Lake Eyre (Kati Chanda) is the biggest salt lake in the world and we were lucky to be visiting with water in the lake, rather than seeing a barren salt pan. In the spirit of adventure, we took the long route from Coober Pedy to William Creek via Oodnadatta. The Oodnadatta Track is an interesting drive but the first section from Coober Pedy is as lifeless as you could ever imagine. We stopped at the pink roadhouse in Oodnadatta and wondered why on earth such a dry place would have pink canoes out the front. Perhaps they are ready for when the Neales River floods but by the amount of dust and spiders in them, the canoes are obviously more ornamental than practical.
The highlight of the Oodnadatta Track is following the old Ghan railway, which linked Port Augusta with Alice Springs in 1929. The old crumbling buildings, railway sidings and bridges which span the creeks, rivers and floodways certainly make the drive an interesting one. We stopped several times to check out the old buildings, cars and bridges which are slowly deteriorating and becoming part of the bush.
Another day in the car with dust billowing behind us and just the odd vehicle in sight confirmed that we are in the middle of no-where but the solitude is peaceful. Finally, we reached the one-pub town of William Creek and met my parents at the dusty camp ground opposite the pub. They decided to take the more direct route but ended up smashing their rear window when a stone deflected off their caravan. A blue tarp taped on the back provided a bit of protection and at least they were laughing about it as it wasn’t anything too serious.
The alarm was set for the following day and it was an early start as we prepared for our one-hour joy flight over Lake Eyre and The Painted Hills. The kids had been excited for weeks, looking forward to our flight in one of the little planes. We had an eight-seater which was perfect, a window-seat for the seven of us and one for our young pilot, Emily. Cooper sat at the front and asked Emily lots of question as his latest quest is to become a pilot for The Royal Flying Doctors. We could all talk to each other through our headphone sets and Emily headed straight for the Painted Hills. We flew over Anna Creek Station, which is the largest cattle station in the world and half the size of Tasmania. We saw a dingo from the air and marvelled at how different the flat, red terrain which was filled with branching dry riverbeds looked from above.
The Painted Hills came into sight and certainly stood out from the surrounding plains. The hills were a mix of earthy colours, layered on top of each other and it looked simply beautiful in the early morning light. Once we saw the hills, it was time for the main event and we flew towards Lake Eyre.
We could see the lake shimmering in the distance and as we approached, it looked like waves washing on a flat beach but the salt deposits and receding waterline was deceiving. The water had been pushed to one side of the lake by the wind, leaving patterns of salt, wet sand and water. Lake Eyre covers over 1.2 million square kilometres and we only touched on a small section but still managed to see some of the water birds feeding on shrimp. The hour soon passed and we were back at camp planning the next part of our trip.
Riding back to our camp, a big brown snake weaved its way in between the kids and I, rearing up to strike at Cooper. Although he hadn’t seen the snake, he kept riding as instructed and if he panicked and stopped, he may have been bitten. We have seen a lot of snakes on our trip and I always remind the kids to be vigilant but this was the closest call so far. Everyone was OK and a good reminder for us all that we need to take care when in the outback.
After seeing Lake Eyre from the sky, we wanted to ride our bikes and walk on it, so we packed up camp and took the rough 4WD track towards the lake. Nearly an hour of driving over corrugations had us lakeside, where we were swarmed by flies. We were questioning our sanity even going out on the lake but since we made the effort to drive in, we had to at least experience it. To say it was unpleasant with the flies and wind was an understatement but nevertheless, we persevered and made it back to the car after ingesting at least a few flies each. Thankful we weren’t camping there, I slammed the door, said good riddance to the flies and we headed for The Flinders Rangers.