Rare summer rainfall has transformed Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre into a desert oasis, brimming with water and birdlife.
BY ANNA MEROLA
Soaring over Australia’s largest inland lake as your daily job sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Except the lake - in this case Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre - is usually a giant saltpan, spanning some 10,000 square kilometres, with white crystals reflecting the sunlight.
But every now and then, the lake fills with water and the magic really starts to happen.
For a lucky few - including Wrightsair pilot Matt Harnetty - this is exactly what he’s seeing now, thanks to recent rainfall north of Australia.
Birds flock to the water’s edge to drink and eat the river fish, which start to swim down from inland rivers further north. And the rest of the outback landscape – which is usually reddish-brown in colour, with not so much as a saltbush in sight – burst to life with green grass and foliage.
The river systems are flowing down into the top end of South Australia and Lake Eyre is reaping the rewards.
“Down the southern end where they’ve had local rain, the water is quite blue and there is a little bit of salt around the edges of the lake,” Matt said.
With the water, comes the birds.
“There are pelicans around the northern end at the minute and hopefully over the next couple of weeks, we’ll get fish starting to flow into the lake, if there’s more water coming into the river system,” Matt said.
“There’s a fair bit of water flowing into the lake and the majority of the surface of the lake is covered with water – only a foot in depth so not really deep.
“This water will stick around for the next five or six months though, even if we don’t get anymore rain. But if we have more, it will stick around a bit longer which will be good.”
Take a scenic flight over Lake Eyre and see the magic from a bird's-eye view.
The wet weather has also sparked a flurry of green growth on the usually dry and dusty plains of Anna Creek Station – the world’s largest working cattle station and where Matt lives.
“Over the last couple of weeks, it’s gone from real brown and dried out to lush green and there’s water lying everywhere – it’s covered in green grass. The rain really changes the landscape.
When the water does start to evaporate, its colour will become pinkish-red thanks to the millions of brine shrimp which live on the lake all year-round – when it’s dry or wet.
By sea or plane
You can experience the beauty of Lake Eyre on a scenic flight. Take off from a red earth runway. Soar higher than the flocks of birds. See the endless, still water or the salt creeping over.
Or enjoy the lake by boat. Venture into the water on a kayak, catamaran or small yacht. Explore the lake’s inlets and wide waters. Listen to the sounds of the wildlife and the water lapping at your boat.
Lake Eyre is part of Lake Eyre National Park, which has campgrounds for visitors. Halligan Point Campground provides bush camping with no facilities. Outside the park, Mullorina Station has campgrounds with toilets and some facilities.
To camp in the park, you must have a Desert Parks Pass or a day entry permit. The Desert Parks Pass includes maps, information about the parks, Lake Eyre’s Aboriginal history and safety tips. Day entry permits for Lake Eyre National Park are available at the self-registration station on the road to Halligan Bay.
If you would prefer accommodation indoors, try the caravan parks at the nearby town of Marree or head to the William Creek Hotel. William Creek is the halfway point on the Oodnadatta Track. They serve delicious pub food. Enjoy a meal and a roof over your head for the night.
Four-wheel drive (4WD) country
Lake Eyre really is four-wheel drive (4WD) country. While you can reach some of the lake in a standard vehicle, it is not ideal. Many of the roads, including those in Lake Eyre National Park are for four-wheel drive vehicles (4WD) only.
You will need a four-wheel drive (4WD) with a high ground clearance to travel around the area. Be well-prepared, with extra fuel, food and water.
Mobile phones do not work in most outback areas, so you will need a satellite phone or a high frequency (HF) radio. It is also a good idea to carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). If you don’t have a four-wheel drive (4WD), you can still experience Lake Eyre on a guided tour.