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Oodnadatta Track and the Old Ghan Railway

By Joe Mortelliti

The Oodnadatta Track is around 750km of dirt track in outback South Australia.
The Oodnadatta track follows closely a similar route as the Old Ghan Railway which was relocated in 1980 and is now called the Ghan.
I understand the Old Ghan got it’s name as a result of the Afghan camel teams who operated goods transport services to the outback stations from the railway towns and sidings..
The route is an adventure of historical interest with railway sidings, stone railway buildings, track remnants, bridges and railway infrastructure.
The route was also followed by the Overland Telegraph in 1872 and that linked Australia with the rest of the world for the first time with telegraph communication under the sea.
Telegraph Repeater Station ruins and settlements are also on route.
One of the main reasons the route evolved is it also follows the natural artesian springs that surface from the Great Artesian Basin, so providing water at regular intervals. You can visit the Bubbler and Blanches Cup to name two.

The track is best traveled in a high clearance 4wd fitted with light truck tyres.
It does get traveled in sedans but needs the utmost care. My young nephew traveled the track in his Ford Falcon and ripped through the engine sump on one of the countless dry floodways that are often littered with rocks from the last flash flood.
A recovery out here is extremely costly and repairs can be very slow to complete often requiring days to arrange parts to one of the remote outback centers.
If heavy rains occur even a 4wd has difficulty getting through.

On our way to Oodanadatta Track we start our first point of interest on the Old Ghan railway route at Hawker where the railway station has been restored and is operated as a restaurant, the food here is very good.
Image: Hawker Railway Station restored, Old Ghan Railway

The Oodnadatta Track starts at the town of Marree. Marree is also the start of the Birdsville Track heading off in a northly direction to Birdsville in Queensland, but that is another journey for later on.
Image: The Railway Platform at Marree.

Marree was a major railway centre with where long camel trains operated, supplying goods to outlying outback stations.
An original mail truck belonging to the “Mailman of the Birdsville Track “ Tom Cruise can be seen here at Marree.

Traveling out of Marree along the Oodnadatta Track you will come across a viewing point that looks toward Lake Aire South. There is a host of points of interest along this route but will only feature some and leave you to the fun of discovering the many others
Image: Oodnadatta Track just outside Marree

Outback humour is special, here along the track at a station turn off in the middle of nowhere… nothing in sight except this umberella…puts a smile on your face as you crest the road and it comes into view

Coward Springs further along is a great spot to camp and features facilities all made from railway sleepers from the Old Ghan Railway. I can recommend this as a spot worth camping at for the night.
Also on site is a restored railway siding building along with a hot spring that is a well presented facility and certainly worth taking a dip in. After a hot dusty day it can be heaven.

William Creek is the next main stop over. The pub here features a dining room made completely out of the railway sleepers from the Old Ghan. Full camping facilities are here but this is the outback, so it’s fully functional, but no green grass and swimming pools to be found.
The bar area also of interest as every square inch of wall and cealing space is covered with business cards, pictures, knickers and G strings.
Light aircraft operate her and can take you on flights over the area including Lake Aerie
Image: Old Ghan communication line relic at William Creek


16 km’s off the Oodnadatta Track is the Peake Hill settlement ruins. This location was a repeater station for the Overland Telegraph as well as an important copper mine operated here, A significant community lived and worked here. This access is definitely 4wd only. This is a major historic ruin with many stone buildings and you can bush camp here.
Image:Peake Hill Settlement

The Oodnadatta Track runds through a red Gibber landscape. Gibber is the aboriginal word meaning small stone of hand throwing size.
Image: Red Gibber

Image Stone Siding Builing, Oodnadatta Track

There are many railway bridges along this route.
Image: A grand bridge The Argibuckina Bridge 580 metres long

Track images were taken just after the track was graded, so you are seeing the surface at it’s best.
It make you wonder why in the middle of thousands of square kilometers you have to go and put a 90 degree bend in the road…washing off enough speed from 100kmph to get around is tricky.
Image: The Bend

About 14km before Oodnadatta is North Creek. This is our favorite bush camping site along the Oodnadatta Track. Don’t camp in the dry creek bed as an overnight flash flood could readily drown you.
Image: North Creek

Image: The Pink Roadhouse Oodnadatta

The very first time we traveled the Oodnadatta Track I planned to make Oodnadatta by night fall as it was our wedding anniversary, and so treat my wife. Well many years latter I’m still making up for arriving at such a destination. Remember this IS the outback. The caravan park was a gravel patch, with a view of a scrap metal pile, in another direction was old concrete footing remains sticking up out of the ground, and the rest of the view was a paling fence.

I arrived just as the Pink Roadhouse was closing so even missed out on treating Marion to their famous monster burger. It was Friday night so I though we could go to the pub for a meal and but it was recommended we reconsider as being a Friday the boys were in, and things got a bit rowdy. The take away food caravan was closed, but they said the lady there could come up with something. The caravan was located in front of a mechanical workshop and surrounded by old tyres, bits of old cars, parts and I’m not sure if the food van was for real or part of the junk yard. We decided to pitch our tent on the gravel as it was getting late and rustle up something to eat from our stocks.
I’m sure the food caravan was fine as outback hospitality is always great, but it just didn’t make the grade for somewhere to celebrate our anniversary.

Just before reaching Oodnadatta is the road to Coober Pedy and diverting up here for 100km (a slight diversion in outback terms) is the Painted Desert.
This location is a photographic delight and camping facilities are available at the nearby station.
Head the 100km back to Oodnadatta to complete the Track around 211km onward to Marla, where you can restock supplies at the general store. A camping facility is also located near the store.

Oodnadatta Track and the Old Ghan Railway

Joe Mortelliti

Geelong, Australia

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