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The Oodnadatta Track

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The road from Marree to Oodnadatta is by far the most interesting of the three famous Outback tracks, mainly because abandoned sidings and fettlers’ cottages from the old Ghan provide frequent excuses to get out of the car and explore. Disintegrating sleepers lie by the roadside along parts of the route, otherwise embankments and rickety bridges are all that remain of the line. As with the roads to Birdsville and Innamincka, with care, any sound vehicle can drive the route in dry winter weather. After rain, however, sections of road can become decidedly hazardous when fast-flowing creek crossings and slippery mud can cause road closures. As always, check road conditions before departing (t1300 361 033, whttp://www.transport.sa.gov.au), and be sure to abide by any closures or restrictions in place; failure to do so not only puts you (and those who may have to come to your aid) in danger, but it ruins the condition of the track for future use and can result in seriously hefty fines (upwards of $4000 per vehicle).

About 30km into the journey from Marree, you cross the 5614km-long Dog Fence (or Great Dingo Fence), designed to keep dingoes away from southern flocks, which stretches from the Nullarbor Plain northeast into Queensland. Shortly after, a collection of scrap-metal sculptures at the Mutonia Sculpture Park at Alberrie Creek rail siding becomes visible on the side of the track. Standing in stark contrast to its harsh desert surrounds, it is an interesting, if not bizarre, photo opportunity. Another 50km along, near Curdimurka ruins, the road runs within sight of Lake Eyre South, giving a flavour of its bigger sister if you can’t get out there. Twenty-five kilometres later, a short track south ends below three conical hills – two of which, the Bubbler and the perfectly symmetrical Blanche Cup, have hot, bubbling mound springs at the top, created when water escaping from the artesian basin deposits heaps of mud and minerals. One of these bores is not far up the road at Coward Springs, where a corroded pipe spilling into ponds has created an artificial environment of grasses and palms behind a campsite, with toilet blocks and showers and a refreshing outdoor spa created from the spring. WILLIAM CREEK, 75km further, has a resident population of just three – and is a source of fuel, camping and relaxation in the hotel (t08/8670 7880, whttp://www.williamcreekhotel.net.au). The hotel’s bar, walls and ceiling are heavily decorated with cards and photographs of 4WD disasters, and it also serves as a hangout for stockmen from Anna Creek Station, the world’s largest cattle property, covering an area the size of Belgium. A solar-powered phone outside faces the battered remains of a Black Arrow missile dragged off the Woomera Range. Off-road drivers can take a 70km track from here to Lake Eyre’s western shore; in the other direction is a more passable road to Coober Pedy, though there’s almost nothing to see on the way.

After William Creek the track gets rougher, crossing sand dunes and stony country cut by frequent rocky creeks – take care after rain. On the last stretch to Oodnadatta, look out for the extraordinary red and black crescent petals of Sturt’s desert pea, the state emblem, growing by the roadside.

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