I called my mum in the planning phase of this route, “Hey mum, I’ve decided I’m going to ride in the Outback, I’ve made a route.” She responded with “Which Outback?”
Considering we were in the midst of a pandemic and can’t go overseas I thought it was pretty obvious I meant the vast unpopulated and mostly arid areas in the centre of the country that Australia was best known for.
Naturally, some of my family were concerned I was going to such remote places alone but when I showed them my research of the Oodnadatta Track and told them about all the grey nomads out there it seemed to alleviate some of their fears and excited them (I think).
(This is the second part of Allison’s outback trip, you can find the first part riding along the Mawson Trail here)
The Oodnadatta Track
The Oodnadatta track is an unsealed dirt road that stretches just over 600km from the regional town of Marree, in the North of South Australia to Marla, a small town 159km south of the Northern Territory border.
The track is well known to many 4WD fanatics, motorcycle tourers and grey nomads but very few others have heard of it if there’s no reason for them to go there. I hadn’t even heard of it until a year before when a friend of mine told me he was cycling it on his way from Mt Isa to Alice Springs.
In my mind I had always pictured the desert to be lonely and desolate and although I love flora and fauna I didn’t think there would be anything other than kangaroos and Spinifex out there. Boy, was I wrong! I saw brolgas, emus, cows and wedge tail eagles. Those were the animals I saw but the footprints of camels and dingos were present all throughout the track. The colours of the changing landscapes from creamy sands, red ochres, grey gravel and green trees, succulents and native wild flowers that are present after a rain were eye popping.
The people I met along the way we’re generous and were interested to know about my journey as I’m sure they weren’t expecting to see a woman cycling the track. The questions I was asked along the way we’re all very similar and the statements always the same. “Jeez you’re brave!”, “Just, you, by yourself?”, “Don’t you get bored?”. Some people actually told me I was crazy! I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal once I was out there, I was just doing it and that’s the journey I was on. People waved, they beeped out of excitement and most people stopped to ask if I was ok, if I needed anything or just to say hello and ask me about where I’d been and where I was going.
It was the most unforgettable experience I’ve ever had riding this track and I would do it all over again tomorrow.
Eating Along the Oodnadatta Track
Although not officially a part of the track, it’s worth stopping in at The Farina bakery if you’re travelling in winter. The historical town of Farina is located 50km south of Marree. It has an underground bakery and many volunteers from far and wide are working to restore the town and selling baked goods as a draw card for tourists passing through.
As I was riding north from the Flinders Ranges I stopped in to check out the bakery and camped at the facilities on the property. The reason for choosing to complete this ride at this time of year was solely based on the opening times of this bakery. It was only open for 6 weeks so I had to think about beating the rain in the south but also beating the closing times of the bakery. If you don’t know me by now from previous journal entries, I’m a sucker for a good country bakery. It was so good I had lunch the first day and breakfast the next!
Oodnadatta Track Notes
When I got to Maree I had a rest day before starting the Oodnadatta track. I had been riding for 15 days with no day out of the saddle to completely rest. There’s not much to do in Marree so it was the perfect place.
It took me 9 days to ride the 618km Oodnadatta Track from start to finish averaging 60km-75km each day. The terrain wasn’t overly difficult with only slight inclines but otherwise flat.
The track was mostly affected by corregations but definitely not impassable with patches of thick sand only in the last 200kms. It was all rideable depending on the bike you’ve chosen, for me 99.5% of the time I was on the bike. The hardest part was the headwinds. I wore a buff and a windbreaker most days to shield me from the harsh winds. However, as it was quite cool and breezy throughout the day the flies were rarely a problem (or maybe they just didn’t like me).
Camping on the Oodnadatta Track
The best parts, albeit hard to chose just one thing, but the wild camps on offer were my absolute favourite parts. Being on a bike you have the freedom to just pull over when you feel like it, find a spot out of the wind, make a fire and sleep under the stars (oh my goodness the stars) most nights.
I wild camped 5 of the 8 nights on the track. If you do your research right you can find some really amazing places to spend the night! The other 3 nights were spent at paid campsites: Coward Springs cattle station (with the most luxurious hot spring available as part of the cost), accross the road from the pub in William Creek and out the back of the Oodnadatta Pink Roadhouse.
The paid campsites were great places to meet people and chat with the locals or just have a shower and a beer if you’re less socially inclined. Usually there were resupply points available as well. Water and food were hard to come by anywhere else along the track, you can’t and shouldn’t always rely on the generosity of strangers. I carried enough water for at least 3 days to be safe, that’s 12L of water. I made friends with the staff at the pub in Marree so I was able to wash my clothes in a workers caravan and when I left Maree I filled up my water supply from the kitchen in the pub.
Coward springs has two water tanks clearly marked for shared drinking water, William creek has a tap labelled the same outside the pub and the ladies at the Pink Roadhouse were more than happy to top me up from the kitchen. They even offered me a job, which I am strongly considering going back for next year. Food on the other hand you have to carry bulk from Marree as the only real resupply point is Oodnadatta, 400km in and then again at Marla another 210km and also the end of the line. It’s Outback prices so don’t be surprised there are no price tags on the food. Everything costs more out there, you just get used to it.
Where to next?
I slept so well every night along the track (well as good as you can when you wake up three times a night to re-inflate your sleeping mat due to a slow leak). I wasn’t afraid once I got my head in the mindset that everyone out there was on an adventure just like me and the animals were more scared of me than I was of them. I felt more safe sleeping in the middle of nowhere in the nothingness than I do closer to the city.
When the cars and motorbikes have cleared the track for the day there’s nothing but the wind in the trees, the creaking of an old metal railway bridge or the fish splashing in a waterhole. The temperatures were cold by nightfall but I was warm and cosy inside my sleeping bag and tent and had a fire most nights for extra warmth.
By the time I reached Oodnadatta I had to decide where to go next, continue travelling along the old Ghan railway, steeped with history and ruins of the old railway sidings. Dalhousie hot springs and another beer and pub meal at the Mt Dare Hotel were very tempting. However, most people I spoke to along the way told me the roads were shocking after the recent Finke Desert Race! Corregations that made the Oodnadatta track look like child’s play, the thick sand stretching for kilometres between Finke- Aputula and Alice Springs along the Ghan track. I would be pushing my bike for at least another week (350km) just to get to the highway to pedal another 300km to Alice springs, which I was even less interested in riding on the bitumen amongst the road trains and holiday hoons. So I decided to stick to the Oodnadatta Track to Marla and catch the Greyhound to Alice Springs from there. Making it up as I went along, my kind of adventure!
Most people had peeled off the track at Oodnadatta and gone towards Dalhousie Springs or Coober Pedy. Three cars a day in the last 210km to Marla. No one stopped to offer help, water or a friendly chat. They rarely waved, the country hospitality started to fade. But the colours of the land started to change, the emotions of this part of my trip coming to an end and the time alone to process it all was not unwelcomed.
I made it to Marla in three days with just enough water and food. In desperate need of a shower after a night of rain on the track I pitched my tent against the wall of a camp kitchen in the caravan park, took a long hot shower, had a roast dinner at the roadhouse and had a good rest before loading my bike onto the bus the next morning for my 4.5hr journey to Alice Springs.
The next part of my trip sees me riding from Alice Springs to Uluru along The Red Centre Way, another iconic 4WD route.