Lake Eyre, in the Lake Eyre National Park around 435 miles (700 kilometres) north of Adelaide, is an extraordinary oasis in the harsh South Australian outback. The Lake Eyre Basin covers an astonishing 386,102 square miles (1 million square kilometres) and crosses the borders of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
Lake Eyre itself, which is actually two lakes connected by a channel, is 89 miles (144 kilometres) long and 48 miles (77 kilometres) wide. It's the largest salt lake in Australia, but one that is rarely filled with water. The Lake Eyre region is also the driest and lowest geographical point in Australia.
The traditional owners of the Lake Eyre region, the Arabana people, have lived in the Lake Eyre Basin for thousands of years. The lake continues to be an important cultural site for Aboriginal people. Lake Eyre was named after explorer Edward John Eyre, the first European to see it in 1840. In the mid-1880s, many new settlers began farming in the area. One of these farms, Anna Creek, is now the largest cattle property in Australia.
Lake Eyre's water levels mainly depend on the annual monsoon and how much rain falls in the lake's catchment in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The strength of the tropical monsoon determines if water reaches the lake and how much water it will receive.
Water from these three state catchment areas covers the lake about once every eight years. The lake has only filled to capacity three times in the last 160 years. When the lake floods, it creates an amazing natural spectacle. The air is filled with the sound and sight of huge numbers of waterbirds which flock to the area. The usually stark landscape comes alive with the rich colours of wildflowers and a sea of green foliage. The different levels of salty water can be seen as remarkable swirling current patterns which stretch as far as the eye can see.
As the lake dries up and the water evaporates, its salinity increases and it often appears to turn pink. When empty, the lake becomes a giant salt pan, with white crystals reflecting the sunlight.
The best place to view the lake from land is from Halligan Bay. After the rains, you can also enjoy the lake by boat or kayak. By far the best way to appreciate the vast lake is from the air. Several local tour operators run sightseeing flights over the lake, particularly when it is flooded. There are several other salt lakes in the area, some of which are heritage-listed for their rare fossils.
Lake Eyre National Park is located 37 miles (60 kilometres) east of William Creek off the Oodnadatta Track. The track is suitable for 4WD vehicles and experienced drivers only. Extra supplies of fuel, food and water should be taken. Roads can be closed due to flooding. The best time to visit is April to October.