The Oodnadatta Track – an epic outback road trip

If you’re looking for an authentic outback adventure, but not sure about tackling a hard-core outback road, the Oodnadatta Track might be the adventure for you.  If you want to experience the desert and see other-wordly landscapes, learn about old railway and explorers’ history and camp out in some of the most amazing free camps, look no further.

The Oodnadatta Track is a 600km unsealed road in outback South Australia.  The track follows an old Aboriginal trading route, and was the original route of the Central Australian Railway (the Ghan).  The railway was moved further west in the 1980s. Today you’ll see many ruined bridges and railway sidings as you drive along the track.

The Oodnadatta Track is considered one of the classic outback roads in Australia.  We drove the track in July 2023, just after a major rain event had closed the track for a week.  The track is normally passable by any vehicle, though after rain it may be closed, or only open to 4×4 vehicles.

We initially thought driving along the track would be quite boring, after all, its just driving through the desert.  However, we found there was plenty of things to see on the Oodnadatta Track. We spent four days travelling from Oodnadatta to Marree and this is our ultimate guide to the Oodnadatta Track.

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Oodnadatta track, outback road trip,

Preparing for the Oodnadatta Track

Before you drive the Oodnadatta Track, you should make sure your vehicle is mechanically sound.  Check your tyres (and spare/s) and make sure you have any spare parts you might want to carry.  

You should fill your water tanks before you head onto the track as there aren’t many opportunities to get fresh water. We topped up our tank with desalinated water at the William Creek Hotel Campground.

Get an up to date Oodnadatta Track road conditions report from the South Australia government website. You can also call the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta or the Maree Hotel for a first hand report.

If you’re heading south from the Northern Territory there are quarantine restrictions for entering South Australia. Check the primary industries website for an up-to-date list of what items are prohibited.

kempe road conditions, coober pedy to Oodnadatta

Getting there

The Oodnadatta Track stretches from Marla in the north west to Marree in the south east. 

Most people join the track from the Flinders Ranges and the Outback Highway or from the Northern Territory along the Stuart Highway.  There is also a road from Cadney Roadhouse and the Painted Desert and another road is the Kempe Road from Coober Pedy.  This is the way that we came.

More adventurous 4×4 drivers may find their way onto the Oodnadatta Track from the Birdsville Track or Dalhousie Springs.

If you’re keen to visit the Oodnadatta Track but would prefer someone else to do the driving, both SA Eco Tours and Untamed Escapes offer Outback SA tours which drive along part of the Oodnadatta Track.

oodnadatta track map, outback south australia, 4x4 australia,
Click image to open in Google Maps

Where to stay on the Oodnadatta Track

If you’re looking for accommodation on the Oodnadatta Track, options are fairly limited.  Most people travelling the track will be camping.  There is cabin style accommodation at the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta, William Creek Hotel and Marree Hotel.  You’ll also find powered caravan sites at these three places.

If you’re planning free camping on the Oodnadatta Track, there are many beautiful places you can be out in nature.  You will need to be self-contained with your own toilet and water.  

We found great free camps at Algebuckina Bridge, Beresford Siding and our favourite was camping at Curdimurka Railway Siding.  We had this place all to ourselves!

3 Day Oodnadatta Track Itinerary

We’ve listed the highlights of the Oodnadatta Track in the south east direction, which is driving from Marla to Marree.  While the track is only 617km, there is plenty to see and do along the way, so we recommend spending at least three days driving the track.

Day 1 Marla to Oodnadatta

After fueling up at Marla, turn onto the track and let your adventure begin.

Overland Telegraph Angle Pole

The Overland Telegraph was one of the most important engineering projects of 19th Century Australia. The Overland Telegraph line stretched from Adelaide to Darwin. The section from Port Augusta to Alice Springs was built in the 1870s

When this was connected to an undersea cable from Darwin to Java, Australia could communicate with Europe in hours, instead of waiting months for ships to take messages.

This wooden pole marks the point where the telegraph line turned north.

Overland Telegraph, outback australia,

Oodnadatta

Welcome to the town that gave the track it’s name!  Most visitors head straight for the Pink Roadhouse, which is a great stopover and meeting point.  There’s a campground behind the roadhouse, with hot showers, a laundry and good camp kitchen.  We stayed in the unpowered section which was $30 per night (pay inside the roadhouse).

The roadhouse has good meals and cold beer.  Nigel and the guys we were travelling with all had the goat curry, which was super spicy but delicious.  I had a veggie burger which was excellent.  

There’s also a pub, post office and a very good museum here with exhibits about the Aboriginal history of the area.

South Australia, Oodnadatta,

Day 2 Oodnadatta to William Creek

Central Australian Railway Ruins

Once you leave the town of Oodnadatta you’ll start to see remains of the old Central Australian Railway.  This railway was built between 1878 and 1929 to run between Port Augusta and Alice Springs.  In 1981 this railway was closed after the new Adelaide to Darwin rail line was opened, over 200km to the west.

