Known to be one of Australia’s best outback drive, the Oodnadatta Track is a must for anyone who really wants to explore the outback.
It’s a trip that you don’t make lightly, with long drives between any towns, and little access to water, fuel or phone reception along the way. But it also gives you a unique insight into the outback South Australian landscape, a part of our country that few choose to travel.
One of the biggest question marks about the Oodnandatta Track is whether you can take your caravan on the trip with you. I’m sure some people thought (or still do think) that we’re crazy, taking a vintage caravan down this dirt road for hundreds of kilometres. In fact, if you look up advice for the Oodnadatta Track online, most websites and forums tell you not to take a caravan down it at all, claiming that it does too much damage to your car and your van. But if you’ve done a bit of planning, are prepared for the outback conditions and know in advance that you’re probably not going to come out without at least a couple of little issues, it can definitely be done.
We’re proof of that after all.
Yes, we took our vintage caravan all the way down the Oodnadatta track and SURVIVED. And not only did we survive, but we had a great time. Well – most of the time anyway!
We’ve put together this guide to help you plan your journey along the Oodnadatta Track, understand the road conditions and things you might need to think about before you go, and also to share our experience along the track. It was definitely an interesting one!
Handy tip: Before embarking on the Oodnadatta Track make sure you find yourself a Pink Roadhouse Mud Map. We actually lived by this map when we were driving along the Oodnadatta Track. On one side there is a mud map, showing you literally every single thing there is to see along the track, and on the other side there is a little bit of information about all the stops, including what you can expect to find there and their UHF channel if you need to contact them. You can get the map from the Pink Roadhouse itself, but most information centres in outback SA will also have a copy. We actually picked ours up from the Wilpena Pound Visitors Centre.
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Where is the Oodnadatta Track?
Stretching across outback South Australia, the actual Oodnadatta Track a 617 kilometre unsealed dirt road between Marla in the north-west and Marree in the south-east. Depending on your plans – where you’re coming from and going to – you might drive along the whole thing, or just part of it, connecting it with other road trips.
Many people travel along the Oodnadatta Track on a trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide, choosing to take the back dirt roads to explore more of the Aussie Outback. We drove from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta, missing the first part of the track, and then extended it out to the Flinders Ranges. So everyone’s journey is going to be a little bit different.
Best time to drive the Oodnadatta Track
The cooler months of the year are considered the best time to travel the Oodnadatta Track, particularly from around April to October. During this time of the year the weather is significantly cooler, making your drive a little more comfortable.
However, we loved driving the track in February. We didn’t have any extreme temperatures, with perfect low 30°’s or so each day, so it was comfortable to drive and to sleep. There was also hardly anyone else on the road – in fact, on the first day we didn’t pass one other car for the whole day. We had spots all to ourselves and we really enjoyed travelling during the off-peak season.
Oodnadatta Track Conditions & Road Closures
Always make sure you check the road closures and track conditions before you leave for your trip.
This is the website you need to be checking on: dpti.sa.gov.au/OutbackRoads
Originally we had planned to travel the Oodnadatta Track from Flinders Ranges, ending up in Coober Pedy at the end. But unfortunately the week before we arrived in Flinders Ranges there was some HUGE rains across the whole state of South Australia, and all the roads were closed due to hazardous conditions and flooding.
So we changed our plans, drove all the way back around to Coober Pedy (yep, had to drive back through Port Augusta again and right around, so annoying), hoping that by the time we had spent a few days in Coober Pedy the roads would be back open.
For about five days it felt like we were just constantly checking and updating the road closures website, hoping for an update, another road open. We even extended our stay in Coober Pedy for an extra night just to see if we could make it happen, and miraculously, the day before we were set to give up, a late update coming through changing the condition of the road from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta from closed to OPEN.
We were on!
Where to stop on the Oodnadatta Track
There are so many interesting places to visit along the Oodnadatta Track, with plenty of little stops you might not have even heard about before. We’ve listed these stops in the order that we visited them (starting in the north-west), so if you’re travelling along the track from the Flinders Ranges, check them out in reverse.
We started our Oodnadatta journey in this wild little opal hunting in the middle of the outback. Coober Pedy is unlike anywhere else we have ever visited and we actually really loved it.
Known as the opal capital of the world, Coober Pedy is a place where you can just noodle for opals in the dirt mounds on the side of the road and keep any pretty gems you find along the way. It’s a place where houses, restaurants and hotels have been built underground, commonly known as ‘dug-outs’, to keep the locals cool from summer temperatures that can often stay upwards of 40°C for weeks on end.
Before you leave Coober Pedy make sure you have full tanks of water and fuel, as they can be hard to come by once you’re on the road. This will definitely be the biggest town you see for a while.
