We were pretty disappointed we were not able to do the Birdsville track on this trip. The floods in northern outback QLD near Winton have flowed down and cut off/closed the road. Now we hear that cyclone Trevor has dumped more water and there is a second lot of water coming down. Never a dull moment in this country. But the good thing to come out of all this, is that Lake Eyre is filling up. Lake Eyre is Australia’s biggest lake but it is dry most of the time. It will contain some water 2 or 3 times in a decade, but only fills 4 times a century. When were there in Jan 2010, it was reasonably full, but the only way to really appreciate the lake is from the air as even getting to the water’s edge can mean walking some kilometers over the lake bed’s thin salty crust which sometimes breaks leaving you covered half way to the knee in black muddy ooze. At the time we looked all over the “town” of William Creek for the pilot Trevor to take us up to see the lake in flood as you could not see it from the shore. However he was nowhere to be found. So since we were relatively close (in Coober Pedy) we thought we would have another go at getting a scenic flight over the lake.
Things have certainly changed since 2010. The permanent population of William Creek has dropped from 4 to 1 and that one person happens to be the elusive pilot who now pretty much owns the town of William Creek (i.e. the pub and fuel station, the campground and the scenic flight business). However while the permanent population is 1, the town is certainly not quiet, as there are a whole host of pub staff, managers, admin staff and pilots, but all of them are itinerant workers. Trevor’s scenic flight business has grown and now operates well over 10 aircraft out of 3 airfields offering scenic flights over the Flinder’s Ranges and outback South Australia. Unlike last time when getting a flight meant trying to track down the pilot, now a scenic flight can be booked and paid online.
Another change since 2010 is that the lake has been renamed to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre to acknowledge the Aboriginal name. I’m not sure what it means, but in Zulu Kati Thanda means something like “love the middle” and since the lake is in the middle of Australia, it kind of works.
We selected a 2 hour flight which enabled us to see the full extent of lake Eyre. Starting from William Creek, we headed about 50km east over Anna Creek Station (the world’s largest property at over 2 million hectares) to the south western part of the lake. From there we headed north for about 80km following the main inlet channel (the Warburton Groove), then about 20 km east up the Warburton River towards Birdsville, before turning back south to the bottom of Lake Eyre north and back to William Creek. The Google maps images below show the features on the right hand side and our approximate track on the map on the left.
Looking out over William Creek shortly after take off. Close up on RHS
The SK on the left photo stands for Sidney Kidman, who owned a large cattle company that once held land covering over 1% of Australia.
Halligan bay camping area LHS and tracks from some idiot on a motorcycle that rode out onto the salt and got stuck.
Scenes over the lake
Pelicans have already started to appear even though the water reached the lake only about 4 weeks ago
The flooded Warburton River with trees lining the normally dry river bank
The green on the left is where grass and reeds have started to grow after just a couple of weeks of water.
We were not the only flight – spot the plane on the left (close up on the right)