The Oodnadatta Track is one of the icons of unsealed road driving in Australia.
Despite its remoteness and legendary status, the track can normally be enjoyed by grey nomads towing conventional vans or driving large rigs. It stretches 630 kilometres between Marree and Marla in South Australia and delivers some eerie and moonlike desert scenery.
Coming south from Marree, you can take an early detour to Lake Eyre. The vast salt lake is normally dry but, when it fills with water, the wildflowers, wildlife and water birds are amazing.
Springs feeding water from the Great Artesian Basin litter the track and that’s why the original Ghan railway (which ceased service in 1980) was built here. Remains of old sidings and Overland Telegraph Repeater stations can still be seen.
The Coward Springs rail siding has certainly been a welcome sight for many a dusty driver and the campground here even has a soothing bore to relax in. It’s a great place to exchange tales with fellow travellers and to learn about the area. As the track continues through the vast treeless landscape, the occasional twisted metal sculpture and sign help keep motorists interested and amused.
William Creek, which boasts a single digit population, is one of Australia’s least populated towns … unless you count the flies! The hotel is an absolute must-stop. If you’re in a 4WD you can also take a side trip to camp at Lake Eyre North.
It’s a further 200 kilometres to Oodnadatta and there are several historic sites to enjoy along the way, including the Old Peake Telegraph Station and Homestead ruins. An artesian waterhole near Neales Crossing is a great spot to swim and camp. The hub of Oodnadatta (pop: 150) is, of course, the ever-welcoming Pink Roadhouse … and it’s well worth a stop.
A further 200 kilometres brings you to Marla, but a side trip to the Painted Desert – which is as spectacular as it sounds – is highly recommended.
Reaching the Stuart Highway again is almost a disappointment for adventure-loving travellers but for those not ready to return to the blacktop, the Strzelecki Track now beckons. That, however, is another story.