Lake Eyre from the air

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.

Boarding the Cessna Grand Caravan – we were hoping to be in a smaller plane with windows that open (to let the flies out if nothing else), but it seems Lake Eyre flights have become quite popular and bigger planes are now necessary.

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.

lke edge rom hllors poit mpig re
Approaching Lake Eyre.   The water can be seen in the distance with about 3km of salt crust between the land edge and the water at the moment.  The road to the Halligan bay camp ground can be seen running from the left

Halligan bay camping area LHS and tracks from some idiot on a motorcycle that rode out onto the salt and got stuck.

strt o wter
Approaching the start of the water in Belt Bay
rtesi sprig i lke
An artesian spring in the middle of the lake.  Normally it would be isolated in the salt bed but at the moment it is flooded.

Scenes over the lake

lies i ple
Yes the plane was full of flies

Pelicans have already started to appear even though the water reached the lake only about 4 weeks ago

wig over upper wrburto groove
Approaching the northern part of the lake with the Warburton River snaking off in the distance
wrburto delt
The Warburton Delta, where the river enters the lake carrying water from the January floods in northern Queensland.    The lake Eyre catchment covers about 1/6th of Australia and none of the water reaches the sea.  If it even reaches lake Eyre it simply collects then evaporates

The flooded Warburton River with trees lining the normally dry river bank

kllmi ilet strt
Looking back south from the northern point of our flight.   At this point the Warburton river splits and a small portion of the flow goes to the left entering the lake about half way down the eastern side at the Kalaweerina Inlet

 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)

kllwe meets the wrburto groove
The water from the Kalaweerina inlet portion of the lake meets the main inflow coming down the Warburton Groove behind.    At this point we were flying at about 3500 feet to get a better overview of the lake.   Earlier we were at 500 feet to see birds and some of the smaller features close up
groove lookig orht
Looking back up the Warburton Groove that carries most of the water into the lake.   As the water flows in and slows down, the salt crystalises on the dirt particles and sinks to the bottom leaving the water clear.   This can be seen above where the central flow down the Warburton Groove is still murky, but the edges have become clear as well as the water coming from the Kalaweerina Inlet on the right.
hut peisul with mdig gul
The top of the Hunt Peninsula which separates the two lobes at the south of Lake Eyre – the first to fill is the western Belt Bay which is in the foreground and is the lowest point in Australia at about 15m below sea level.   Once this reaches a certain depth it spills over into the eastern Madigan Gulf in the background
mithel isld
Mitchell Island – one of several that will soon provide a safe nesting haven for birds.
wter t bottom o belt by
The head of the water at the bottom of Belt Bay
view rom south o lke
Looking north over Belt Bay with the upper edge of the lake 120km to the north
iro ore o sure
Iron deposits on the edge of the lake.  I wonder if this is why Gina Reinhart once expressed interest in buying Anna Creek Station.
ldig i ross wid
Landing at William Creek.  The town on the left is dwarfed by its airfield
job irig his egie
Jacob the pilot cooling his trusty turboprop – the City of William Creek



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