2009 Trip - Lake Eyre and the Painted Hills

Friday, Jun 26, 2009 at 11:06

Member - John and Val

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And so on to William Creek, a tiny settlement with an annual rainfall of about 120mm. But there is an airstrip, currently a busy hub for flights over Lake Eyre. We counted 10 planes on the strip as we entered town. We checked with the charter that our booking for a flight tomorrow was all-OK. It was, so we checked into the campground and set up. There are 2 camping areas; you pay at the pub for either of them. Both campgrounds are very busy with travellers wanting a glimpse of Lake Eyre with some water in it. So there was quite a queue for the welcome hot showers – provided you got to them before the generator went off.

We had to be up early the next morning to be at the Wrightsair office by 7.30 to pay for our flight. While we waited for our pilot we were entertained in the pilots lounge room by satellite TV beside a cosy fire, a welcome touch as it was quite chilly.

Our pilot for our 2 hour flight was Peter who quickly had us settled into the 6-seater high wing Cessna. Our first destination was the Painted Hills, south of William Creek on Anna Creek Station. This property is the largest cattle property in the world, about the size of Belgium. Currently, because it is so dry it only has fewer than 2000 cattle on it. It is all run by only 6 people. Although there is a network of station tracks, access to the Painted Hills is not permitted, so the only way to see them is from the air.

And in the clear early morning light what a beautiful sight they are, rounded remnants of an ancient landscape glowing yellow and orange, with splashes of vivid white. They are spread over a large area so Peter took the plane down to 500 feet and banked it left and right ensuring that we all got a great view.

Then it was time to head north to Lake Eyre crossing the desert with its fascinating colours and patterns of sand dunes, claypans and drainage lines. Eventually the silvery glare resolved into a definite “coastline” with blue water fringed by a margin of white salt. This blue quickly turned to brown as we flew over it. This current flooding filled the lake to about 45% capacity, and the water is already starting to dry up, leaving big shiny expanses of mud behind. The water at its deepest is about 2m deep – the bed of the lake is 15m below sea level.

There were not many birds to be seen though we did fly over what had been a busy pelican rookery a few weeks ago. But we did see a fairly big flock of pelicans standing in very shallow water and some other smaller birds.

One unexpected sight was some clusters of small mound springs in the lake bed, each with its distinctive circular shape and halo of white salt.
While our flight only took us over the SW corner of the lake we were able to see east to Madigan Gulf which only had a smear of water blown there by the wind, and beyond that we could just make out the Goyder channel that connects to Lake Eyre South. This was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to see this iconic lake with water in it, certainly something we will all remember for a long time.

Forward to next chapter - William Creek to Alice Springs
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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