Lake Eyre and the Painted Hills






You hear a lot of talk about a once in a lifetime experience but I think a flight over Lake Eyre is actually going to be one. I’m about to take to the air for a bird’s eye view of a phenomenon that only happens once or twice every century.

My guides are pilot Trevor Wright, and tour operator Tom Noonan, from Lake Eyre Tours, and we’re heading out from William Creek to see the lake in flood, a spectacle of enormous environmental significance, and breathtaking beauty, as desert becomes inland sea.

The first surprise is just how green the landscape has become, and how alive this normally hostile interior now appears. Despite countless flights over the area, Trevor never loses his sense of wonder.

Trevor: You’ve got to remember that Lake Eyre when its dry is the harshest environment in Australia, when it’s full of water it can handle up to about 5 and a half million birds and 85 different varieties of wading birds, and to give you an idea of the salt content of the lake, it’s roughly 10 and a half times saltier than sea water, or 2 and a half times denser than the dead sea.

The Lake’s divided into two parts, north and south, and is normally a dazzling expanse of salt crust. While a multitude of creeks drain in, a big influx like this is very rare, and as waters from the Queensland floods end a 5 month inland journey, some predict levels will rival those of the legendary ’74 flood, when the lake depth reached 6 metres.

The statistics are pretty amazing; at 15 metres below sea level Lake Eyre is the lowest point in Australia. And it drains from an area that takes up 1/6th of the entire continent. But facts and figures give you no real idea of the huge expanse of water, stretching to the horizon - it just doesn’t feel like the centre of the desert, and it’s very hard to imagine it was near here that Donald Campbell broke the land speed record in ’64, driving the Bluebird Proteus CN7 across the salt pans, no Bluebirds now, but pelicans, black ducks, teal and hardhead in the tens of thousands.

Trevor: I think what sets it apart is the fact that the river systems and 1 million 250 thousand kilometres of creeks and river systems going into that lake into the catchment there, have not been altered by man and I think we’re really lucky that they didn’t start growing cotton on the Coopers and that they’ve kept it natural and we’ve seen the whole eco system in its natural state where it floods into the lake, the bird life comes in, it propagates and it dries out and the whole cycle stays again. There are very few places in the world on a scale like that where it’s so natural.

Lake Eyre Tours are an ideal way to take in the enormity of this landscape. Tom offers three and four day options, which also take you even further afield, to iconic locations including Innamincka, Birdsville and the Flinders Ranges… or he can tailor something to suit.

Tom: The Outback itself just gets hold of you, there’s nothing like being out in the free, freeness of the outback. It’s very unique. It’s up there I think with Ayers Rock, the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a great icon of Australia now.

Away from the water, there’s still more to come: Tom’s Tours can also take in the spectacular Painted Hills, which are inside Anna Creek Station, at 24,000 square kilometres or roughly the size of Belgium, the largest cattle station in the world. The Painted Hills are remarkable, but their exact location is closely guarded, and they can only be viewed from the air, to protect their fragile beauty.

Trevor: Well it’s highly Ironized Sandstone it was on the shore line of the inland sea, the sea when the polar caps melted, and what we’re seeing now with these colours is as it erodes away the actual hills you see the density of iron within the sandstone and that’s caused by the water and the wind erosion.

To find out more about travelling to this spectacular region have a look at the Lake Eyre Tours Website.

Well I’d certainly recommend you put that on your bucket list, and after a hard day’s oohing and aahing I’ve retired to the William Creek pub for a well-earned beer. Now we might be 200 k’s from anywhere here, but inside it’s like the United Nations… but more about that on another episode of SA Life.