Lake Eyre from Above
Will a bucket list flight over Lake Eyre in flood be everything that photographer Matt Williams hopes it will be? Or will it be more?
Switches were flicked, buttons pressed, and dials rotated, as I watched the pilot, Ali, do his thing, before a final thumbs-up was given to the passengers. The throttle eased forward and next thing we were bouncing along the tarmac of the Marree International Airport. With the wheels off the deck, things got decidedly smoother. It was time to focus my attention, on the landscape below me, for I was in the process of ticking one of the things off my bucket list — a flight over Lake Eyre!
In 2011, waters made their way south and filled Lake Eyre to its highest level since 1974. I remember seeing it on the news and thinking that I would love to see it in flood. So, that is when a trip to Lake Eyre, in particular a flight over it, was put on my bucket list.
Fast forward eight years, and after a run down the Birdsville Track, I find myself out the front of the historic Marree Hotel, which serves as a booking agent for scenic flights out of Marree. So before a visit to the public bar to sample those aforementioned delights, I checked out the flights on offer.
GETTING IT BOOKED
The two- and a-bit hour flight was the one for me, and as luck would have it, there were seats available for the flight tomorrow afternoon. Money was exchanged, details relayed, and directions were given; I just needed to be down at the airport by 2.30 pm.
After an early start and cracking sunrise over the waterhole, we had an easy morning before making our way back from camp to Marree. Following the directions we were given the day before (keep on going down past the pub then take a right), we arrived at the Marree International Airport.
After strapping in, it wasn't long before we were wheels up and heading towards our first point of interest, Marree Man.
From the there, we started our north, first over Lake Eyre South, which unfortunately didn't see any inflows from this latest rain event, before crossing from desert and dunes to the salt pans of Jackboot Bay in Lake Eyre North.
As we exited Jackboot Bay, another bunch of sightseers on a flight from William Creek came into view. After a bit of chatter between the two pilots, and some encouragement from myself, there was a couple of aerial manoeuvres and a fly-by or two.
But I digress. We picked up the Goyder Channel and followed it to the northern extremity of the lake and the mouth of the Warburton River. The majority of the water flowed down the Diamantina, which becomes the Warburton, before finally entering the lake. At its peak, it was estimated that this flood filled the lake to approximately 70 per cent. By the time I flew over the lake, you could already see where the water had receded from.
We followed the water up the Warburton River for around 30km, as it was here that there was the greatest concentration of birdlife. Great flocks of pelicans that would have easily numbered in the thousands were huddled together on the exposed sand spits, while spoonbills, cormorants and various raptors added to the spectacle. As a bonus, we flew over a section of water that was home to around twenty black swans.
After our birdwatching, it was time to turn south and head back towards Marree. We tracked along the eastern edge of the lake, at the extremities of where the water had reached, which created some of the most amazing patterns and colours in the surface of the lake below.
We flew across Madigan Gulf as the sun started to get lower in the sky, casting a golden glow across the landscape, while revealing even more textures and enticing another frenzied burst from my very well used shutter button. Our last glimpse of Lake Eyre was as we crossed back into the dune fields at Level Post Bay, before taking a slight detour over the homestead at Muloorina Station.
A little over two hours after we had taken off from Marree International, we started our descent and touched down just minutes before the sun slipped away for another day. As I unclipped from my harness before making my way across the tarmac, it started to sink in just how awesome that experience was. Back in 2011, when I first imagined flight over Lake Eyre, I couldn’t have known just how good it would be. Lake Eyre had just delivered well beyond my wildest expectations. One day, I'll do it again!