Oodnadatta Track Facts & Introduction

From Marree to Marla - a detailed travel guide

The Oodnadatta Track (OT) is certainly the most historic Outback track in Australia, hence it should be on top of your South Australia travel itinerary. It is classified as an easier route, so it is just right for anyone with no Outback experience.

A ruin of a railway cottage along the OTWangianna ruins about 35km west of Marree

The ruins are the remains of cottages used by railway worker along the track in the 19th century. You'll find many of these ruins along the Oodnadatta track.

The track follows an ancient trail used by Aborigines for ochre trading for thousands of years. Artesian mound springs supply water in this arid region. Aborigines relied on this water source as well as the European explorers who used the route to build the Overland Telegraph and the Old Ghan railway lines in the late 19th century.

This was the time when the story of camels in Australia and Afghan cameleers began. Without the ships of the desert, exploring the vast Australian inland would have been even harder.

Road sign showing distances along an Outback route in South AustraliaSign at the beginning of the Oodnadatta track in Marree

What to expect along the route

The OT takes you into true Outback country - you will find stony plains, rocky hills and wildflowers after good rain. You have to cross several creeks and river systems, most of them are usually dry. However, you need to slow down, and take the crossings carefully, otherwise you might damage your car.

"Sandy creeks that flow nowhere, Excepting when it rains"... This line from a Slim Dusty song (Blue hills in the distance) really fits. Everywhere in the Outback you'll recognise dry waterways by the stands of river red gums and coolibah trees along the dry creek beds (like in the picture below).

These days the Oodnadatta Track is a well maintained gravel road of approx. 620 km that begins in Marree. It is a great route to travel from South Australia to the Northern Territory, and it is much more interesting than the sealed Stuart Highway.
Come on, join me on a fantastic journey along my all-time favourite Outback track, which is actually a good dirt road, most of the times.
Read on, and get the information needed to plan a safe journey.

Very dry soil in the Australian OutbackThe track between Borefield Road junction and Marree

Quick Facts about the Oodnadatta track

  • Length of track: 617 km from Marree to Marla
  • Location: North-east of South Australia
  • Distances from major cities:
    The eastern end, Marree, is 650 km north of Adelaide and 1850 km north-west of Sydney, while the western end, Marla, is 455 km south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Hwy
  • Facilities along the track:
    Accommodation, fuel, basic supplies can be found in Marree, William Creek, Oodnadatta & Marla. Read more about facilities.
  • Permits:
    As long as you stay on the main road you don't need any permits.
    A Desert Parks Pass (valid one year) is required for some National Parks in the Outback, the Simpson Desert, for example. If you travel a lot in the remote areas, a Desert Parks Pass might save you money as it covers the camping fees as well.
    Otherwise, you can purchase a day entry/camping permit for your visit for Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park & Lake Eyre National Park.
    Please note: The old self-registration system & cash payment into the honour box has been replaced in most parks. You can now book your entry & camping fees online up to 12 months in advance at the National Parks South Australia website.
    Click here to get more info about passes and permits, there is also a list with agencies where you pay and get a permit while you're already on the road.
  • Road conditions:
    Click here to read about conditions on the track with useful tips by Outback Guide readers.
    Before you go, visit Outback Roads South Australia, Ph: 1300 361 033 for the latest updates. The Oodnadatta Track is often closed due to rain, it is wise to check the weather reports as well.
  • Estimated driving time: Don't be scared when Google Maps tells you it takes 25 hours to complete the track, this is an exaggeration! Perhaps they have the "exploring" factor included.
    Anyway, 10 to 12 hours is a better estimation for the entire route. You can expect to go at a speed of 60 to 80 km/h most of the time.
    But as there is so much to see, I would suggest 2 to 3 days for the trip.
  • Always drive according to the conditions & expect a change in the road surface any time. Washouts, sandy sections, potholes and corrugations appear without warning.
  • Look at this map of the Oodnadatta Track - it opens a new window for your convenient reading and planning.
Old water tank and water treatment plant at CurdimurkaCurdimurka Railway Siding

Unfortunately, the water tank at Curdimurka is about to break apart. There is now a big hole in the wall. When you look closely, you can see the crack to the right of the ladder.

