Awesome Kati Thanda
STATISTICS show Lake Eyre fills to capacity only two to four times every 100 years.
At 144km long and 77km wide, that's a hell of a lot of water.
The last time the lake filled was in 2010, after the colossal Queensland floods, as the Great Artesian Basin, which covers much of western Queensland, feeds into the lake.
And so, on my way from Brisbane to the Red Centre, with water still left in the lake after rains at the beginning of this year, I found myself in a six-seater converted sea plane floating into the air above Marree, at the end of the Birdsville track in South Australia's north east.
Apart from the town of a dozen or so buildings, all around is a barren, brown landscape, with the old Ghan railway, the Birdsville Track and the dog-proof fence the only indication of human existence.
Despite its arid appearance, this land to the south of the lake is actually a running cattle station, "Anna Creek" - the largest in Australia, in fact. Then, the lake.
This side of the lake is dry and white with salt. A blue gleam in the distance suggests water, but as we fly on, we see that it's actually only wet mud reflecting the sky.
As we continue flying north, we pass the now-dry Cooper Creek estuary to the east.
Only two weeks before, when I rang to book the flight, this section of the Cooper was running with water and alive with wildlife.
Luckily for us, the company adjusted our itinerary at no cost, to take us right to the top of the lake, where the Warburton was still flowing and had attracted plenty of birds.
Here, the water from the creek flows into the western side of the lake down the Warburton Groove, an 85km channel in the lake that is first to fill when the waters come down from the north.
As we fly back south along the groove, we watch the countless flocks of pelicans below us and the lake slowly widens.
As we approach Belt Bay, about halfway back to our starting point, all I can see out of my window is water and the horizon. It's an amazing sight.
What's even more amazing is to then be told that the deepest point in the lake at this time is believed to be only 80cm. The majority of the lake is thought to be only a few centimetres deep, if even that.
The deepest point in the lake is also the lowest point in Australia, at 15 metres below sea level.
The highest recorded lake depth was six metres in 1974, following the floods of that year.
Seeing the lake from the ground is also an awe-inspiring experience.
There is a two-wheel-drive access point to the edge of the lake from the road between Marree and William Creek.
There are a couple of other access points along the Oodnadatta Track but you need a four-wheel drive and a desert parks pass.
Being on the edge of the lake is like being on the edge of the planet. And for me, it equalled the experience of seeing the lake from the sky.
There is nothing like touching, tasting, gauging the lake with your own being. I may write 500 words and a picture might tell 1000, but to get a full idea of this natural wonder, there's nothing like being there for yourself.
How to get there
Marree and William Creek are the main local centres for flights, but you can also take off from other towns such as Lyndhurst and Birdsville.
Wrightsair is the most established company, but we went with GSL Aviation, which offered different routes and an in-between price.
The 2.2-hour flight we chose cost $379 per person. The 1.5-hour option was $269 per person.
Flights also leave from Adelaide and even Brisbane, if you're not up for the adventurous but hefty drive.
Lake Eyre facts
- Named after explorer Edward John Eyre in 1840
- Kati Thanda is the indigenous name for the lake
- It actually comprises two lakes - Lake Eyre North and Lake Eyre South, joined by the Goyder Channel
- Covers a total of about 9500sq km
- The Lake Eyre basin covers 1/6 of Australia - or the area of France, Germany and Italy combined
- Lowest point in Australia at 15m below sea level
- Donald Campbell set a land speed record of 649kmh on the lake in 1964