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Australian 4x4 Tag Along Tours - Oodnadatta Track

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Marree Hotel, Oodnadatta Track, South Australia

Tom Kruze Truck at Marree, South Australian Outback
   Tom Kruze truck at Marree Station

Oodnadatta Track - South Australia

The Oodnadatta Track runs through the northern parts of South Australia in remote desert country and up into the Northern Territory. Without rain the main route can be undertaken in a conventional vehicle although you may wish to explore some of the historical points of interest in the surrounding areas, in which case you will probably need a four wheel drive vehicle.

The track once formed the main route into Central Australia and the Northern Territory. Its popularity as a main access route has diminished but it has gained tremendous popularity with many as an easier 4wd trip.

The Oodnadatta Track runs from Marree in the northern eastern section of the South Australian Outback to the Finke Aboriginal Community Settlement in the Northern Territory, a distance of a little under 700 km.

On the Oodnadatta Track, Outback South Australia            The Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta, South Australian Outback

As with most of these desert trips, the best time to travel is in the winter months from April to October, mainly because the heat in the summer months can get very high.

The Marree Hotel is the starting point for some of my Outback and Desert 4wd Tag Along Tours and those taking part experience the true outback pub atmosphere the night before hosted by Phil and Maz Turner, the publicans.

If you are in this area and looking for a place to stay then there is no better, accommodation ranges from fully self equipped cabins to country pub type rooms in the building to camping on the pub premises. Hot showers, good food, a liquid beverage if that is what you would like and a friendly atmosphere, what more could you ask for.

There are a couple of stretches without fuel along this trip, the longest being about 205 kilometers from Marree to William Creek, so filling up before departing Marree is a good idea.

Marree was a main center for the Afghan camel drivers in the old days who used the town as a center for the journeys to as far away as Alice Springs to deliver supplies.

The town was also home to Tom Kruse in the 1930's who was the Royal Mail postman at the time. He became famous for his mail deliveries to outback settlements up the Birdsville Track, often under very difficult circumstances, driving his employers truck and later, when he bought the business, his own.

When at the Marree Hotel take the time to visit the Tom Kruze room at the pub, very, very interesting and a story of one of Australia's true pioneers.

Whilst in town a wander around the now disused railway station is interesting and so is a visit to the Lake Eyre Yacht Club headquarters.

A few operators run charter flights out of the town to Lake Eyre and wherever else you would like to fly over. Helicopter flights are considerably more expensive that fixed wing charters but choppers, without any doubt at all give you the best aerial experience, and never more so than over Lake Eyre itself.

William Creek Hotel, Oodnadatta Track, Outback South Australia
William Creek Hotel on the Oodnaddata Track

The Oodnadatta Track also has a significant historical past as it runs very close to the Old Ghan Railway line, which closed in 1980, and the Overland Telegraph Line.

Remains of the Old Ghan Line can be seen along the way in the form of bridges across creeks, the line the track took, some old sleepers on ocassions and more as it runs through the Great Central Desert and into the Northern Territory.

Heading west out of Marree the track veers a little left at the Muloorina Homestead turnoff to the right, the route to Level Post Bay through Muloorina at the meeting point of Lake Eyre North and Lake Eyre South, these are the shores of the massive Lake Eyre North and the eastern reaches of Lake Eyre South, however there is a good vantage point further up the Oodnadatta Track that gives a panoramic view of Lake Eyre South.

Continuing on the Oodnadatta Track it is now heading west and passes through what used to be the Dog Fence about 45km out of Marree.

For those that don't know the dog fence is the longest fence ever constructed anywhere in the world and stretches from Western Australia across central Australian and up into Queensland. It was put up to keep the wild Dingo dogs to the north and away from the sheep in the south.

Not much of it remains at this point so don't expect a wild fanfare as you pass through, if you notice it at all.

Some 20km from the fence the Hermit Hill and its cairn can be seen to the north whilst a little further on the Borefield Road joins the Oodnaddata Track from the south. The Borefield Road takes you 125km to the mining town of Roxby Downs.

Approximately 85 km from Marree, and 15km or so from the Borefield Road turnoff which goes to Roxby Downs, is a visitors viewing area and lookout which is an excellent vantage point for viewing Lake Eyre South. Lake Eyre by the way is 12 metres below sea level.

Oodnadatta Track is fairly close to Lake Eyre South at this point and there are a couple of stretches along the way where you can see the lake.

About 30km from the Borefield Road turnoff the well preserved buildings of the Curdimurka Siding become clearly visible.

The buildings were restored some years ago by the Ghan Railway Preservation Society and every other year the Curdimurka Ball is held here to help raise funds for future restoration projects along the Ghan. The event is very popular and attracts visitors from all over the world.

About 30 km past Curdimurka is Coward Springs, home to some of the famous mound springs. They are formed when hot water from the artesian basin rises to the surface and brings with it minerals and sediment from deep in the earth.

The minerals and sediment are left on the surrounds of the springs as the water evaporates and, in doing so, slowly increases the height of the mounds so that
they are higher than the natural ground level, hence the term 'mound springs'.

Small vegetation grows around the mound spring edges and the water is home to several species each of snail, prawn and small fish. Some of the species are unique to just one mound spring.

In days gone by there used to be a pub, hospital and railway siding at Coward Springs, little of which remains today. They is a good camping area here which is a little small but is popular and can get busy. In the peak season you will be asked to pay for a camping permit as you enter.

Around 40 kilometers after Coward Springs is the Strangways Siding, also in a state of advanced decay and a little past the siding the Strangeways Telegraph Station, which is one of the OTL repeater stations located between Port Augusta and Alice Springs.

Just before reaching William Creek, which is about 30km from Strangeways Siding, is another public access track that leads of to the right for about 60km to Halligan Bay, on the shores of Lake Eyre North, where there is a camping area set aside. This is a fairly remote track with not much traffic.