From Coober Pedy we followed the road to Oodnadatta, right through the heart of the Moon Plain. There is absolutely nothing out there. Literally, this is the most nothing that we have seen during our drives across South Australia so far. The Moon Plain is known for land that is a little bit bouncy, as well as sparkly in the light from all the gypsum in the Earth. There is really nothing around for miles, but it is quite interesting to see. Along the way you can also follow the signs to the Painted Desert, with hills that look like they have literally been painted.
The Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta
Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta: 198 kilometres – approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes – via Kempe Road
In all honesty, the town that gives this epic outback drive it’s name is really nothing special. A very small country town, there is little to visit in Oodnadatta with the exception of the iconic Pink Roadhouse. True to it’s name everything here is pink, from the general store to the petrol pumps, and even the picnic benches out the front.
It’s a good place to stop for fuel and a bite to eat if you need one. Make sure you stop inside to grab yourself a mud map if you haven’t picked one up already, it’s a great way to see what’s around.
Caravan update: On the drive between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta we unfortunately managed to knock out the fittings for both of our clean water tanks, losing ALL of our water along the way. We were able to buy a 10L casket of drinking water at the Pink Roadhouse, but unfortunately once you’re in these outback towns, everyone is short of water, so don’t expect to be able to re-fill.
Oodnadatta to Algebuckina: 64 kilometres – approximately 52 minutes
We decided to keep driving for a little longer from Oodnadatta and camped for our first night at the Algebuckina Waterhole. It’s called a waterhole on wiki camps, but in reality it’s more of a swampy river that really doesn’t look inviting to swim in.
To get to the river follow the signs for the waterhole, let yourself into the gate and find yourself a spot along the river. It is part of a private property, but they allow camping here as long as you don’t go further than the first gate. There were HEAPS of flies here, we were completely covered the minute we stepped out of the car or the van, so unfortunately sitting outside wasn’t really an option.
Algebuckina also has one of the best preserved bridges from the Old Ghan Railway, the historical first railway line for The Ghan that ran through the outback from Alice Springs. The railway line changed it’s route in 1980 to avoid the floodplains along the Oodnadatta Track, where the original line was often washed away during heavy rain. You can see the bridge from the road, sitting on the opposite side to the campground.
Caravan update: After the first day driving along the Oodnadatta Track, and with the exception of losing all our water, our caravan had done surprisingly well! There was a lot of fine red dust in the van, especially around the door, some of the windows with poorer seals, and wherever we have a hatch, but that was easy enough to clean and vacuum up. So far, so good.
Algebuckina to William Creek: 147 kilometres – approximately 2 hours
Roughly the half way point of the Oodnadatta Track, the town of William Creek is pretty much just a pub. In fact, only 12 people live here. The William Creek Hotel is a good stop though, quirky and interesting with lots to look at!
As soon as you step inside you can’t help but notice that the whole roof and many of the walls are covered with all kinds of business cards, school IDs, and expired drivers licences, all left behind by travellers passing through the hotel. There are HEAPS covering more than half of the pub, some of them dating back years and years. If you have something with you that you would like to leave behind, Rose behind the bar will gladly offer you a staple gun to leave your mark.
If you visit, see if you can find our card, with a cute image of our van stapled near the bar!
We stopped for a drink, a spot of reception and a re-charge at William Creek, taking advantage of the chance to get out and stretch our legs. They have a quick and easy menu of snacks and light meals, with some delicious toasties on offer.
The town was very quite during our visit. Rose told us that we were only the eighth car that had passed by that day – and only the second people to actually stop and go inside. However, if there is water in Lake Eyre you can expect William Creek to be absolutely pumping! During the peak season it’s also quite busy, with people using it as a half way stopping point on their drive along the Oodnadatta Track. You can also catch scenic flights from William Creek over Lake Eyre with WrightsAir, at any time of the year.
William Creek to Coward Springs: 73 kilometres – approximately 53 minutes
This was truly a unique place in the middle of the desert. A tiny little oasis with a natural spa of spring water, where you can break up your drive with a refreshing dip. The spa is tiny, only big enough for one couple or group of people at a time, but luckily for us there was no one there when we visited so we could enjoy the spring all to ourselves.
Coward Springs is open from 10am to 4pm for day visitors, with a $2 per person entry fee to be paid into an honesty box to enjoy the spa. Make sure you have a few coins with you, because there is no one there to make change for you. There is also a campground at Coward Springs, however it is extremely pricey for very little. Stop for a dip in the springs, but find another place to camp over night.
