Oodnadatta or Birdsville?

Submitted: Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 07:56
ThreadID: 86935 Views:2786 Replies:7 FollowUps:9
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We will be heading off in 4 weeks up one of these two tracks. We'll be towing a 22' off-road caravan, but we don't particularly like taking chances with the caravan, afterall it is our home.

So we'll eventually head to Darwin and across to the Kimberleys, but we travel slowly. We are wondering which way we should go, up the Oodnadatta Track and then up the Stuart Highway, or if we should go up the Birdsville and then across on either the Plenty or Barkly to the Stuart Highway.

So to people who've done it before, which would you recommend?
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Reply By: Sand Man (SA) - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 08:45

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 08:45
With a van of your size, the Oodnadatta option would be much more doable.

Plenty to see along the Oodnadatta Track with some good bush camping spots although Oodnadatta itself is not a great place to camp in my opinion.
The campground at William Creek, opposite the pub has all the facilities you need and is a good "halfway point" along the track. A visit to the iconic William Creek Hotel is a must stopover along the way.

Generally, the Track is maintained in good condition but adverse weather can obviously change the situation and it always pays to check the SA Outback Roads Site for regular updates.


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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 09:09

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 09:09
Current road conditions in the central regions suggest that either of those two general routes to the top end would be straight forward for your rig (the BV option having far more gravel road of course). The one snag is the Plenty - reports I've heard recently suggest it is quite rough in places - quite corrugated in others and a few wet patches still.
With a satphone and plenty of water, you can probably toss a coin for the trip plan :-o).
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Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 10:01

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 10:01
Such as .... on the RACQ QLD roads site curently......"Flooding and boggy conditions occur at the Crossing near Glenormiston Station where the Georgina River crosses road and near Tobermorey Station on the Queensland/Northern Territory border".
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Follow Up By: Member - Ozzie Nomad (VIC) - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 20:21

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 20:21
Either of those options are acceptable, provided the roads have been graded recently and/or not recently subjected to rain. The Oodnadatta I think is more interesting as you follow the old Ghan railway. Just keep checking locally as the road conditions out there can change from good to crap inside 24 hrs.
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Reply By: Livin On The Road - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 09:16

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 09:16
We have a sat phone, and we'd definately check on road conditions on the day.

We drove the Oodnadatta yesterday from the Borefield and Marree, and it's in great condition, but if we were going up the Oodnadatta we'd turn the other way.

Which is more scenic, and has those great to see spots? Which one is more of a "must-see"?
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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 10:14

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 10:14
I'm hoping to head up to The Isa and beyond in a few weeks, ex Adelaide. If that roads stay dry, my pick is the BV track (we too tow an offroad van) - been to BV before but I'd like to see Bedourie and Boulia, plus the Diamantina NP probably. As for value in either route - hmmm - books on both routes have plenty of history and places of interest to add to the experience enroute (Westprint Heritage maps have a lot of info on the back too). William Creek (eg. on world's largest cattle station) and Oodnadatta (eg. Australia's highest recorded temperature) are iconic places alright, but so is Birdsville. Out with that coin :-o) - then do the other route on the next trip - there always has to be a "next trip".
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Reply By: wendys - Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 16:31

Monday, Jun 13, 2011 at 16:31
I think the Oodnadatta Track is more interesting, for the first time. The ruins associated with the Old Ghan track are regularly spaced and each set is different, so interest is maintained. Some are very photogenic, if you are into photos.
I would suggest a stay at Coward Springs - interesting in itself and a very pleasant spot to stay. You could unhitch van and go visit the mound springs nearby.
Caravan park at William Creek is ok - maybe a flight over Lake Eyre and the Painted Hills from there?
You should be able to park the van for a night or two at the camp spot by the Neale River and Algebuckina Bridge. Rig is probably too long to get beside the water, but you won't be too far from it.
Oodnadatta is a place to fuel, get info, have a look, but I wouldn't stay there.
Last time we did the OT, we went from Oodnadatta to the Painted Desert - very spectacular - and camped at Arkaringa Station. (We had offroad van). Might be worth phoning them to find out how passable the track near their place is. It can be muddy if there has been recent rain.
We then drove from Arkaringa to the Stuart Highway near Cadney Park RH and that was an attractive drive - much nicer than the stretch from Oodnadatta to Marla RH was.
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Follow Up By: Rose B - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 00:16

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 00:16
Hi Wendy - you have basically just described the trip we are going on in two weeks time - is it worth staying overnight at Arkaringa Station as I am not too sure how long it will take to travel throught the Painted Desert - I suppose there will be stopping for photos etc along the way.We will be then heading up to Uluru, the Olgas, Kings canyon and the West Mac Ranges... should be an awesome trip - great to read your blog - I think I'm on track - so many helpful travellers on this site....
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 16:26

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 16:26
Suggest you plan to spend a night at Arckaringa station and take in the Painted Desert at either dawn or dusk. V. spekky.

