Motorcycle Explorer Issue 17 - Page 26

Travel Story: leigh wilkins - australia

After our brief encounter with the Peugeot family it was time for us to set off, our first destination was the town that the track was named after, Oodnadatta. The small township, originally utnadata in the Arrernte dialect means “mulga blossom”. The indigenous people saw something that I have clearly missed. It seemed too arid for anything to blossom.

At only 210km we weren’t expecting it to take too long despite being warned that depending on conditions it could take as long as 9 hours. We set off in the easterly direction and found the track in good condition. This section of the track was maintained quite well, although we soon discovered that we were more or less following the grader which, can pose enough of its own problems. While the track is often very ‘smooth’ immediately after the grader has been through, it can also be very slick. The water used to settle the dust often sits just below the surface. It becomes like ice.

Riding at the tail end of the hot season the lack of heat in the middle of a desert was a great surprise, it perhaps had something to do with the howling wind that was blowing up from the south, a cross wind for the next 210km. We planned to stop at least every 50km, to only take a break from the wind but also to explore the landscape. Many people would assume that the desert is just that; a desert, void of anything worth seeing. We soon discovered this couldn’t be any further from the truth; the landscape was changing almost constantly between low laying hills and numerous creek crossings, all dry of course. Small clumps of vegetation grew in these dry creeks, making a perfect place for animals. We only saw their tracks.

We stopped at 50km, just over the crest of a hill. I had to pee. Despite a severe lack of human life, I knew I would still get ‘stage-fright’. I wandered away from the track and back towards the top of the hill. Reaching it, I noticed a strange gully cut into the other side. Closer inspection revealed it was the old route for the Ghan. The gully was littered with old railway sleepers and track, plus the occasional rail spike, there was even some debris from the old telegraph line. We’d been told that there was nothing left of the old Ghan. Rubbish, here lay tonnes of it.

We continued and the progression for the remainder of the day was the same; ride for 50km stop for 30 minutes, repeat. At the halfway point the track turned more towards the south-east, the wind now coming at us more diagonally although, with the road being as good as it was it wasn’t too much of a problem in fact in some places we could cruise along at 90kph.

Reaching Oodnadatta mid-afternoon, I was pleased to see how different it was to what I had been told. There was a uniqueness to it, a great feel of community. The locals told us that the aboriginal community had embraced what they had and were now happy to share this. Yes! There are still many underlying issues. Alcoholism is a major problem and the community has acknowledged this, change is in progress. I was glad.

The track follows a traditional Aboriginal trading route. It provides travellers with stunning semi-desert scenery. Along the Track are numerous springs feeding water from the Great Artesian Basin, the most accessible examples being the mound springs found in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park near Coward Springs. Later, because of the availability of water, the route was chosen for the steam-train powered Central Australian Railway, the original route of The Ghan, also the route taken by the explorer John McDouall Stuart on his third expedition in 1859.