Oodnadatta Track

Oodnadatta Track – Dust, Mound Springs and the Old Ghan

Leaving Olympic Dam the signage gives me the all clear to take Borefield Rd, which eventually spits me out on the Oodnadatta track. I spotted one of the local lizards sunning on the road so was eager to pull up and say g’day. He loved showing me his big blue tongue when I got too close. A true poser. Once I got him off the road I gave him a drink from my cup. It took a little while at first but once he realised it was water he swallowed down a good deal. I was impressed. After that he became more docile and happy, I was able to give his armoured body a pat without him hissing.

A short distance from the turnoff I could see South Lake Eyre from the road. There is an interpretive place to pull up and have lunch and get a good view.

The Oodnadatta track follows much of the Old Ghan railway line, which was closed in 1980. Many of the railway sidings which were homes for maintenance crews living along the line are still intact to varying degrees. I stopped in to several along the way. The first was Curdimurka siding. The old national emblem out the front had seen better days.

Later was Margaret siding.

A small sign on the road pointed off into the distance. I thought it said public dump as I whizzed past but thought I’d take a look. This took me to my first mound springs being Blanche cup and the Bubbler. Mound springs are areas where the underground water has been forced up through cracks in the rock due to the pressure. This mineral laden water is the only permanent water source around. Over thousands of years the minerals are deposited on the surface layer by layer and form calcified stone, creating the large mounds you can now see. At the top of the mounds the water bubbles up and forms pools, with the excess flowing down the side of the mounds into little wetlands, before the water then again sinks back down into the parched desert sands. These springs were what allowed the Aboriginal people to live and travel out in this desert country, providing permanent water sources. The water is somewhat salty but drinkable. I had a taste and seemed ok enough.

Due to the amount of bores which have tapped in to the Great Artesian Basin water supply, the underground pressure has been reduced and many dozens of mounds have dried up and gone extinct as the water no longer has the pressure to reach all the way up to the surface. As the mounds are quite a distance from each other, they have also evolved unique species of fauna and flora endemic to that particular group of mounds. When the mounds dry up these organisms become extinct.
Further along is Coward Springs siding, now a caravan park (and also up for sale if you’re interested). I visited the railway museum.

Beresford Siding was next. It was a little off the road behind thick trees, a great place for a future camp. Looking around I found an old wall and a date 12/4/1948 in the cement. Up a track I found all the old cast iron stoves which had been removed from the building, perhaps to stop people cooking in them.

A large railway bridge was further up the road.

I finally make it to Strangway Springs, home of an Overland Telegraph station and a former cattle station. I camped the night here.
Early in the morning I set off and explored the ruins, cemetery and 2 loop bushwalks out to various extinct and flowing mound springs. The flies out here were quite intense.

Onwards and I come to the turnoff to Lake Eyre north which can be read here.
From there a trip out to explore Coober Pedy which can be read here.

From Coober Pedy I rejoin the Oodnadatta track and visit Oodnadatta. I though from all the hype there would be things to see out there.. apparently it’s quite a dump. The place hasn’t really had any maintenance in a while and the yards are filled with decaying machinery and cars. I visited the railway museum and that was about it. When the last train passed through in 1980, the town was effectively isolated, with no real reason for anyone to drive the 200km out here from the highway unless crossing the Simpson or 4wdriving the Oodnadatta track, so I guess it’s been a gradual death.

I got the customary photo of the Pink Roadhouse and the Transcontinental Hotel. For $5 I camped in the back carpark of the Transcontinental Hotel and had use of their showers and toilets. A great bargain. The publican was real friendly and accommodating. Old fashioned hospitality is still alive at the Continental Hotel. The temperatures were really starting to heat up now, so I’ve begun rethinking my desire to cross the Simpson. 40 degree Celsius days are expected in a few days. From Oodnadatta I finish the last couple hundred kilometres out to Marla on the Stuart Highway.
Although I missed a couple sections of the track due to my detours, overall from what I saw it is a great track to complete at least once in your life. Plenty of history from the early explorers, Old Ghan railway and the Overland Telegraph. All important in the colonisation of inland Australia during the 1800’s.

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Brett is a film maker, hiker, adventurer and Defender owner. He loves the outdoors and feels most at home travelling remote outback places in Australia. The idea of waiting till retirement to begin exploring Australia is not the path Brett has chosen, instead choosing to live life now. Join him on his adventures.

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