Following the Oodnadatta Track
is a journey back to the days of early European exploration and settlement. The most obvious historical relics are the last remaining sleepers and ruins of the original Ghan railway that run alongside the track from Marree
to William Creek
The Oodnadatta Track
is the name given to the stretch of good dirt road from Marree
through to Oodnadatta
, which follows a major Aboriginal trade route - the original track taken by the explorer Stuart, the Overland Telegraph Line and the Old Ghan Railway Line.
Along the Oodnadatta Track
route there are mound springs, Kati Thandi (formerly known as Lake Eyre
) which is Australia
's largest salt lake, the biggest cattle station in the world (Anna Creek Station - owned by Kidman) and an ever-changing countryside that is both harsh and beautiful.
Track conditions are generally good enough for a 2WD vehicle to travel the route, however a 4WD will be more comfortable over the potholes and better equipped if the weather changes as rain will make the track slippery and some sections are prone to sudden washaways. It is also impossible to visit Kati Thandi (Lake Eyre
) without an all-wheel drive vehicle with some sections being very sandy, particularly the Halligan Bay
Kati Thandi (Lake Eyre
) is an Australian identity and is the focal point of a trip along the Oodnadatta track
. The lake is a giant basin where all the inland rivers (Diamantina, Warburton
, Thomson, Barcoo, Cooper, Georgina, Eyre
Creek, Peake, Neales, Macumba
and Hamilton Rivers) converge into a pool of vast proportions, yet it can lay dry for many years on end as a crusty saltpan.
Typically a 1.5m flood occurs every three years, a 4m flood every decade, and a fill or near fill a few times a century. The water in the lake soon evaporates by the end of the following summer. Lake Eyre
flooded for the first time in over 10 years in June 2000 and water could be seen from the shore. In March 2011, heavy local rain in the Stuart Creek and Warriner catchments filled Lake Eyre
South, with Lake Eyre
North about 75 per cent covered with water firstly from the Neales and Macumba
and later from the Warburton
River. But just as quickly as it can fill, Lake Eyre
quickly evaporates under the scorching outback sun.
How to Use this Trek Note
Click the "Map" tab below to see the route we've provided. Icons on the map are the POIs you'll need for navigation purposes. Be sure to check the list of Nearby Places
on each POI page.
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The Oodnadatta Track lies on the western margins of the Great Artesian Basin. In many places
the Basin water has squeezed to the surface in the form of natural springs. Many of the GAB springs are known as ‘mound springs’ because of the characteristic mounds associated with them. The mounds have been formed by mineralised material coming to the surface with the ancient water. You can also see extinct mound springs along the track, most notably at Hamilton Hill and Beresford.
You will see lots of different landforms along the Track. Floodouts and
watercourses are common. In between are vast sand and gibber plains and tableland dotted with mesas. In several places
the Oodnadatta Track
passes through sand dune country where the dominant features are dunes and flat areas between them known as swales. There are salt lakes like Lake William and the greatest of them, Lake Eyre. The Peake and Denison Ranges in the north and Willouran Ranges close to Marree, the rocky outcrops at intervals along the Track and the dramatic shapes of Hermit and Pigeon Hill at Bopeechee provide further variations to the landscape. Each land type supports different vegetation.
The climate in this country is erratic. So, to survive, plants have evolved in many different ways. Soil types vary – ranging from clays to sandy loams;from sand plains to limestone and saline soils; from alluvial soils associated with swamps and watercourses to rocky ridges, hill slopes and hard gibber country. All are habitats for different plants where the distribution of nutrients varies greatly.
Australia’s largest salt lake, Kati Thanda (formerly known as Lake Eyre) has a catchment area from three states and the Northern Territory. The lake itself is huge, covering an area 144km long and 77km wide, and at 15.2 metres below sea level, it is the lowest point in Australia. Flood
waters cover the lake once every eight years on average. However, the lake has only filled to capacity three times in the last 160 years.
When there’s water in the lake, waterbirds descend in the thousands, including pelicans, silver gulls, red-necked avocets, banded stilts and gull-billed terns. It becomes a breeding site, teeming with species that are tolerant of salinity. Away from the lake, the park features red sand dunes and mesas. They rise from salty claypans and stone-strewn tablelands.
The road from Marree
follows a line of mound springs known for thousands of years by the Aborigines until they were 'discovered' in the late 1850s by the explorers
. The Oodnadatta track
follows almost the same route as that taken by John McDouall Stuart when he successfully crossed Australia
Stuart also had the proposed Overland Telegraph Line in mind as he travelled across the desert and eventually the 3178 kilometre telegraph line was completed in 1872 following much of his route.
Because of the availability of water, Stuart's route was also chosen for the steam-train powered Central Australian Railway - the original route of the Ghan and work commenced in 1878. Oodnadatta
, Aboriginal for 'blossom of the Mulga' was proclaimed a government town in October 1890 in readiness for the coming railway. By 1891 the line from Port Augusta
had reached all the way out to Oodnadatta
which remained the rail head for the next 40 years. The town became an important centre and soon had a population
of 150 people. The Ghan line was finally extended to Alice Springs
in 1929. However when The Ghan stopped coming through in 1980, the population
Some of the visible remains of the Ghan railway are the many bridges and Fettler Cottages. Some can still be seen at Marree
, Margaret, Beresford, Anna Creek, Boorthanna, Edwards Creek, Warrina, Peake Creek
, Algebuckina and Mount Dutton
was named in honour of Edward John Eyre
, who was the first European to see it in 1840. The lake's official name was changed in December 2012 to combine the name "Lake Eyre" with the indigenous name, Kati Thanda. Native title over the lake and surrounding region is held by the Arabana people.