A can’t miss stop along the Oodnadatta Track, Lake Eyre is Australia’s largest salt lake, as well as being the lowest point in Australia. Most of the time it is pretty much dry, with little to no water in the lake at all. But when it is full it is meant to be quite spectacular, bringing visitors from all over the country.
There is a good lookout point to stop at, where you can walk down to the lake if you want to actually step foot on this Aussie icon. If you would like to see it’s greatness from the sky, you can organise a scenic flight from William Creek or Marree.
Coward Springs to Marree: 131 kilometres – approximately 1 hour and 34 minutes
Technically, Marree marks the end of the Oodnadatta Track. This is where the unsealed dirt road ends, and the bitumen resumes and you drive onward to the Flinders Ranges. However, there is still plenty to explore after Marree, so we decided to stop here for our second night on the track.
Marree is another very small country town, but they have a great pub – the Marree Hotel – who offer free camping out the back and bar staff who are happy to tell you stories about local life in Marree and the outback.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, you can check in to a room for the night, and even take advantage of their swimming pool to escape the heat. Find the best deals for your stay at the Marree Hotel.
Hitting the bitumen again as we left Marree was a welcome relief for us, after days of dust and nervousness about how our van would fare on the tracks. But everything was still holding together and we could breathe a sigh of relief that we had made it down the Oodnadatta Track with no major issues!
Now we can happily say, WE SURVIVED THE OODNADATTA TRACK!
Caravan update: All the red dust we cleaned up yesterday was back and we lost a couple of different bits and pieces – like the locks for our front window shade, but we were pretty much unscathed. We even survived our first TWO water crossings in the van. We might have been super muddy and dusty, but it was definitely smiles all round to know that we hadn’t caused our van any real damage!
Marree to Wilpena Pound: 272 kilometres – approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes
Breathing a sigh of relief, we ended our journey down the Oodnadatta Track with one last night in the Flinders Ranges. Due to the road closures during our first visit we weren’t able to visit some of the most popular spots, including Bunyeroo Gorge and Razorback Lookout. Thankfully, by the time we got back around to Wilpena Pound the roads were open again and we could finally check out the last few spots we had been hoping to see.
You probably recognise Razorback Lookout in the image above, as one of the most popular and photographed roads in the Flinders Ranges. We would be have been so disappointed if we had missed it, it ended up being one of our favourite spots in the region.
From Flinders Ranges it was just a short drive back to Port Augusta to complete the loop. And there you have it, our journey across the Oodnadatta Track, towing a caravan the whole way.
Would we do it again?
We’re not going to lie, it was a bit risky taking a vintage, recently renovated caravan along the Oodnadatta Track. Especially one that has door and window seals as questionable as ours.
Although there were a few stressful moments on the road (like realising we had lost all our water and had no chance of refilling before we got to Wilpena Pound), and a few moments that were just plain frustrating (like cleaning all the dust out of the van, only for it to all come back in the next day), overall it was a great experience! We are definitely happy we made the journey with our caravan along the Oodnadatta Track.
Our car and van actually did very well along the roads. The road wasn’t in as bad a condition as we thought it might be after the rains, in terms of corrugations and water crossings, so we were happy with how we went. Although a few things needed some minor repairs at the end of the road, it was definitely worth seeing this part of South Australia!
Helpful tips for driving the Oodnadatta Track
Before you embark on this outback drive, make sure you have done enough planning and preparing. A couple of our top survival tips for the journey would be:
- Always check the road conditions of the track before you set off.
- Definitely make sure you have a good quality, high gain UHF radio and antenna for your car that can reach far distances. Some stations can be absolutely HUGE – so you need to make sure your radio can reach kilometres away. We set ours to scan during the drive, so it would pick up people talking on any channel. However, if you need to contact someone directly, the UHF channels for all the stations, hotels and towns along the track are listed on the Pink Roadhouse mud map.
- Fill up with petrol every time you find it. You never know what can happen in the outback and it’s better to be over-prepared than risk running out of fuel in an unexpected situation.
- Lower your tyre pressures before you hit the dirt roads. Generally 25psi is a good pressure of any off-bitumen driving for the average tyre.
- Slow down when you’re passing other drivers, to prevent rocks kicking up onto their car and/or caravan. Always drive to the conditions of the road – driving fast along dirt roads will just cause stress on your car and increases your chances of breakdowns and problems.
- Check out the underside of your caravan and make sure your water tank fittings are hidden to avoid them being taken out by stones – something we never would have thought of before, but would have been so handy to think of in advance.
The Oodnadatta Track is definitely a crazy drive, but absolutely well worth it if you put a little time into researching the conditions and preparing your car and van for the trip. There are some wonderful places in the outback, full of history, character and some unique locals and it’s a great way to explore even more of our sunburnt country.