Page 115: A flight over lake eyre
|Comment: We flew over Lake Eyre, etc. on the Monday
then drove out along the Birdsville Track to see some of the same things
from ground level the following day. I am merging the two sets of pictures
on this page.
Also, if you find errors or contradictions in the text it is because, while striving to be accurate, we are learning new facts about this region all the time. Please email me if you find errors so that I can correct them. Thank you.
|An early start.|
| If there was a down side to Monday
it was getting up at six o'clock in the morning to find the bowl in every
WC in the park full of water and . . . other things. Enough? You have the
We had booked a 7:30 flight to Lake Eyre from Marree International Airport (joke) and were required to be in the Departure Lounge (little tin shed) ten minutes before take-off. There were six aircraft departing almost simultaneously which meant a lot of radio chat between the pilots which they made sound very professional but which really amounted to "Hey, you lot, this is where I am."
|We flew in an Airvan which held six passengers, all with window seats.|
|Climbing out from Marree we followed the Birdsville Track to the north east. This track used to be an old cattle trail once used by drovers to bring mobs of cattle from Queensland to the railhead at Marree. From there they travelled by rail to the Adelaide Markets. The railway has now gone and the cattle track has been graded for vehicular use but is unsealed. It runs for over five hundred kilometres to the Queensland town of Birdsville. It normally crosses the dry bed of the Cooper Creek but at the time of writing the Cooper was carrying large volumes of flood water from Queensland to Lake Eyre so a diversion via a punt was in use.|
|The Birdsville Track across the Tirari Desert looked
nice and smooth from 3,500'. The next day we drove it.
I wondered why the edges of the road looked fuzzy on this photo. It's because the dense clouds of dust raised
by every vehicle settles along the road verges, 'painting' them the same colour.
| Driving the Birdsville Track - which
we did the next day - was easy in the dry weather, the surface was relatively
smooth but very dusty. If we drove slowly we felt every bump in the road
surface, so like most others we sat on around 100 km/hr which was quite
comfortable and safe as long as the view of the road ahead was clear. Every
vehicle kicked up a dense cloud of dust making overtaking impossible unless
the car ahead slowed right down for a water crossing or similar. The plan
was to close up as the dust cloud reduced then sprint past before the car
ahead regained speed.
Since the Cooper was not only flowing but had burst its banks and inundated the surrounding countryside, the diversion that had been set up was essential for those continuing on beyond the Cooper. Most however, like ourselves, were there to see the Cooper in flood. Arriving at the diversion signs we ignored them and continued to the point where the track submerged . . .
|The point at which the Birdsville Track submerged. Do you think the road sign might be just a teeny bit superfluous?|
We didn't see many birds at the Cooper but
there were a few. I think I know what the generic names of the birds are
but not the name of the subdivisions. The one on the right is a heron and
probably a Pacific Heron or a Pied Heron.
Below is pictured an adult and immature stilt. Black Winged Stilts would be my guess. Is that right, brothers of mine? (Some of my numerous brothers are expert ornithologists.)
The television recently reported that there had been mass hatchings of Banded Stilts on an island in Lake Torrens, south of Lake Eyre. It seems that this threatened species had produced up to 200,000 chicks and the parents were mating again. The previous mass mating at Lake Torrens was in 2000 when the birds were plagued by Silver Gull predators which attacked the eggs. This time predation was thought to be minimal.
Because of the rarity of suitably wet conditions in central Australia, Banded Stilts only breed once in ten years on average.
|A mature and (beyond) an immature stilt on the wetland produced by the overflowing Cooper Creek.|
|Back to our flight. Between the submerged crossing and the temporary punt is Lake Killamperpunna which was where our pilot took us first since the Lake Eyre Yacht Club was in the process of setting up camp for a regatta. He descended to a height of 500' and circled the camp for us to get a photo opportunity. I really love the concept of having a yacht club named after a lake which might only fill four times in a century. Even this regatta was held on a different lake because Lake Eyre was not deep enough.|
|We had a good view of some of the contestants in
the regatta setting up their camp.
