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Oodnadatta Track / Oodnadatta - Cities, Towns and Localities

The iconic outback drive, the Oodnadatta Track, is a drive into history, following the route that 19th century explorers trekked, who themselves followed in the footstep of the Aboriginal people of the region, who had used this as a trading route, following the artesian springs and waterholes to be found along the way.

This region played an important part in the traditions and culture of the Indigenous people, with dreaming trails crisscrossing the area. The Oodnadatta Track crosses the traditional lands of three Aboriginal groups, and today a number of Aboriginal people live in the region, together with descendent of the Afghan cameleers, who had settled and married into the tribes, as well as Europeans and white Australians.

Today, the track is a popular holiday route for visitors wanting a taste of outback adventure and to explore the history and heritage.

One of the unique experiences of the region include the many artesian mound springs. A short detour to Dalhousie Springs, permit the traveller to have a soak and swim in the 'healing waters' of 'Irrwanyere'.

Tablelands, mesas, gibber plains, sand dunes, salt lakes and claypans
As you travel along the Oodnadatta Track, you will cross and pass a variety of landscapes. Floodouts and watercourse are common. The sand dunes and swales, sometimes with vegetation such as sandhill canegrass, is referred to as "the soft country".

Then there are the gibber plains, the "hard country", stretches of country covered in small polished rocks and pebbles. Depending where you are along the track the plains will appear black through to oxide red.

The stony tablelands and mesas are the remnants of an ancient plain that provide an indication of the original level of the landscape. If you walk to the top of he mesa on the western side of the track, you can get some good views over the dunes and see how they are separated by flat areas called swales. Whilst some of these are covered in gibbers, others are salt pans or claypans. There are salt lakes like Lake William and of course, Lake Eyre.

Further variety is adding to the landscape with Peake and Denison Ranges in the north and Willouran Ranges near Marree, the dramatic shapes of Hermit and Pigeon Hill at Bopeechee, along with rocky outcrops at intervals along the Track.

As you travel along the Track you may notice small depressions where the ground cover is denser and more diverse. This is because water and nutrients accumulate there, being held for extended periods. These are gilgais (crab holes to the locals) and can range from a few metres in diameter, up to 10 metres in the gibber plain.

In this dune country you may notice that the Oodnadatta Track follows the swales (the flat areas between the dunes), every now and then crossing a dune to move into and along the next swale.

There is a great document from the South Australian Tourism Commission called 'The Oodnadatta Track - String of Springs'1 and a similar document from the SAAL NRM Publication & Resources Factsheets and Brochures2, which are available for download as a PDF.

Big dog, Mutonia Sculpture Park - Alberrie Creek
Big dog, Mutonia Sculpture Park - Alberrie Creek.

Oodnadatta Track Attractions

Marree to William Creek
• The track from Marree to William Creek is approximately 203 km, with 8 disused railway sidings, a repeater station, artesian mound springs and other ruins, relics of a bygone era.
Alberrie Creek
• Once a railway siding on the old Ghan line, Alberrie Creek would have fallen off the map, except for the wondrous Mutonia Sculpture Park.
Algebuckina Bridge
• About 50 km south-east of Oodnadatta, at the Neales River Crossing is the Algebuckina Bridge. Spanning over half a kilometre, this is South Australia's longest rail bridge.
Artesian Mound Springs
• The Oodnadatta Track passes through the incredible natural phenomenon known as the ‘artesian mound springs’, that stretch from Marree, pass the popular Dalhousie Springs and a number of others.
Coward Springs
• Known as Coward Springs Campground and Heritage Area, Coward Springs today is privately owned and managed. Once siding, part of the Old Ghan Railway it has a permanent wetland, providing an oasis for wildlife, the 'natural spa', a self-guided heritage walk, and of course campground facilities.

Located next to Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, the Coward Springs complex has 12 active spring groups, including those in the neighbouring conservation park. The springs were named by Peter Warburton in 1858, after Corporal Thomas Coware who was one of the members of the exploration party. The Aboriginal name is Pitha Kalti-kalti (after the crooked box tree which once stood at the site). The springs were a resting spot for the Urumbula people as they travelled north for trade.
Curdimurka Siding
• With restoration of a number of Ghan sidings by the Ghan Railway Preservation Society, that continue today, the Curdimurka Siding is also one of the locations used by the society to raise funds with an bi-annual ball, held in October during the even numbered years.
Finniss Springs / Hermit Hill - Wibma-malkara
• The Hermit Hill spring complex contains 9 active spring groups and host a number of rare plants and organisms. The Aboriginal word for this complex is Wibma-malkara (meaning Initiation ground of the Dreamtime). This area was a burial ground and a place of men's business, both the site and the surrounding vegetation remain very important to the local indigenous people.

Along with Stuart Creek, Strangways Springs and Mount Margaret, Finniss Springs was the first of the pastoral properties along the Oodnadatta Track. The station was also home to a unique Aboriginal settlement, thanks to the extraordinary lessee, Francis Dunbar Warren. By the 1930's the station was home to a United Aborigines Mission school, a church and a community of up to 200 people. Access is only available through agreement with the local Arabana people.

Hermit Hill is a typical spring of the Finniss Springs Group. From the road you can see that most of these springs are not the classic 'mound springs' but springs surrounded by vegetation dominated by Phragmites reeds.

