By the time we arrived back at the Creek the Navara was sporting a new shade of red!

When we decided to visit the Painted Desert it involved a 600km loop drive along dirt roads and whilst the Oodnadatta Track was in great condition some of the other tracks were a little worse for wear!

Just south of Oodnadatta we turned west and bounced our way across the countryside admiring the stunning scenery as we went.  There was no mistaking the Painted Desert as it came into view, like a watercolour painting an array of colours just all melded into one another as they flowed down the sides of the hills.  So unique, and spectacularly beautiful it was hard to drag ourselves away. 

The drive on through Arckaringa Station and down to Mt Barry was a little rough, continuing through to Coober Pedy there were some sections where we were driving through long dry creek beds with a thick coverage of pebbles, similar to the depth of sand.  As we traversed the Moon Plain we were struck by the vastness of our surroundings and were once again in awe of this amazing part of Australia.

By the time we arrived in Coober our shadows had grown long and we barely had time to check our phone messages before it was time to head back out to William Creek.  As we drove home followed by a trail of red dust, the sun was setting behind us, a full moon was gracing the sky in front of us and hues of pink, purple and blue surrounded us.  Oh how we love this area and feel so incredibly privileged to have been able to explore just a tiny portion of what it has to offer and we will be back!.

Whilst we will miss the lingering sunsets, the massive sky, the raw beauty of this amazing part of Australia along with the howling dingoes and great friends we have made along the way it is time to continue on to the next stage of this great adventure.
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Flash Mick on

your photography is looking great Team.

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