So, did you enjoy Marree? Let's start the adventure Oodnadatta Track.
The first part from Marree to William Creek (204 km) is a journey back into the history of Australia's white settlement.
The Oodnadatta Track leads through partly deep-red gibber plains covered with saltbush. The road surface is stony but fairly good to travel. The quality of the track always depends on when it rained, and when the grader went through last time.
Several mound springs, ruins of railway sidings and low sand ridges bring diversity to the flat and barren landscape. Take your time and enjoy this adventurous experience. It is a beautiful and varied landscape.
Callana railway siding (R.S.), just 14 km out of Marree, is the first of many relics of the Old Ghan railway line. A rusty water tower and pipe is all that is left. These railway sidings were kind of watering places for the steam locomotives of the old ghan railway. Fettlers lived in small cottages at the sidings and maintained the site as well as the railway line between the sidings.
The next highlight is Lake Eyre South. There are two viewing points about 92 and 100 km northwest of Marree. Lake Eyre is probably the most famous feature along the Oodnadatta Track. The mostly dry salt lake covers an area of 9700 km² and is up to 15m below sea level. You can't appreciate the dimensions of Lake Eyre from these viewing points, so it is best to take a scenic flight from Marree or William Creek.
Warning! Don't even think about driving out on the lake, even if it looks dry. Your car will break through the saline crust, and you get bogged in the mud.
Curdimurka R.S. is just a stone’s throw from Lake Eyre. It is the most impressive siding along the old Ghan railway line as it’s the only one that’s still in one piece. This is the true Australian Outback. Whichever direction you look there’s nothing between you and the horizon except the scorching sun.
At km 124 is the turnoff to Wabma Kadarbu Conservation Park with two well-known mound springs. At the turnoff is another ruin of a stone cottage.
The track to the springs is very rough, corrugated and goes mostly over clay pans which can become very soggy after rain. This is strictly a dry-weather road. The salt-crusted plain looks unreal, and there is hardly any vegetation. The only features are the low rises of the mound springs.
Blanche Cup is a classic mound spring, about twenty metres high. Around a pool of clear blue water grows a circle of lush green grass which is adapted to the salty water. The water and grass are an unbelievable sight in this barren, salt-crusted area.
Although the pool looks really inviting for a dip, swimming is strictly forbidden as these mounds are rather fragile. That’s the reason why this delicate environment has been protected in a conservation park. Hopefully that reminds thoughtless people to care for nature.
Opposite from Blanche Cup is Hamilton Hill, an extinct mound spring, about 40 m high.
About a kilometre further is The Bubbler, another remarkable example of a mound spring. The Bubbler is a pool of fine sand, just like quicksand, covered by clear water. More or less frequently, eruptions of gas create bubbles of various sizes stirring up the sand.
We spent a lot of time here just waiting for better and greater bubbles. The grass on the Bubbler is not as green as that at Blanche Cup. Instead there’s a circle of dark-green algaes at the water’s edge, and also along the small overflow.
Coward Springs was once a little settlement with railway houses, hotel, hospital and a store. Only the the stationmaster's house and a cottage is left.
Coward Springs is an oasis in this driest part of South Australia. Enjoy a dip in the hot pool which is fed by a flowing bore. You'll be surprised to see water birds in the nearby wetlands. There's a camping area and day time visitors are allowed to use the facilities for a small fee into the honour box.
Check the Coward Springs website for more information.
The Oodnadatta track continues through flat and barren land with little vegetation. Occasional rises are mound springs like Kewson Hill, the largest active spring.
Strangways is another historic site about two kilometres west of the Oodnadatta Track. The turnoff is at km 165. The path to the site is rather sandy with deep ruts.
Strangways was one of many repeater stations along the Overland Telegraph Line. A fence protects the historic site. There’s a low stile to climb over. The walk to the ruins over stony terrain up a small hummock is strenuous when it is hot, however, the outlook is worth the effort. Some stone-walled sheep pens and a large stone tank, which actually looks like the ruin of a house without doors, is all what remained of the former station.
From Strangways the scenery along the OT is slightly changing as, for the next 15 kilometres or so, the Irrapatana sandhills are stretching to the horizon along the track. The dunes and sandy ridges are outliers of the Simpson desert.
The first section of the track from Marree to William Creek is packed with highlights. As you arrive in William Creek you have managed the first stage of the Oodnadatta Track.