the eclectic Oodnadatta Track
Updated: May 25, 2020
2 June 2019
With the whole family in Coober Pedy for the Breakaways Marathon and Lake Eyre in a once in 46 year flood, a trip along the Oodnadatta Track seemed logical. Plus it gave us an opportunity to try out some new camping gear that we'd purchased for a trip next year.
William Creek and Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre)
Despite being relatively early in the tourist season, William Creek was packed. We couldn't get a campsite in the campground and joined a number of others along the fence line facing the air strip. This wasn't a problem as we still had access to the amenities.
We'd seen lots of outback pubs like William Creek before; quirky, small and overflowing with memorabilia. But this one had the crowds. We could barely get to the bar for a drink!
Fortunately we had booked one of the remaining tables at the early dinner sitting—plenty were being turned away—but we were duly evicted while still chewing the last of our food.
Although not on the menu—think meat—they did make us some quite tasty vegetarian fare.
Tip #1: Travellers who want a powered campsite should book in advance. Those want to eat at the pub, should make a reservation as soon as arriving (or earlier). If you don't want to line up to get a drink, walk in before 5.30pm.
Our rooftop tent and swags offered us welcome protection from the howling wind, so we quite happily hit the sack straight after dinner.
Tip #2: Wrightsair operate out of William Creek. They do some fantastic joy flights. Travellers will not regret booking a ticket. This really is the best way to appreciate the sheer size and beauty of Lake Eyre.
Our last trip to Halligan Bay in Lake Eyre National Park was memorable for the wrong reasons. The road was rough and our top speed was around 20km/hr. We broke a strut on the camper trailer and then punched our temporary strut—also known as a broom stick—straight through the roof.
This time we had a much better time. The road had just been graded, we weren't towing, and we really appreciated the beauty of the place.
We decided not to stay at park's campground, but spent some time walking on the salt bed, looking at the rocks and soaking up the desolation. We walked for about 1km but there was no water in sight. So much for the flood!
Coward Springs and surrounds
We had plenty of time until sunset, so we pushed on to Coward Springs for the night. This lovely little campsite had once been a station along the old Ghan Railway Line.
Somewhere before arriving we picked up two huge stone chips on the front windscreen within seconds of each other and a third about 10 minutes later. This is a warning for travellers on this road. While the track was in good condition, the amount of oncoming traffic increased the likelihood of stone damage. Perhaps this was karma for the six months of travel we'd just finished without even a flat tyre!
Once we were settled, the kids enjoyed swimming in the small hot spring which was about the size of a conventional spa. But the wind was still howling and the water wasn't warm enough to entice Drew or I to join them.
The bush-style camp oozed charm, with a shower heated by an old donkey boiler and a restored old railway cottage doubling as a tiny but interesting museum. Even the long-drop toilets were cute!
Non-campers can use the hot spring for $2 per person (half price for kids) which is pretty good value, but the $45 we paid for an overnight stay on an unpowered site felt overpriced.
Tip #3: Self-contained campers who are looking for a free camp could try the Beresford Ruins which are around 23km to the north of Coward Springs.
The next morning we drove to Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park which translates to mean 'snake head'.
We checked out The Blanche Cup and The Bubbler, natural artesian basin springs created from the Great Artesian Basin. Surrounded by little else, the springs, although small, appeared as a bit of a surprise.
The wetlands created by the spring's overflow provide habitat to a variety of waterbirds, which we could hear rather than see.
We stopped at every dilapidated old railway siding and workmans' hut along the roadside. Even in their disrepair, they still had an element of beauty, though it was a shame to witness the graffiti on the old stone work.
Some of the old railway bridges along the roadside had the kids begging Drew to pull over so they could attempt to climb them. They were all set for some adventure until the fun police—me—turned up and flatly forbade it. We didn't need another trip with the Royal Flying Doctor Service!
Heading towards Maree, we discovered Alberrie Sculpture Park. Amazingly, it was on the Hemma Road Map.
Tip #4: Stop here. Not because it's brilliant, but because it is completely unexpected, bizarre and in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It's also free.
Travellers will enjoy a nice bit of food at Marree's Outback Roadhouse and General Store. They have a good range of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as all of the supplies that you've either forgotten or used up.
The town's history is linked to the old Ghan and it has some old engines and a restored siding. After all of the outback dust, it was surprisingly green and almost felt lush.
Tip #5: If you go this way, it is worth diverting through the town for a bit of a look.
We decided to check-out everything we could. We didn't locate the Marree Man, but we did find a sculpture made of stone, a commemorative plague to John McDouall-Stuart and some artistic signage welcoming us to Arabana land.
At this stage we left the Oodnadatta Track and joined the Outback Highway.
And then there was Farina.
What intrepid travellers wouldn't feel curious about a sign to a bakery in the absolute middle of nowhere?
At first we ignored it and then the ridiculousness of it hooked us in. So we turned off the road and headed towards the old ghost town. And it was amazing!
Settled in the late 1800s by farmers who thought it would be good to grow wheat and sheep, the lack of rain meant that it was unsustainable. Originally housing a bakery, breweries and two hotels, a group of volunteers were hard at work, trying to keep it from slipping into further decline.
Their efforts were impressive and we enjoyed looking at some of the ruins. Each year the restored bakery with its functional underground oven, is opened and run for two months.
Tip #6: Farina is definitely worth a look. You can stay there as well and according to the website it is cheap.
Tip # 7: The custard tarts! They have EFTPOS so there is no excuse not to buy something delicious.
We were completely surprised by the Ochre Pits just past Lyndhurst. Not only were they interesting, but the colours of the formations were also very beautiful.
Tip #8: Definitely take the family in here. There is a sign board which describes how Aboriginal people used the different colours of ochre.
We left the Outback Highway at Copley and headed to the Gammon Ranges. I'd been living on flat land for three weeks and was looking forward to the ranges.