Welcome to South Australia’s Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre: a glistening salt pan spanning hundreds of kilometres, transformed by desert downpours into a thriving oasis.
Stretching a mind-boggling 144 kilometres by 77 kilometres, Outback South Australia’s Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is a natural wonder.
Its seemingly-endless expanse of shimmering salt crystals lure travellers year-round, but the real magic happens when the lake is flooded by desert rain.
Once every few years, networks of channels, streams and floodplains converge in Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, bringing with them an abundance of wildlife, stunning natural beauty and dreamlike pink and orange hues.
With the help of our guide, find out why and when to visit Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, how often it floods, how best to see it and where to stay while you’re in the area.
Update: As of August 2018, there is some water in the lake, but it can only be seen from the air and is drying up fast. For more information and to check current conditions, see the Bureau of Meteorology website.
1. vISITING lAKE eYRE
At 144 kilometres long and 77 kilometres wide, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is Australia’s biggest salt lake. Located 647 kilometres north-east of Adelaide, it was formed approximately 200 million years ago and is the lowest point below sea level on the Australian continent.
When the lake’s water level is low, its glittering crystalised surface stretches as far as the eye can see. When it floods, waterbirds descend in their thousands, fish converge in channels and wildflowers blanket floodplains.
As water begins to evaporate, the lake takes-on a spectacular pink hue caused by a pigment found within a specific type of salt-loving algae.
2. When to visit
Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is a showstopper year-round, but the best time to visit is when Outback rains have flooded it with water.
Approximately, a small one-and-a-half metre flood occurs every three years and a large four metre flood occurs every ten years, usually in winter. The lake only fills entirely three times every 160 years.
Lake Eyre’s weather is typical of an Outback Australian environment with very hot summers reaching 40 plus degrees (Celsius) during the day and winter temperatures dropping to zero degrees (Celsius) at night.
During summer, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is extremely dry, with nearby sand dunes and mesas rising from salty claypans and tabelands. In winter, seasonal changes bring the region to life with abundant wildlife and flora.
Before embarking on the trip, make sure you research Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre's current water level. For more information, see the Bureau of Meteorology website.
3. How to get there and how to see it
Fly or drive
The best way to get to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park is by plane. Two, in fact. Fly from Adelaide to South Australia's underground opal town, Coober Pedy, spend a couple of days exploring, then hit the skies for a tour over Lake Eyre with Wrightsair.
If you're an avid four-wheel-driver, fly from Adelaide to Coober Pedy, hire a car, then drive approximately two hours to William Creek for a Wrightsair tour. The drive to Willam Creek will take you across the gigantic Anna Creek Station: the world's largest cattle station, bigger than Israel (!), and also takes-in a section of the famed Oodnadatta Track.
Before driving, please keep in mind that Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park is one of the most remote places in Australia. See our Flinders Ranges and Outback driving safety tips and make sure you prepare.
Join a tour
One of the most popular (not to mention jaw-dropping) ways to see Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is by plane. Take-off on a scenic flight with:
- Chinta Air Tours
- Wilpena Pound Resort Tours
- Desert Sky Tours
- Air Adventure Australia
- Kirkhope Aviation
Alternatively, see the lake on a 4WD tour with:
- Spirit Safaris
- Sacred Earth Safaris
- Swagabout Tours
- Just Cruisin 4WD Tours
- Heading Bush Adventures
- Aussie Heritage Tours
- Wallaby Tracks Adventure Tours
- Arid Areas Tours
- 4WD Aussie Outback Adventures
- SA Eco Tours
You can also traverse Lake Eyre by camel with Camel Treks Australia.
4. Lake Eyre Accommodation
The Oodnadatta Track is dotted with some of Australia’s most loved Outback hotels and pubs, which make a perfect resting spots when driving to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. Top picks include the iconic Marree Hotel and William Creek Hotel, where you can also join a scenic flight.
Parachilna’s internationally-acclaimed Prairie Hotel is where the Flinders Ranges meets the Outback. Sink your teeth into their famous feral feast, enjoy some local hospitality, then take-off with Fargher Air for a day spent soaring above Lake Eyre.
Lake Eyre is part of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, which boasts multiple campgrounds. Halligan Bay Point Campground provides bush camping, while Muloorina 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 can be purchased online or at William Creek and Marree.
5. Where to venture
William Creek, Outback
South Australia’s William Creek is one of Australia’s most remote towns. Situated along the sprawling Oodnadatta Track, William Creek is an 11-hour drive from Adelaide or a two-hour drive from the Outback town of Coober Pedy. The William Creek Hotel is loved by travellers from all around the world with a front bar decorated by hundreds of notes, memorabilia and mementos.
The Anna Creek Painted Hills, Outback
The Anna Creek Painted Hills are a spectacular outcrop of deep orange sun-baked mountains, emerging suddenly from a flat desert landscape. Part of the Breakaways, the Painted Hills are only accessible by plane. Board a Wrightsair plane from Coober Pedy or William Creek for a scenic flight. Wrightsair also give you the exclusive opportunity to land in the Painted Hills and explore the spectacular landscape by foot.
The Marree Man, Outback
The mysterious Marree Man is a four kilometre-long carving etched deep into the red earth of Outback South Australia. After being discovered in 1998, still no one knows who created it or why.
Located 65 kilometres away from the town of Marree, you can see the man himself on a scenic flight from the historic Marree Hotel or with Wrightsair.
Journey to the underground town of Coober Pedy – Australia’s opal capital, boasting a sun-baked lunar landscape. Descend beneath the earth to discover a labyrinth of underground houses, hotels and even shops. Above-ground, watch Coober Pedy change colour as the sun drenches the land.
Outback stations have been a huge part of South Australia's history for more than 150 years. Today many properties in the Flinders Ranges and Outback combine traditional farm life with luxury accommodation, providing a unique experience for guests. Stay on a sheep or cattle station in shearers’ quarters, cook your own meals or join your hosts for dinner. Top picks include Rawnsley Park Station, Angorichina Station, Alpana Station and Beltana Station. For pure luxury, visit Arkaba Conservancy: an indulgent retreat set on a 60,000-acre regenerated sheep station.
Ready to start planning your trip? As exhilarating as driving in the Outback is, you need to take precautions. Stay safe and prepare. Follow our guide for Flinders Ranges and Outback driving safety tips through some of the world's most exhilarating 4WD-ing country.
More Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre Inspo
Note: all images below were taken in June 2018.