The Oodnadatta Track follows the old railway, and there are still a few bridges, railway sidings and water tanks around.  This railway was known as the Ghan – which is short for Afghan Express – a shout-out to the cameleers and their camels who built much of this railway.

Algebuckina Bridge

A short drive off the track brings you to Algebuckina Bridge.  This bridge was built in 1892 and is 587m long.  This was the longest bridge in South Australia until the Seaford rail bridge opened in 2014.  The Algebuckina Bridge now stands as a monument to the railway that once was.

You can camp next to the bridge however there are no facilities here.

Algebuckina Bridge, Ghan Railway

William Creek

William Creek is the only real “town” between Oodnadatta and Marree.  The town basically consists of the pub, campground, and the aviation company.  Oh and a few quirky sculptures and car wrecks in the park opposite the pub.

The William Creek Hotel is one of those real “outback” pubs that we love so much.  With memorabilia all over the walls and ceiling, this is a great place to stop for an afternoon coldie.

William Creek Hotel
William Creek Hotel

Scenic flights – Lake Eyre and Anna Creek Painted Hills

Wrights Air offers scenic flights from William Creek over Lake Eyre and also over the Anna Creek Painted Hills.  We figured flying over Lake Eyre would be like flying over any lake, so decided to do the Anna Creek flight.  

Anna Creek Painted Hills

Anna Creek is the largest working cattle station in the world.  At 24,000 square kilometres it is larger than many small countries (and 7 times the size of the largest ranch in Texas).  As the land is so arid, they only have 16,000 cattle on the station.

The painted hills of Anna Creek are similar to the Breakaways near Coober Pedy, but much more remote, and they cover a much larger area.  The varied colours of the Painted Hills were created over millenia, due to oxidisation of the iron ore and minerals in the rocks.

As the Painted Hills are so remote, and situated in the Woomera Prohibited Area, the only way to access them is by the air.  Wright’s Air offer flights over the Painted Hills, and also offer the option to land and walk around.

We did the flight with the landing, and the pilot Aaron took us on a short walk telling through the hills, telling us all about the geology of the area.  The flight was incredible, but we would have liked more free time on the ground to stop and take photos.

Anna Creek Painted Hills

Day 3 William Creek to Marree

Beresford Railway Siding

The Beresford Railway Siding is one of the most intact ruins along the Oodnadatta Track.  It’s set back a short way off the track, with an easy access track.  You can walk through the ruins although a lot of it has been defaced with graffiti now.

You may camp here, although there are no facilities.

Beresford Railway Siding, outback South Australia

Coward Springs

One of the main reasons the railway was built on this route was the presence of water springs.  This is also why it was a popular Aboriginal trading route.  Water from the Lake Eyre artesian basin bubbles to the surface in several places.

Coward Springs is a popular oasis in the desert, complete with a campground and swimming “pool”.  The pool is actually very small, only big enough for 4 or 5 people at a time, but after a hot, dusty day on the track, very welcome.

Sadly when we passed by the campground was full.  The area is open to day visitors between 9am and 4pm only, for a cost of $2 per person.

Mound Springs

Wabma Kadarbu (Mound Springs) Conservation Park is just south of the Oodnadatta track.

This is a very important area to the indigenous people, as somewhere they could access water.  There are several “dreaming” stories about this place. Swimming is not permitted here – though looking at the edge of the pools we wouldn’t want to anyway.

The access road is 4km from the Oodnadatta Track to the two springs, and when we visited this road was VERY corrugated.  There are a few smoother tracks off to the side.

The two springs here are known as Blanche Cup and the Bubbler.  To get to these you will need to cross a rocky creek.  There are boardwalks to each spring and we were really surprised to see water up on top of these little mounds.

We learned later that the water bubbling up here fell as rain in Queensland millions of years ago.  The water has sat in the Great Artesian Basin for millenia.

You are required to have a valid SA Parks pass for Mound Springs Conservation Area. This pass costs $13 per vehicle per day and you can purchase it online. Theres no internet reception at Mound Springs, so book your pass before you leave William Creek or Marree.

Blanche cup, the bubbler, mound springs,

Curdimurka Railway Siding

Just off the Track you’ll find the Curdimurka Railway siding.  Built in the 1880s, the last train passed through here in 1980. The railway line and particularly the cottage are still in very good condition.

If you take the track at the rear of the building, and follow the railway line for about a kilometre you’ll come to a very impressive rail bridge.  This bridge crosses the Stuart River, named after John MacDougall Stuart. He was one of the first European explorers through this area.

You may camp at the Curdimurka siding, although there are no facilities here.

curdimurka railway siding, ruined building,

Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre

The Lake Eyre Basin covers 22 percent of the Australian land mass, or 10,000 square kilometres. Most of the time the lake is just salt-pans with around 200 small sub-lakes.  The lake only fills about 3 times in a century. This is the most spectacular time to see the lake.

The best way to see this spectacle is with a Lake Eyre Scenic Flight.  You can fly with Wrights Air from William Creek or Marree.

Lake Eyre is actually two lakes (north and south) and in season the water of Lake Eyre South is visible from the Oodnadatta Track.  We stopped off at a very interesting information booth.

