It’s hard to do the Oodnadatta Track justice on paper. There are no windswept coastal cliffs or plunging waterfalls; no hatted restaurants or renowned art galleries. It’s the desolation that really draws you in: the peaceful, lonely desert; the open road with hundreds of kilometres between intersections; the unbroken horizons; and the night skies ablaze with stars. It’s a restorative disconnect from modern life, and a ‘phone off except for emergencies’ experience. (Disclaimer: there’s probably no reception anyway.)
The Oodnadatta Track begins at Marree, a tiny town with a population of around 150 in outback South Australia, and travels north-west for 620 kilometres, passing through William Creek, which had a population of three at the last census. The track then stretches over arid semi-desert to the relative metropolis of Oodnadatta, with a population of around 200, before looping back to the Stuart Highway at Marla.
From Marree, turn west onto the Oodnadatta Track through semi-arid desert, passing by oasis springs, historic ruins and great views of the sparkling Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre – covering several horizons to the north, sun gleaming off its white, salt-encrusted plains. Remains of the telegraph line, the old Ghan route, and the once bustling outback settlements – now ghost towns with their abandoned rail sidings – are highlights along the journey.
William Creek (with a population that can sometimes approach double figures when including infrequent pilots) is the next settlement, 200 kilometres west. With a classic outback bar for a cold drink, William Creek is also home to a remote airstrip used by those visiting outback goldmines and cattle stations, or taking scenic flights over the central outback and the Painted Hills – a natural formation of mineral-rich hills fenced off by private owners, which are only accessible by bush plane.
The track’s namesake, Oodnadatta, is the final and largest town along the route. The Pink Roadhouse is the focal point, offering friendly travel tips, fuel, weather reports, road conditions, cold beer and, importantly, mobile phone reception (much of the route has no service). The Roadhouse has been an icon of the desert for more than 35 years. You will also have seen handpainted, pink signs dotting the road between here and William Creek. These were created by the Roadhouse’s former owners, Adam Plate and his wife Lynnie, who lived in Oodnadatta for 40 years.
To read more about this desert driving adventure, read the Winter 2022 edition of Caravanning Australia!
Image: Oodnadatta Track (C) South Australian Tourism Commission.