Remember, all this is a hundred and fifty kilometres from the one horse town of Marree. Or a bitumen road.
|The following day we arrived just in time to see
the yachts congregating for the start of the two o'clock race.
Quite a colourful sight on a lake that's been bone dry for the last twenty years.
|From Lake Killamperpunna our young pilot continued at low altitude to circle the punt at the temporary Cooper crossing. As can be seen from the left hand picture below, the creek is narrow at the crossing but, we were told, deep.|
|Left: The punt is almost
at the far bank of the Cooper and a vehicle is approaching the loading point.
Right: Obscured by the aircraft's wing strut, the punt is almost at the bank and a Toyota "Troopy" is waiting to board.
|Next day. The punt sets off across the Cooper with a Toyota Prado and its passengers aboard. It is powered by two outboard motors, one on each side, it is secured by two steel cables, it tows a lifeboat with another outboard engine and all passengers are required to leave their vehicle and wear life jackets. It even flies an R.F.D.S. flag! The 'Nanny State' is not just alive, it is thriving.|
| Since the Cooper had not flooded
for the last twenty years there had been frantic activity to overhaul the
punt which had been sitting high and dry all that time. She was fitted with
two new outboard engines and new guide cables. Even so she could only carry
one vehicle and five passengers at at a time. The passengers were required
to leave their vehicle and wear life jackets. When we visited the punt by
road the next day we found it took about twenty minutes for each return
crossing. There were a dozen cars queuing on our side; do the the maths!
Inefficient though this punt certainly was, it was streets ahead of the original 1949 version which we had found on display near the submerged crossing.
|Motor Vessel Tom Brennan used to have an
outboard motor and was used to ferry people, supplies and mail across flood
waters and to assist cattle drovers with the crossing of cattle. It was unsinkable having sealed ballast tanks fore and aft.
It was presented to settlers north of Cooper Creek by Dalgetty and Co. Ltd. in 1949. The freezing woman was added later.
|Having looked down upon the regatta preparations and the punt we climbed to 4,500' for a wider perspective and followed the Cooper towards Lake Eyre North.|
|Left: It's 20 years since
the Cooper looked like this, inundating the surrounding landscape.
Right: Through the Airvan's windscreen, the Cooper twisting its way towards Lake Eyre North.
| Our pilot, Hayden, told us that
the water presently in Lake Eyre was what was left from 2009. The Cooper
water had not quite reached the existing lake water but it was expected
to within three days. It will flow until Christmas when Lake Eyre would
be at its fullest. Hell's Bells, we came too soon!
Lake Eyre North was very different to my mental image of it. I had expected a huge inland sea with water to the horizon. Perhaps this was due to my belief that the lake was full. It certainly was nowhere near full but good intelligence on it's current state was almost impossible to obtain beforehand.
|Lake Eyre North from the air was disappointing.
Looking down it was hard to differentiate between dry salt and water
and the cloud reflections confused the issue further. Wide though the lake is, it is nearly all shallow.
|Left: An island covered
in salt. This is Stingray Island, so named because of its shape.
Right: The name of this island I forget. It is a breeding ground for pelicans.
|Over to the east side of Lake Eyre North the Warburton River flowed in. Or did it? Is that water or salt?|
|One last picture, this one of the Cooper joining Lake Eyre North.|
| After all the hype about the desert
blooming and wildlife abounding we saw little evidence of that. Pam saw
two black swans and I thought I did too. (See Pam's Journal for
July 6th 2010). Perhaps we arrived too early, the weather was certainly
So, was it worth coming all this way? Very definitely YES. It has been a once in a lifetime experience. Hell, staying in the Drover's Rest Caravan Park was a once in a lifetime experience.
Looking back, it would have been so much better if the South Australian Tourist Information people had been on the ball. The flight booking organisation was a shambles too. All the literature advised was to book at the Marree Hotel; most of the time there was nobody there able to accept bookings. It would not be difficult to advertise a specific time when bookings would be accepted at the Marree Hotel, and to ensure somebody was there at that time. To just tell people there are no pilots available and to try again later was unacceptable. The hotel is supposed to be the local centre for tourist information but what a surly crowd they are. What sort of opinion do overseas visitors take home with them?