Updated: Jan 31, 2020
The Oonadatta track stretches from Marree to Marla and covers a mere 617km - not much when you compare it to the sheer size of Australia. Running from South Australia to the Northern Territory, this easy and beautiful track will satisfy your appetite for an exciting outback adventure.
Much like James, my assumption is that most backpackers tend to stick to the coastline rather than venturing into the less trodden track. In fact, we never intended on hitting the aussie outback at all during our trip! If work hadn't lured us in, we would not have discovered one of our favourite places in Aus and experienced some of the sickest adventures of our trip. My advice, just do it (Shia Labeouf style). The outback is the 'real' Australia, from the people to the historic ruins, you will learn so much.
Sadly, James and I never got round to venturing as far as Marla. Nevertheless we got to explore some of the Oonadatta's best hidden and known gems. We also hit up some spots just off the track that are 100% worth the detour. Grab you notebook and start making plans for your outback adventure, here's our favourite spots to visit!
Before you plan on heading out into the unknown, please check out my 'Outback Roadtrip 101' post. It will tell you all the tips and tricks I learned while living in the scrubs.
Now, I may be the teeniest bit bias due to the fact I lived here for 4 months…buuuuut Marree is definitely the best outback town ever! You have to stop here, or you've seriously not seen the SA Outback. There are plenty of places to stay considering it is a fairly small place, with the population of around 60. With three campsites and the famous Marree Hotel, you won't struggle to find somewhere to sleep. Best of all? The Marree Hotel offers a free camping area with wonderful clean facilities. All they ask is a small gold coin donation for the use of their (extremely hot - the showers are super sensitive, it took me 4 months to master!) showers. Time your trip right and you might even catch some of the well loved and thrilling events such as the Marree Gymkhana and Races or The Camel Cup. Every Friday the hotel runs a darts night, a great opportunity to meet the locals and put your dart skills to the test. Join in for $2, the lucky winner will collect half of the money, while the other half goes towards the heroic Flying Doctors. While you're in the area, eat in at the hotel. Joe the chef is awesome, and his peanut butter curry is to die for.
2. Montonia Sculpture Park
If you're into the weird, wacky and wonderful, this stop is essential. You will not miss it. Right by the roadside about 50kms outside Marree (on the Oonadatta track) there is a small but perfectly bizarre selection of hand crafted sculptures. From upright planes, to metal figures, this place is truly awesome. All the sculptures are carefully crafted from otherwise useless pieces of scrap metal, old cars and machinery. Former mechanic now artist, Robin Cooke started creating these crazy yet amazing exhibits in 1997 and since has added new pieces to the park every year.
3. William Creek
The smallest town in Australia with an average population of 6, most of which are pilots. William Creek is awesome, albeit very small! Enjoy a tasty meal in the pub, and a night of partying with the locals. While you're here, treat yourself to a scenic flight over the lake and the painted desert. The outback is even more beautiful from above, if that's even possible!
4. Coward Springs
Fancy a dip in a naturally heated hot-tub? Well head straight to Coward Springs! This wee place is an awesome pit-stop, or overnight if you fancy it with a good campsite to add to this little beauty. Relax and enjoy this tranquil little paradise among the shrubs and outback bush!
5. Lake Eyre / Khati Thanda
At aproximately 15m below sea level, Lake Eyre is the lowest natural point in Australia. To add to that pretty neat fact, if (on the extremely rare account) it fills completely, it would be the largest lake in Australia cover 9,500km. Lake Eyre is a sight to behold, in the environment which is almost completely brown and orange, this huge white mass almost looks like a snowy mirage. Visit the Lake Eyre South lookout point and enjoy the view, or even better, see it from the sky on a scenic flight. Due to the algae, when there is water in the lake, it appears pink from above. Enjoy this natural beauty and respect it as sacred aboriginal land. And what ever you do, don't try and drive on it.
If you want to visit a unique and pretty unusual outback pub then head up to Mungerannie (found on the Birdsville track, about 200kms north of Marree). This place is...different. From peoples ID's, to their whole head of hair, the walls are covered in weird and whacky bits and bobs left behind by passers through, tourists and locals. The wonderful owner, Phil is a fantastic character, so make sure you meet the man behind the genius.
7. The Kanku-Breakaways
Take the stunning detour along the dog fence and witness the breakaway hills for yourself. Up at the lookout you can see for miles, with the awesome mesa's and low hills 'breaking' up the otherwise very flat and earthy landscape. The land is now a protected conservation park and is home and a huge variety of wild flowers and outback wildlife. Covering almost 15,000 hectares this area is the traditional country of the Antakirinja Matuntjara Yankunytjatjara people, and is now owned by their corporation. This wee stop is not far out of Coober Pedy (33kms north), keep your eyes peeled for the sign.
8. Arckaringa Station & Painted Hills
If you get the chance, this place is an absolute must. Do it proper aussie style and get your swag set up in their fantastic camp ground ($20 p/vehicle). In the evening head up to the Painted Desert (a short drive from the campgrounds) and watch the sunset. A sunset won't ever look the same again once you've seen its golden tones across the stunning desert and hills. Head back to the campground and gather round the fire, enjoy a drink, good company and watch the stars dance above your bed. This really is worth every mozzie bite!
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