The Oodnadatta Track
This is no more the adventurous camel track or the railway service track it has been for 50 years. Let's face it - today the Oodnadatta track is used mainly by tourists. Of course, there are still cattle and supply tracks, but the main reason to travel the Oodnadatta Track these days is to avoid the very boring Stuart highway between Cooper Pedy and Woomera. It's a good shortcut if you want to see the Flinders and the centre, too.
The track originates in 1860, when Australia was to be connected to England via Asia by telegraph line. 3000 km of the line had to be built across central Australia. 10,000 telegraph posts had to be carted to place and to be erected in a desert which only had been crossed once by then. After the completion of the telegraph line, the railway was soon planned. But it took 50 years till it got halfway to Alice Springs. Even these days, Alice is the end of the line.
The main attractions of this track are the desolate saltlakes, the Ghan railway relics and the amazing artesian bores. This is it, unless you get really exited on gibber plains. But a railway enthusiast or keen scrap metal connoisseur like me will certainly love the Track. Mind you, there is an endless supply of wire and other bits and pieces lying around, so this is just the place to fix your exhaust fastenings for free!
Marree (100 inhabitants) has a glorious past as a camel loading station, a pub with a good storyteller behind the bar, the OASIS a shop/cafe/petrol station and a roadhouse. There are even two caravan parks, a police station and a rubbish dump.
This is Marree's main attraction - even larger than the steak sandwiches in the Oasis Cafe- the three Ghan locomotives, the water treatment tanks, the old signals and all the other railway relics. The line and the station closed for good in 1982.
Fuel is usually cheaper than further north, so top up supplies. Make sure you carry enough water on your trip, too. Flat tyres are quite frequent on the gibber, and the many photographic stops will make you very thirsty, too. There is no drinkable water till Marla. On the main track is usually some traffic, but don't count on it when doing the 4WD detours.
Two stupid Austrians did venture to Lake Eyre in 1999. When they got bogged in a dusthole, they didn't even care to start digging. But the girl left the car without a hat - only to perish in the sun. When the policeman found the man who had stayed with the car, it took him five minutes to get it going again. You will surely hear that story two million times up and down the Oodnadatta, so learn to be wiser.
The dog fence
The road follows the Ghan line very closely, so you'll see it on your left heading westward. Soon after Marree 42 kms, to be exact, you'll see the famous dingo fence. This marks also the border between cattle country and the woolgrowing south.
The first ruined railway station will distract you a bit till you get to the Roxby Downs turnoff. If you want to visit an Opal mining town without the big tourist industry of Copper Pedy, try this and got to Andamooka. The Roxby Downs Uranium mine and the township will be a welcome shopping opportunity for some of you, like those who came to Marree from Queensland. In Woomera this road meets the Stuart highway.
Pretty soon after the turnoff you'll have the first opportunity to look at Lake Eyre. This is where Mr Campbell rocketed in his Bluebird to the world land-speed record in 1964. Don't try to do it with your vehicle, whole camel wagons together with the camels have vanished in the quagmire under the crust. When Lake Eyre is flooded once in ten years, there will be clouds of birds.
There is another lookout some kms further west, which looks pretty much the same. The temperature near the Lake Eyre salt crust can easily exceed 50°C in summer, so you'll get thirsty just looking at it.
Ten minutes later, you'll see a white building on your right hand side. Cudimurka station is the scene of the famous outback ball. Once every two years, people come from Adelaide or even further to celebrate a candlelight ball. A group of volunteers keeps the historic buildings in a fine shape, the truly deserve a donation for the fabulous work they do in spite of the vandals. Take your time and try to imagine how the railway workers and their families lived here.
30 kms from Cudimurka, a turnoff on your left leads you to the mound springs. Blanche Cup and the bubbler are artesian springs surfacing on top of a hill. All the rocks and minerals in the water have build up these white, volcano-shaped structures. As tempting as it may look, jumping in is a big no-no.
The detour to the springs is called a 4 WD track, well, once it was, after rain. Once you're back on the road, some more railway ruins are waiting for you. In Beresford 37 kms later, behind the ruins you should look out for the short 4 WD track to the cattle dam. Though the water might not seem too promising, a swim among 10,000 birds might still be just what you need on a hot day. It didn't harm me.
The Strangways Telegraph Station is even older, it was one of the repeater stations built in 1871 to reinforce the Morse signals on the telegraph line. These ruins are a photographers delight. See for yourself, they have their distinct charm in the late afternoon. Watch out for broken glass, though, because too many have been celebrating their teenage raves here.
After a long day among the ruins and wrecks you might think you have deserved a cold beer. The next pub is in William Creek. It's South Australia's smallest town, with a population of 8. Sadly enough, the new hotel owners don't seem to go out of their way to welcome travellers. The old publican made every weary traveller feel at home and prepared a steak sandwich for tea that others would have called a main course. Let's hope this will change again. The pub has still its charm, but the locals don't seem to come anymore. At least a shower is available. In William Creek is also the turnoff to ABC bay on Lake Eyre North. That's where these Austrians got stuck.
The next day will bring some more ruins. The most interesting are in Edward Creek Siding, 90 kms from William Creek. This is also another good overnight spot, if you started early in Marree. Now the track is leading definitely northward. A turnoff to the east will take you on a bumpy 4WD track (for real this time) to the Peake ruins. These telegraph ruins are well -preserved, the lookout over the hills is worth the detour, too.
32 kms from the Peake turnoff is the famous Algebuckinga bridge. This enormous 578 m iron bridge crosses the Neale River. Look twice before swimming, I found one year that someone had dumped his engine oil in the waterhole. Don't ask me how the cattle could cope with that.
The final 56 kms to Oodnadatta can be a bit corrugated, but that won't harm you looking forward to a cold drink in the famous pink roadhouse. They provide the only tourist information and some sort of Simpson desert museum. Thanks to the pink roadhouse there are signposts to many attractions on the track. They must have felt that tourism was the only way for the town to survive when the railway line was closed down.
The final 250 kms to Marla are relatively new and don't contain many attractions - see title.
An interesting alternative will soon appear in the members section
by Annette Flottwell