How to get to the Oodnadatta Track

Coming from the south take the Hawker-Leigh Creek Road that passes by the Flinders Ranges. The bitumen ends in Lyndhurst.

On my last trip to this region a few years ago roadwork was in progress, and locals in Marree told me that the route from Marree to Lyndhurst is going to be sealed very soon. However, although there are a couple of sealed sections between Lyndhurst and Marree now, there are still long stretches of unsealed road. The distance from Lyndhurst to Marree is 79km.

Don't miss the Ochre Pits and the ghost town Farina on your way to Marree.

If you come from the north along the Stuart Highway, there are several ways to reach the Oodnadatta Track.

  • The start of the track at Marla is roughly 160 km south of the South Australian border.
  • From Cadney Park via the painted desert to Oodnadatta.
  • From Coober Pedy goes a track to Oodnadatta and one to William Creek.
  • The Borefield Road finally starts in Roxby Downs and meets the track 69km west of Marree, or 135km east of William Creek.
  • If you get the chance make a detour to the Painted Desert from Oodnadatta. This is sheer Outback beauty, and truly worth the visit. You can also use the painted desert track for a short cut to Australia's famous opal capital, Coober Pedy.

Tips to prepare your Oodnadatta Track journey

Colourful hills and blue sky - the colours of the OutbackThe Oodnadatta Track passes the Stuart Range at Barton Gap

I've been asked frequently whether a 4WD is needed or if you can tow a caravan along the track. The answer is not easy.
Basically, you can go with a sturdy 2WD car when the road is dry, freshly graded and no rain is expected. However, a 4WD is more convenient and you can do a detour on a track where a 4WD is required.
Don't forget, this is a long journey and conditions can change quickly. A rain shower can make the Oodnadatta Track impassable for a 2WD in a few minutes. The "escape" routes back to the bitumen are also dirt roads.

As for towing, using a small camper trailer for off-road travel is the best thing out there. You will certainly damage your 20ft caravan on the rough road and the frequent creek crossings along the way.

  • Never go with a 2WD hired car, you will lose your insurance cover when something happens.
  • Have your vehicle checked to be sure it is in best condition.
  • Always take plenty of water to be safe for a few days.
  • Never leave your car when it breaks down.
  • Avoid travelling during the summer months. It will be too hot to do anything else than driving in an air-conditioned car.
  • Take your time! Although you can drive the Oodnadatta Track within one (long) day, doing this would be a shame. After all, you are in this remote part of the world to admire nature and history along the way.
    Stay overnight in Marree, William Creek and Oodnadatta, and you'll have plenty time to explore each day.

When you reach Marla on the Stuart Highway, you are back on bitumen, but still in the Outback. You can either go to the Alice Springs and Uluru, or down south to Coober Pedy, Port Augusta and Adelaide.

A sign warns about a hazard on the roadWarning after rain - Always drive carefully

Oodnadatta Track -> the route step by step

Don't miss the articles below which give you many more details about the route.

Get general facts, an introduction and overview of the track (617 km)

Discover the history of the early days in this fascinating town

The first section of the Oodnadatta Track is in my opinion the most diverse part of the track (204 km)

This small town offers everything a traveller needs. You'll be surprised what you'll find in this tiny village

See more relics of the Old Ghan, including the huge Algebuckina railway bridge (202 km)

First discover the township Oodnadatta, before you go on the last leg of the track (211 km)

Don't miss to read this page, it also includes useful tips by Outback Guide readers

Read about Australia's largest lake which only fills every couple of years

Find camp spots, where to get fuel, a good meal, and a cold beer

Outback South Australia is a wonderful place to explore, don't miss it

Enjoy this most interesting (and my favourite) track in the South Australian Outback.

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Below you'll find articles to help you plan your journey.