Next stop William Creek. William Creek is a small town but probably a welcome stopping off place after the journey from Marree. At the William Creek Hotel fuel is available, some food sometimes and always a good cup of coffee. If you left Marree around 9 ish then this will probably be a good lunch stop and a chance to stretch your legs.

A few kilometers north of William Creek is the junctionwith William Creek Road to  Anna Creek, not far down the track, and, ultimately, Coober Pedy about 165km from the junction.

About 65 km north of William Creek is the turnoff to the east that goes to the Nilpinna Station Homestead a few kilometers off the Oodnadatta Track and about 20km past this junction are the remains of the Edward Creek Siding, also on the Old Ghan Line, and its water softening tanks.

Many of the sidings had these tanks as the bore water was too hard to be used in the locomotives that traveled up the Ghan and was pre-treated before being used.

North of here is the Peake Station Homestead and a little further another siding ruin, the Warrina Siding.

About 110km from William Creek is the monument erected in memory of Ernest Giles who did a fair bit of exploring in the area. The track leading east at the monument leads to the Peake Telegraph Station ruins which comprises of several old stone buildings. Whilst there has been some restoration work done here much is still in a state of ruin.

The telegraph station is about 15km down the track. It is an interesting diversion.

The building of this telegraph station plus the already existing Peake Homestead and a newly built police station made this area into a reasonably sized community. It all came to an end and was abandoned in the early 1890's when Oodnadatta came into existence and most of the public servants were relocated there.

Back onto the Oodnadatta Track and on northwards, and for about 15km away from the Old Ghan Track, the ruins of the Peake Creek Siding can be seen. As the
Oodnadatta rejoins the Ghan the track crosses Peake Creek and not much further the track crosses the Neales River, the largest watercourse on the Oodnadatta

Just upstream from the track crossing is the Algebuckina Bridge which is the largest bridge ever constructed in South Australia and was built to carry the Ghan Rail Track. On the northern end of the bridge are the graves of workers involved in the bridge's construction.

To the east of the bridge is a track to the Algebuckina Waterhole which is a designated camping area. This is a good spot to have a rest break.

From Algebuckina you will pass the Mount Dutton Ruins as the track travels north and shortly after the turnoff to the Allandale Homestead. Shortly the track again
crosses the Neales River which offers several pleasant camp sites amongst the trees on its banks. You would be lucky to see water in the river as it is mostly a
dry riverbed.

Now it is only a few kilometers into Oodnadatta.

Oodnadatta, the town that has survived, despite the Ghan being relocated westward, with a population of around 200 and probably because it is on a main tourist route with not much between it and the next place.

There are some famous landmarks around here with probably the best known being the Pink Roadhouse started by Adam and Lynnie. Unfortunately Adam didn't survive an accident in his rally car whilst competing in a Targa Rally.

They had been around for years and could tell you everything you would ever want to know about the area. Any pink information signs that you see along the track in the region have been erected by them and they have even produced some of their own local maps.

Lynne continued to run the business with the help of her sister but has subsequently sold the business and moved on.

Oodnadatta is the point where many who have come up the Oodnadatta Track from Lyndhurst and Marree now branch off onto other tracks and into other trips. Whilst the Oodnadatta Track continues westward to Marla and the Stuart Highway, there is another track that continues to follow the Old Ghan Rail line to Finke, although it doesn't run as close to the track as it did up to Oodnadatta.

Oodnadatta to Marla is around 210km via the Wellbourne Station.

Oodnadatta it is also the start of the Simpson Desert trip for many to the north east and has become one of the most popular 4wd trips and desert crossings of modern times. On occasions there are even traffic jams as vehicles get stuck crossing the dunes.

The majority of trips through the Simpson Desert are done west to east because the inclines on the westward slopes of the sand dunes are of a lesser gradient than
east to west.

The Simpson is closed annually from the last week in  November until March 16th. It is too hot to travel this desert during this period anyway.

Others will head south west to Coober Pedy via Mount Barry a distance of nearly 200km.

Another destination from here is Cadney Park also on the Stuart Highway. This route is a little more appropriate to 4wd vehicles and first travels along the Coober Pedy road to the Arckaringa Homestead turnoff and then via the Cooper Hills Homestead to Cadney Park.

Cadney Park offers camping facilities, fuel and supplies and is about 175km from Oodnadatta.

The most adventurous travelers will continue north and head for Finke, following the Old Ghan Railway line. Whilst you shouldn't experience harsh four wheel driving conditions on the route it is probably a 4wd track only.

Heading out of town on the Oodnadatta Track towards Marla, there is a turnoff about 17km out of town there is a northerly turnoff to Mount Sarah and the Hamilton Homestead and is a reasonably good track to Hamilton Homestead, which is a little over 100km from Oodnadatta.

The route follows a track that passes many homesteads along the way and cross several creeks and some 285km from Oodnadatta the track reaches Finke.

Finke was a main junction on the Old Ghan Railway and it was suspected that it would be abandoned after the re-alignment of the Ghan westward but was taken over by the Aboriginal community and is now a thriving, although small, town. Don't expect to find too much in the way of food, fuel or public toilets in Finke.

From Finke it is about 150km to Kulgera and the bituminised Stuart Highway.

Australian 4x4 Travel and Australian 4x4 Tag Along Tours operates a relaxed and informal 12 day Tag Along Tour that includes the Oodnadatta Track, Simpson, North Simpson, Hay River, Birdsville, Innamincka, Cameron Corner, Tibooburra, Milparinka and White Cliffs.

It also runs 4wd tag along tours to other desert destinations.

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Australian 4x4 Tag Along Tours - Oodnadatta Track, South Australia

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