The darker patches that can be seen on the top of small mounds near Lake Eyre South or at Hermit Hill, are the remnants of the ancient seabed. If you stop and take a look, you will see these sedimentary stones are quite distinctive in appearance and texture.
Hergott Spring
• Declared a government water reserve in 1860, Hergott Spring is located about 1.5 km just to the north out of Marree.
Lake Eyre
• The sheer size of Lake Eyre is mind-blowing. For many years, white explorers thought that Lake Eyre was connected to Lake Torrens, forming an impenetrable 'horseshoe'. The myth was dispelled after Corporal Alfred Burtt rode through the land corridor to meet Warburton's exploration party in 1858.

As Australia's largest lake and the world's largest internally draining catchment, the rivers that feed the lake cover an area of 1.2 million square kilometres. Yet for the most part, Lake Eyre is usually a dry salt lake. Halligan Bay is the lowest pin at 15.2 m below sea level, providing a vantage point for viewing at Lake Eyre North.

Lake Eyre is actually two separate depressions named Lake Eyre North (some 8,430 square km in size) and Lake Eyre South (which is 1,260 sq km in size). Lake Eyre South can be seen from the Oodnadatta Track, about 40 km south of Coward Springs.

When the lake fills with water, it brings with it, an influx of birds and other life, providing one of natures spectacular sights, bring visitors from around the world. The floods are generally due to large monsoonal rains in Queensland which flow south via the Cooper's Creek or Georgina-Diamantina river system.

The Lake Eyre Basin is considered one of the world's last unregulated wild river systems. These rivers sustain wildlife and pastoral enterprise throughout the Channel Country of south west Queensland, and the north of South Australia.

The Oodnadatta Track crosses almost all of Lake Eyre's western rivers. These rivers flood infrequently. Although it may be difficult to image the creek beds along the track as watercourses, the reality of their swelling is borne out by the many old railway bridges which can still be seen today. In the end, it was these floods that caused the Stuart Highway and the Adelaide to Darwin rail line to be relocated further west.

Why does Lake Eyre have a salty crust? As waters from past floods evaporated, the dissolved salts have remained behind. When the lake flooded in 1950, a 30 cm layer of salt was left in its wake once the water had gone.

WARNING: Please do not drive on the salt lake - as you will get bogged and you will ruin the pristine nature of this landscape.
Marree
• Originally named Hergott Springs, Marree was once the most northern railhead and Afghan cameleers were based here for many years, as it was the most reliable form of freight transport from the railway to remote properties. The town still has a strong Afghan-Indigenous heritage, with some of the afghan cameleers having settled down here and marrying into the Indigenous community.

There are the Hergott Spring about 1.5 km just to the north of Marree.
Strangways Springs
Strangways Springs is located between Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park and William Creek, along the popular outback Oodnadatta Track, Strangways Springs is a nationally significant heritage site.

Strangways Springs was one of the earliest pastoral leases in the area.
It is the location of the Strangways Springs Overland Telegraph Station, an essential link in the Overland Telegraph constructed between Adelaide and the north coast of Australia, in 1870-72.

Strangways Springs is one of the many clusters of mound springs in South Australia's far north.

The owners were also one of the first to learn the harsh realities of drought, when from 1864 to 1866, some 6,000 sheep were to die, two-thirds of the stock. Throughout the district, some 30,000 animals perished from the drought.
Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park
• Access to the conservation park is via the Oodnadatta Track, with the entrance about 6 km south-east of Cowards Springs. Vehicle access within the park is limited to the several km long entrance road to the parks start attraction, the Blanche Cup and The Bubbler mound springs. Both springs are great examples of natural artesian springs. Hamilton Hill, a large hill in an otherwise flat landscape is an extinct mound spring and another significant feature of this extremely fragile and arid environment.

Source: Department of Environment and Natural Resources


William Creek
• The smallest settlement in South Australia, William Creek is said to have a permanent population of 3 humans and a dog. The halfway point for travellers along the Oodnadatta Track, William Creek is sat on the biggest cattle station in Australia. With Lake Eyre just up the road, this is the place for your Wrightsair scenic flights and memories of a lifetime.
Witjira National Park
• Located on the western edge of the Simpson Desert, Witjira National Park is a huge in one of the driest regions in Australia. The park encompasses a variety of habitats from gibber plains, sand dunes, flood plains, salt pans and numerous thermal artesian springs, often surrounded by lush greenery.

The traditional country of the Lower Southern Arrernte and Wangkangurru people, it holds a special cultural significance. The park contains a wide range of important cultural features and evidence of past occupation.

National Heritage Listed in 2009, the national park is home to a range of attractions including Mount Dare Homestead complex, Dalhousie Ruins and the Dalhousie Thermal Mound Springs, the largest and most active artesian springs in Australia.

You can access the park from Oodnadatta, travellers can follow the Oodnadatta Track from Marla, William Creek and Coober Pedy. The turn off to the park is approximately 17 km north of Oodnadatta. 4WD vehicles are recommended. A Desert Parks Pass is required.
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Oodnadatta Events

Outback Ball • Curdimurka Ball
• The historic Curdimurka Railway Siding is transformed every two years (even numbered) to host an Outback Ball under a canopy of glittering stars. A show not to be missed.
 
 

Source:
1 The South Australian Tourism Commission, South Australia. The Oodnadatta Track - String of Springs (PDF). Retrieved August 1, 2012
 
2 Government of South Australia - SA Arid Lands Natural Resources Management: Publications & Resources - Tourism brochures: The Oodnadatta Track - String of Springs (PDF)
 
The Oodnadatta Track - from gibber plains, dunes, swales and flat top mesas
The Oodnadatta Track - from gibber plains, dunes, swales and flat top mesas.
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