The Oodnadatta Track is a 620km trail that shows off the beauty of the Aussie outback. Travelling from Marree to Marla via Oodnadatta in South Australia, Allison explains why bikepacking this track is the best way to experience the red Australian countryside.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Arabana, Dhirani and Kokatha Nation, the traditional Country of the Arabana, Dhirani and Kokatha people who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- 620km of crispy gravel – every bikepackers dream
- Outback hospitality and unexpected human connection in remote Australia
- History embedded in the ground as the route follows the ‘Old Ghan Railway line’
- The clearest view of the Milky Way without a telescope
- Fully self-sufficient, human-powered, and completely solo!
Getting to The Oodnadatta Track
The start of the Oodnadatta Track begins in the remote town of Marree, SA, just shy of 600km north of Adelaide, where I officially began my solo bikepacking journey from Adelaide to Uluru.
I first rode the Mawson Trail from Adelaide to Ikara / Flinders Ranges before cycling through Arabana country, on the last 180km of bitumen I’d see for the next ten days, via the The Outback Highway to Marree.
The Oodnadatta Track officially ends in Marla, SA but the more advanced bike tourer can continue on rougher, sandier terrain following the Old Ghan Railway Line. I chose to complete my journey of the Oodnadatta Track in Marla and catch a Greyhound bus to Mparntwe / Alice Springs. The weather can be cold at night and warm during the day, even in the cooler months. It goes without saying this trip shouldn’t be attempted in the summer months.
Day 1 – Marree to The Dingo Fence Bush Camp
Duration: 5-6 hours
After a rest day in Marree to restock supplies and repair a tear in my tent fly, the bike is packed and ready to roll. Overwhelming nerves wash over me as the realisation of the remoteness of the area dawns. My original assumption was that outback Australia was a desolate, human free environment where I’d be completely alone for nine days – boy was I wrong.
Read more: The Tiny Towns of Outback NSW
The next water supply, designated campsite and possible purchased snack stop was 137km north and two days of cycling at my chosen pace, slow and enjoyable. I make sure I have food and water to get me there but I carry more because in the outback, you have to prepare for the unexpected. My first camp is halfway to Coward Springs near a break in the infamous Dingo Fence, out of sight and out of the wind.
Day 2 – The Dingo Fence Bush Camp to Coward Springs Station
Duration: 6 hours
I wake in the morning to see a mob of emus walking on a sand dune about 50 metres away. I roll up my sleeping mat and watch without a sound as if I’m not even there, embracing this moment with the land and its animals. I check my campsite to make sure I’ve left nothing but footprints and tyre tracks in the sand and carry on along the dusty, corrugated track into the head winds.
The landscape begins to change and it feels as though I’m entering a sea of white clouds as I pass the southern section of Kati Thanda / Lake Eyre. I ride at 12 metres below sea level alongside the waterless-lake, filled mostly by a thick layer of salt.
The salt sticks to my tyres like a tasty hot chip, although the closest I’ll get to a hot chip today is a soak in the natural hot spring at my campsite in Wabma Kadarbu / Mound Springs Conservation Park – and I’m totally okay with that. I fight the unbearable headwinds and corrugations to get there.
When I arrive, I hastily pay my camp fees, set up my tent, and sink into the hot spring. Almost instantly every muscle retracts from the tight, cramped position it’s managed to hold for the past two weeks.
Day 3 – Coward Springs to William Creek
Duration: 4-5 hours
To my surprise a coffee van selling freshly baked date scones and other snacks is open at the front gate. I fill my water reserves from the precious tank water on site, load up with goodies from the coffee cart and press on towards William Creek.
Several people stop to chat and offer me water as they have done previously over the past two days. My heart is full from the wholesome track travellers in their 4WDs, caravans in tow. Young families with their children, making the most of distance education. Grey nomads in awe of a woman, alone in the outback, on a bicycle. The small chats throughout the day are welcomed but otherwise it’s me and my shadow for the most part and I feel completely in my element.
I retire at the end of the day with a beer and a parmy at William Creek Hotel.
Day 4 – William Creek to Duff Creek Bush Camp
Duration: 4 hours
I fill up my water reserves at the tap outside the pub before leaving William Creek, the small township made up of a pub, petrol station, and an airstrip located on Anna Creek Station with a population of ten.
