Tag Archives: Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre to Birdsville by air

lake EyreIt’s day three of our journey to see Lake Eyre in flood. If you missed day 1 you’ll find it here, and day 2 is here. Today we leave Marree and travel along the Oodnadatta track to William Creek, where we’ll catch a plane.

We’re really in the outback now, surrounded by barren plains with maybe a range of low hills on the horizon. It’s dry out here. Marree’s average annual rainfall is 160mm (6.3″). The vegetation is tough. There’s a lot of salt bush, and plants with leathery, greyish leaves. But there’s water, if you know where to look. Australia is host to the largest artesian basin in the world, and the road we’re following is there because it follows the water. Many towns up here have ‘wet’ words like creek or well in their names, places where water can be found. We stop in a particularly desolate area to look at the mound springs – places where the mineral-filled water bubbles up to the surface. Over thousands of years the minerals were deposited and the mounds built up. You can see from the pictures that around such springs the ground is lush with plant life. These springs have had to be protected from cattle, which trample the edges and muddy the flow.

Maybe they need to be protected from people, too. The settlers didn’t understand this country. Read the story on the information board and you’ll see what I mean. The aboriginal people called these places home, and they looked after them. Water, after all, is life.

This barren country is where you find mound springs

This barren country is where you find mound springs

That's a mound spring. It's a long way to the top

That’s a mound spring. It’s a long way to the top

5V3A4742

This spring is known as the bubbler. You can see why.

Read the story on the left next to the blue map

Read the story on the left next to the blue map

But it’s not just humans who need water. We crossed a creek full with recent rain. It teemed with little fingerlings all fighting for a chance to get to lake Eyre. And surrounding this crossing were hundreds of silver gulls. The nearest coast is at Port Augusta, around 450km away. How the gulls knew the water and the fish were here is a mystery.

Silver gulls in the desert. There's a little fish stair to help the fingerlings cross the road.

Silver gulls in the desert. There’s a little fish stair to help the fingerlings cross the road.

The tranquility of water in the desert. Soon it will be a dry bed again.

The tranquility of water in the desert. Soon it will be a dry bed again.

We arrived at William Creek (population 12) just before lunch, served (of course) in the pub. The owner, Trevor Wright, basically owns the town but he doesn’t like to be called king. He reckons he’s more of a benevolent dictator. He’s a big man with a shock of white hair and he operates the planes we’ll use over Lake Eyre. He likes to talk, too. One of his pilots came in to give him a hurry up call. The planes and the pilots were waiting.

5V3A4762

William Creek

5V3A4770

All you need to know about William Creek

Six of us 5V3A4771(including the pilot) crammed into a Cessna 210. I was in the last of 3 rows of seats and I won’t pretend it was comfy. The outside temperature was in the late 30’s and the cabin wasn’t air conditioned. We took along bottled water and frozen wet towels to keep us cool. I found the best way to avoid dwelling on discomfort was to watch what was going on below. It’s 450km as the crow flies from William Creek to Birdsville – and a bit more when you’re sight seeing. The journey took about two and a half hours and I don’t mind admitting I was pleased to stagger out of the plane at the other end.

The following day we did it all again, flying from Birdsville back to Marree, where our driver picked us up. There’s a lot to say about Birdsville, but I’ll do that in another post. For now, let’s take a look at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

5V3A4777

Heading towards Lake Eyre

The sky reflected in shallow, calm water

The sky reflected in shallow, calm water

 

More reflections

More reflections

Flocks of pelicans. That's why we're up at 500ft. If we hit one of them we'd end up being permanent residents

Flocks of pelicans. That’s why we’re up at 500ft. If we hit one of them we’d end up being permanent residents

Pelicans floating on the water. Nobody knows how they know the lake is full

Pelicans floating on the water. Nobody knows how they know the lake is full

The Diamantina flows into the lake

The Diamantina flows into the lake

Trevor said he'd never seen the desert so green. This is the Diamantina

Trevor said he’d never seen the desert so green. This is the Diamantina

The desert. It doesn't look like the Sahara - but there are sand dunes

The desert. It doesn’t look like the Sahara – but there are sand dunes

It looks like fabric, or an aboriginal painting

It looks like fabric, or an aboriginal painting

Red sand of the Simpson desert

Red sand of the Simpson desert

This is 'Big Red' a sand dune 30m high.

This is ‘Big Red’ a sand dune 30m high.

Coming in to land. That's the plane's shadow on the ground

Coming in to land. That’s the plane’s shadow on the ground in the middle of the picture

 

 

Australia’s inland ‘sea’ – one more off the bucket list

Lake EyreI’ve always wanted to see Lake Eyre in flood. I’ve just returned from a one-week group trip to visit the lake, and it was truly awesome. Australian readers will know Lake Eyre (these days known as Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre) is in central Australia, in the northern parts of South Australia. It’s the lowest part of the continent, with the deepest point −15 m (−49 ft). The larger, northern lake is 144 kilometres (89 mi) in length and 65 kilometres (40 mi) wide, and Lake Eyre South measures 65 by 24 kilometres (40 by 15 mi). You’ll find all the details here.

We flew into Adelaide on a Tuesday and hit the road on Wednesday, heading for Port Augusta at the top of Spencer Gulf. Like the rest of Australia, the population of South Australia huddles around the coast. Of South Australia’s 1.7 million inhabitants, 1.3 million live in Adelaide, and most of the rest are in the small towns in the southern part of the state. We were going into the outback, where people are few and far between, and camels are common.

Port Augusta was set up as a (wait for it) PORT to service the farmers of the region. But it soon became an important hub, connecting the west of Australia to the East coast, and the south to the north via the telegraph line. Railways followed. The Ghan used to start in Port Augusta, and the Indian Pacific arrives there from Perth. We would be following the railway line laid for the Ghan – the train is named after the Afghan cameleers who came here from northern India with their camels to help explore Australia’s vast arid heart.

From Port Augusta. That's Spencer Gulf with the Flinders Ranges behind

From Port Augusta. That’s Spencer Gulf with the Flinders Ranges behind

The old jetty at Port Augusta

The old jetty at Port Augusta

From Port Augusta we’re heading north, up through the Flinders Ranges and into the desert. It’s harsh country out there. Although there are plenty of river red gums, the old settlers didn’t try to use them to build houses. Instead, they used local stone. You’ll see beautiful stone buildings everywhere in South Australia. Those in the photo below were part of a township called Kanyaka. Here’s the story.

Kanyaka ruins

Kanyaka ruins

And here’s the creek bed and some of the marvellous river red gums (Eucalyptus Camaldulensis) common in the area. Hard to believe that one of the station owners was drowned in the creek.

5V3A4447

The creek behind Kanyaka

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, where I’ll share a little more of our journey north.