Marree is a small outback town of South Australia, which lies at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks. It was once an important rail siding along the Old Ghan Railway line that ran from Adelaide in the south, to Darwin in the north.
Marree remains a valuable service centre in the northeast of South Australia for the large sheep and cattle stations. Marree is also a popular destination and resupply point for those travelling along these iconic outback tracks. Fuel, accommodation, basic groceries and a cup of fresh coffee are available at the Marree Roadhouse.
Read on to discover the best things to do in Marree during your stay.
No visit to Marree, South Australia is complete without making your way across the train tracks to the impressive two-story stone building that is the Marree Hotel. Established in 1883, the heritage-listed hotel is often regarded as one of the most impressive hotels of the Australian Outback.
Apart from being the social hub of the town, the Marree Hotel provides accommodation in 12 original hotel rooms, as well as offering a large area to park your van or camp – for free. Cold beer flows freely from the taps, while fantastic meals are provided by the kitchen.
Take the time to sit and have a chat with the bar staff or locals. Like we did, you might just learn something. More on that later.
TOM KRUSE MUSEUM – MARREE HOTEL
While you’re waiting for your burger to be cooked, pop into the Tom Kruse Room which is part of the Marree Hotel. The museum was opened in 2013 and houses over 180 photographs, letters, certificates and awards.
Tom was an outback legend that had the mail run from Marree to Birdsville (over 500km away) for close to 30 years through some of the most inhospitable regions in the country.
Before that other guy with a similar name shot to fame in Risky Business, Tom Kruse starred in the 1954 film, “Back of Beyond”. The movie highlighted the daily battles he had on Australia’s toughest mail run.
MARREE MAN AND LAKE EYRE
The Marree Hotel is nearly your one-stop shop when it comes to visiting Marree. You can also book a scenic flight over Lake Eyre and the mysterious Marree Man from within the hotel.
Depending on your budget, you can choose from several different flights ranging from a quick 45-minute flight over the Marree Man and local areas, all the way to a four-hour flight over Lake Eyre with a stop in at the William Creek Hotel for lunch.
When we visited, there was no way that I wasn’t going to go up to see water in the lake. I opted for the ‘two and a bit’ hour flight which took in the best of what Lake Eyre and the region has to offer. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
MARREE SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOUR
While enjoying a cold beer at the public bar of the Marree Hotel, we got talking to the bar staff about where we had been and where we were headed next. They suggested that before we left town, we should check out the self-guided walking tour.
The historian’s ears of Marianne pricked up and before long, a brochure was handed across the bar and more details given by the friendly staff. It really does pay to have a chat with the locals when visiting these outback towns.
The tour walks you through the local history of the town as well as highlighting certain points of interest. Who would think that a town so small could have so much history?
The tour highlights not only the rail history of the region but also the Afghan and Indigenous history.
My highlight was definitely the replica mosque, which when the original was built in 1884 was the first in Australia.
No visit to an old country town is complete without a visit to the local cemetery, at least for us anyway. While not officially part of the tour, you walk right on past so you may as well pop in for a look. You may even find a grave of one of the original Afghan Cameleers.
Approximately 50km north of Marree, South Australia is Muloorina Station, a working cattle property. It is quite literally an oasis in the desert. Here you can park up your camper trailer, pitch your tent or roll out your swag next to a bore fed waterhole. Home to over 100 species of birds, there’s not much chance of sleeping in.
If you’re wanting to go for a swim, take a short walk to the other side of the waterhole and follow your nose along a well-worn path. Here you will find a floating pontoon and space for a couple of chairs and a picnic lunch.
If icy cold water isn’t your idea of a good time, keep walking past the pontoon to where the water from the bore joins the Frome River. Continue around to the left to find a natural artesian thermal pool. Just perfect to re-invigorate your weary bones.
Camping is provided on an honesty system, and a flushing toilet is provided. Please take all your rubbish with you as bins are not provided.
KATI THANDA-LAKE EYRE
If you’re spending time at Muloorina Station, it makes perfect sense to take a drive the rest of the way out to Level Post Bay on the shores of Lake Eyre North. Even if you aren’t staying at Muloorina, it’s approximately 100km from Marree, so make a day of it.
Once past the campground at Muloorina, the track does deteriorate and becomes quite soft and sandy in places. In others, the corrugations do their best to try and shake any fillings from your teeth loose. This is definitely no place for any vehicle other than a well-prepared 4WD. We found that we even had to stop and drop another 10psi out of our tyres to smooth out those corrugations.
Once at the end of the track at Level Post Bay, you can get out and go for a walk across the dry surface of the lake bed. Just don’t be one of those people that have to go and drive out on the lake. The lake has only filled fully about three times in the last 150 years, so your environmental vandalism is going to be there to be seen for many years to come.
Camping is no longer allowed at Level Post Bay, so after watching the sun dip below the lower than normal horizon (Lake Eyre is 15m below sea level at its lowest point), you’ll need to either head back to Muloorina or Marree for the night.
LAKE EYRE YACHT CLUB
In a region that only sees on average, 180mm of rainfall each year, and with no permanent river systems in the area, it seems highly unlikely that Marree would be home to a yacht club. But that is not the case.
The Lake Eyre Yacht Club was formed back in 2000 by Bob Backway and holds sailing regattas on the lake when in flood. The last event was held in 2019 when waters from the Northern Territory and Queensland filled the lake to approximately 70% capacity.
LAKE HARRY RUINS
Located approximately 30km to the northeast of Marree, South Australia along the Birdsville Track is the ruins of what was once Australia’s largest date palm plantation. At its peak in 1897, Lake Harry Station had approximately 2700 palms growing well in the dry, hot climate. Due to several factors including drought, remoteness and high labour costs, the site was abandoned in the 1940s.
Today, the only remnants of habitation are the crumbling remains of the homestead and a couple of rusting vehicles. If you like to fossick through old rubbish sites, a couple of hundred metres behind the ruins are a couple of piles full of old bottles and ceramics amongst others.
Free camping is also available at the site.
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Matt. I camp, four-wheel drive, explore the outdoors and get paid to take photos.
I’m happiest when I’m doing all four at once.
Occasionally, I’ll even tap out a couple of words on my keyboard.
Other posts you may like…
LAKE EYRE SCENIC FLIGHT
A flight over Lake Eyre was put on my bucket list back in 2011 after devastating floodwaters from Queensland finally made their way south…
CANNING STOCK ROUTE
When it comes to Australia’s most remote 4WD Track, they don’t come any bigger than the Canning Stock Route (CSR). Following the route…
SUNDOWN NATIONAL PARK
Rugged and remote are two words that sum up Sundown National Park beautifully. Sundown National Park is a wild and mountainous area of steep gorges…