The tap blasts clean water into my four litre bladder which I promptly stash in my frame bag before filling my two 1.5 litre Nalgene bottles on the forks. I then move on to the one litre Nalgene on my down tube and the six litre bladder on my rear rack. My bike is now at least 15kg heavier but I’m confident I can cook dinner each night and stay hydrated all the way to Oodnadatta. It’ll be three days between clean water resupplies and I’m smart enough not to rely on the hospitality of my fellow adventurers passing by in their 4WDs.
Day 5 – Duff Creek Bush Camp to Algebuckina Bridge
Duration: 5 hours
The nights are cold in central Australia, I make a fire at night and in the morning to keep warm as the temperatures dip below ten degrees celsius. I sip a hot coffee and watch the galas fly overhead as the sun rises behind the railway bridge I’ve camped behind near The Old Ghan Duff Creek siding.
I pack my things and ride towards Oodnadatta with my next overnight stay at the historical landmark, Algebuckina Bridge.
About 10km from my camp for the night and about 65km south east from Oodnadatta a motorcyclist pulls over beside me and turns his engine off.
‘I’ve got a message for you!’ he explains. ‘There’s another cyclist at The Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta who’s heard about you and wants to meet you.’
I’m more than curious who this cyclist is and how they’ve heard about me but it does explain the fresh tyre tracks I’ve been following when criss crossing the track to avoid heavy corrugations. I finally reach my campsite at Algebuckina Bridge where I pitch my tent under the 588 metre long, red Victorian wrought iron bridge that crosses the floodplain of the Neales River.
A couple in a 4WD arrive at the campsite at golden hour, we strike up a conversation and realise the woman and I share the same name, which is instantly comforting. Allison offers for me to visit their campsite later that evening to sit by the fire and enjoy the damper she’s going to cook. I’m overwhelmed by their generosity and accept her offer, which later turns into garlic and herb damper, a hot milo, and a couple of rows of choccy. Something I wasn’t expecting to get in the middle of nowhere!
Read more: 3 Jaffle Recipes to Try at Your Next Campout
Day 6 – Algebuckina Bridge to Oodnadatta
Duration: 4 hours
The terrain over the last 60km to Oodnadatta begins to change, with more green shrubs and plenty of pink signs to lead me in the right direction of the Pink Roadhouse.
I reach the roadhouse in time for a burger for lunch and I meet the elusive cyclist, Alan, a nomad in his 60s who’s been cycling around Australia for the last two years. Later that afternoon he shows me how to cook a cake in my camp pot and we talk about life on the road. I retire to my tent at the campsite behind the Pink Roadhouse and book a ticket on the Greyhound bus to Mparntwe / Alice Springs in four days time.
Day 7, 8 and 9 – Oodnadatta to Marla
Duration: 3 days at approx 70km per day
With just under 210km left of the Oodnadatta Track the landscape changes again from sandstone to pink hues and colourful mounds in the distance. Gradually red soft sand appears and my 2.6” tyres sink into the ground with all the weight I’m carrying and I’m forced to push my bike.
After a few kilometres, the sandy track returns to hard packed, rocky corrugations and I’m able to pedal on. With very few people travelling this section of the track, either heading towards Coober Pedy or Dalhousie Springs instead, I speak to noone for three days and am reliant on only the water and food I have packed.
In my last 70km into Marla I’m faced with gastly headwinds and find that the only conversation I have that day is with the wind and we’re not friendly to each other.
After eight nights under the darkest skies blanketed by the brightest stars and nine days of pedalling on the dusty dirt track I finally reach Marla. I wash my bike, have a roast dinner at the Marla Roadhouse, shower, and connect with the real world back home. I reflect on my time on the Oodnadatta Track and its marvelous rich history and landscape, wondering when I’ll be able to return and relive this spectacular journey.
- A serviced touring bicycle with 2.4 to 2.8 inch tyres to tackle dirt roads and corrugation
- Tools and spare parts for the unexpected
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- Warm clothes for cold desert nights
- Water and food to last at least four days between resupply points
- Sun smart clothing for protection against the harsh sun
- A fly net to keep the flies out of your mouth
- GPS or map
- EPIRB or PLB in case of emergencies
How To Get There
If you choose not to ride to Marree from Adelaide, via the Mawson Trail, driving the 685km one way trip north from Adelaide to Maree would be an easier option if you have a support vehicle with you.
If you can’t or don’t want to rely on a support vehicle there are limited bus services available from Adelaide to Copley (115km south of Marree) and from Marla to Adelaide and Alice Springs.
Distance Covered / Duration / Elevation Gained
615km bike ride / 9-10 days / 3031m