The station has a website so do a google and maybe call them about road conditions.

We were there in about August last year after heavy rains. One road into the station was then classed as 4WD but we did it OK in a Forester with a CT.
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Follow Up By: wendys - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 16:30

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 16:30
Rose B,
We had stayed at the Neales River; drove into Oodnadatta in the morning and fuelled up, then went out to the Painted Desert. We took several hours to wander around the tracks there, and take photos (we are very into photos). So it was late afternoon when we went on to Arkaringa to camp. The campground there was quite adequate, nothing flash, but we appreciated the warm showers and campfire. When we did it, that track had only just been opened after lots of rain, so the Arkaringa Creek channels by the Station were quite churned up and muddy, and we only just got the van through. Had it not been for that, I think we would have stayed an extra night and driven back to the Desert section for morning photos.
There is nowhere "official" to camp from Oodnadatta to Cadney Park. When we were last there, Arkaringa had "No Camping" signs up once you were on their property (except for their campground). I think there were other such signs at places along the track to Cadney Park. Copper Hills used to have a camp ground, but that changed hands and the camp was closed.
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 17:05

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 17:05
There are a few of my Painted Desert evening shots in this set:

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Reply By: Livin On The Road - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 12:53

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 12:53
Thanks all, it sounds like the votes are coming in well on the side of the Oodnadatta Track.
AnswerID: 457385

Follow Up By: Nomadic Navara - Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 15:33

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011 at 15:33
Just check to see which one is flooded as you head off.

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Reply By: Member - Heather MG NSW - Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 at 07:17

Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 at 07:17
Hi Living on the road,

We are in Marree overnight, having just done the Oodnadatta Track in our 18 ft Outback Jayco Sterling van with rellies in their ordinary little Jayco Eagle? or one of those. Had no problems, apart from plenty of dust on the last leg from Oodnadatta to here yesterday and we spent all afternoon trying to clean out the worst of it. Its part of the experience!
The road, we thought, was in very good condition as far as William creek...like a dirt highway, and we mostly travelled around 60 kph. although I guess this varies depending on weather and usage. There were some corrugated rough stretches, a water crossing, sandy bits...didn't have to get out of 2WD.

And cover your rear window in cardboard as our travelling companions did not take our advice and now have a shattered one to be repaired somewhere! A costly mistake!

We found lots to stop and see on the track, even before Marree - historical points to view relating to the Ghan railway, wonderful and variable scenery, good camps to stay in, water views from the lookout over Lake Eyre South where we lunched.

I havent had time to put up a blog or photos on here but will try to get the time in the next few days.

Spent a night at Farina campground (lots to see at the building ruins of the town) , Coward springs (lovely private sites), William Creek in the van park (mouse plague), Oodnadatta Van Park (not recommended but there is free camping on the town common apparently and its quite safe) and a small free camp on the banks of the Neales Creek at Hookeys waterhole (in Camps 5) about 7 kms from Oodnadatta on the Coober Pedy road. Fill your water tanks before you get on the track.

Plenty of free camp opportunities along the track if you dont mind pulling up beside the ruins of railway sidings and other places.

You could easily get your van into the space along the Algebuckina waterhole...plenty of space along the water and it's very scenic. Wish we had stayed there but I was outvoted at the time.

The road into the Painted desert was fine apart from a pretty long very stony, gravelly river bed but if you took it slowly you could make it in your van. It is a spectacular place and not to be missed if you are into photography. Havent stayed at Arckaringa so can't advise on there as a campground. We drove in from Oodnadatta, left our vans in the free camp on waterhole there.

Suggest you check current road conditions closer to the time you set out. Havent travelled the Birdsville yet so can't comment on that route but it would also be a great drive I think and maybe we will do it in the future.

Expect very cold nights..... great for sleeping.


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Follow Up By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 at 07:51

Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 at 07:51
That is good information Heather. Am I right in concluding that the William Creek to Marree section was not as good? We will be travelling that piece of road in both directions in about 3 weeks, hence my interest in it. We won't be towing anything. Sounds like there is plenty of dust.
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Follow Up By: Member - Heather MG NSW - Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 at 14:27

Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 at 14:27
Hi Kevin,

We found it rougher than the first section to William Creek, especially the bit to Oodnadatta, and also because we were towing 21/2 tonne van. The last section from Oodnadatta to Marree was certainly the dustiest for us.
Not sure what it will be like in three weeks though...depends on how busy it is and the weather I guess.
The traffic thinned considerably once we left William creek to come north and then again from Oodnadatta.


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