Lake Eyre is in a depression, and where we stood near the shores of the south lake was 9 metres below sea level.

Mutonia Sculpture Park

One of the most bizarre things we have seen on our Australian Road Trip is the Mutonia Sculpture Park.  Rising up from the desert, these strange sculptures welcome the weary traveller, beckoning you to stop and have a walk around.

Former mechanic Robin Cooke created the sculptures.  He visited the area in 1997 on a uranium mining protest and created the first sculpture in 2000.  There’s definitely a strong anti-nuclear message here.

Cooke made the sculptures from recycled junk material, parts of cars, machinery and other metal rubbish.  From “Planehenge” to the Ghan Hoverbus, the sunflower windmill and the “It’s a boy” sculpture, you’ll be laughing (and shaking your head) as you wander through this collection.

planehenge, mutonia sculture park,
Mutonia Sculpture Park

Marree

Marree is a true outback town, right on the edge of nowhere.  This town is the perfect stop off for outback travellers as it is situated at the junction of the Oodnadatta Track and the Birdsville Track.

The town of Marree was an important place for the Afghan cameleers in the 19th century, and there is still evidence of their influence.  Australia’s first mosque was built here. The annual Marree Camel Cup is held at the racecourse just outside of town.  By chance, we arrived in Marree on Cup Day.

Marree Camel Cup, camel race, oodnadatta track

The Marree Man is a HUGE geoglyph located around 60km from Marree.  It is so large (3.5km long) that it is only visible from the air. The mystery of the Marree Man is that nobody knows who made it, or how.  The geoglyph depicts a naked aboriginal man holding a spear or stick.  

A helicopter pilot flying over the area discovered the geoglyph in 1998.  Nobody has come forward to claim responsibility for the feature, even after entrepreneur Dick Smith offered a $5,000 reward.

The Marree Hotel is a classic outback pub and great place to stop in for a cold drink.  Even if you’re not having a beer, stop in here to check out the Tom Kruse museum.  Tom was a mailman who delivered mail along the Birdsville Track from the 1930s to 1960s.  Kruse became famous after a documentary was filmed about him and his job. The doco was called Back of Beyond 1954.

The Tom Kruse Museum is full of photographs and artifacts commemorating Tom’s life and work.  We particularly loved this beautiful mural of the area and it’s history.

Tom Kruse museum, Marree Hotel,

Essential Information for the Oodnadatta Track

Be prepared!  The Oodnadatta Track is a remote, outback road.  You should ensure your vehicle is in sound mechanical condition, and don’t forget to check your spare tyre.  Carry enough food and water, and its always a good idea to carry an emergency water container.  It gets very hot out on the track, and there is very little shade.

If you break down, stay with your vehicle.  Someone will come along soon enough.  We found even when we had pulled over for any reason, even putting up our drone, people would stop to check we were ok.

Food and Water

You can get meals at Oodnadatta, William Creek and Marree.  All three towns also have basic general stores where you can buy snacks and essentials.  We found getting fresh water was a challenge and filled our tanks at the desalinated water tap at William Creek Hotel campground.

Phone and Internet

Mobile phone and Internet reception is non-existent outside of Oodnadatta, William Creek and Marree.  We found the Telstra reception was fine in all three, even at Marree which was very crowded with the Camel Cup on the day we passed through.

Fuel

The only places to get fuel on the Oodnadatta Track are Oodnadatta, William Creek and Marree.  As it’s only around 200km between each town, fuel should not be a concern.

Watch out Oodnadatta Track travel film

You can check out all the fun we had on the Oodnadatta Track in our YouTube video.

FAQs

Do I need a permit for the Oodnadatta Track?

There are no permits required for driving on the Oodnadatta Track. If you wish to head off the track onto side roads or into national parks or convservation areas, permits or passes may apply.

How long do I need for the Oodnadatta Track?

The Oodnadatta Track is just over 600km, but the road conditions can vary.  There is plenty to see and do along the track.  We recommend spending three days, stopping in or around Oodnadatta, William Creek, and Marree.

Do I need a 4×4 for the Oodnadatta Track?

Most of the time the track is driveable with a capable 2wd vehicle.  I know people who’ve driven it in a vintage campervan.  Some sections can be corrugated, and there are a few dry creek crossings.  Having good clearance is more important than 4×4.  

After rain, the track may be closed temporarily, and then opened only to 4wd vehicles until the conditions improve.  Signs at the entrance points to the track will alert you to any restrictions.  You can check the up-to-date Oodnadatta Track conditions on the SA Government website.

Can you tow a caravan on the Oodnadatta Track?

Almost every vehicle we saw on the track was towing a caravan.  That said, they were off-road vans.  If you are towing a regular caravan, you will need to take it slow and carefully, to avoid damaging your caravan.

Where to next?

Continue your journey in outback South Australia by visiting the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, or the amazing Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.

Questions? If you have any questions or need help planning your Oodnadatta Track Road Trip, simply comment below and we will get right back to you. Or, you can send us an email.

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