Lake Eyre National Park
Lake Eyre National Park encircles a desolate landscape of saltpans and waterless tracts of red desert. On rare occasions, the generally dry salt-encrusted lake surfaces are transformed to massive wetlands that attract thousands of birds, ﬁsh and other aquatic organisms. A trip to Lake Eyre is seen by many as a pilgrimage – almost a rite of passage – to one of the country’s great outback destinations.
Twenty thousand years ago Lake Eyre was bigger, deeper and permanently full. Geological and climatic changes resulted in the arid landscape that currently exists. The lake is now ephemeral, only ﬁlling after heavy rains in one of its faraway catchments (a rare phenomenon that occurs only several times each century). Whether the lake is empty or dry, few will be unmoved by the remote and extreme nature of this generally inhospitable wasteland that stopped early explorers in their tracks.
From Marree via Muloorina Station (4WD only) to Level Post Bay; from William Creek to Halligan Bay
Autumn to spring; summer not recommended
760 km north of Adelaide; 80 km north of Marree; 60 km north-east of William Creek
- Desert Parks Hotline (08) 8648 5328
- Lake Eyre Scenic Flights (08) 86 707 962
- Parks SA Port Augusta (08) 8648 5300
- Transport SA Outback Roads Hotline 1300 361 033
Day entry fee applies to national park; or Desert Parks Pass, Parks SA Port Augusta (08) 8648 5300 or 1800 816 078
1.3 million ha
Marree (08) 8675 8222
Featured Activities in the National Park
Take a scenic ﬂight over the swirling evaporation patterns of the lake
Walk carefully on the salt crust of the lake
Look for tracks, footprints and skeletal remains of small creatures in the salt and sand of the shoreline
A look at the past
The ﬁrst European to see the lake was Edward Eyre in 1840 but he quickly retreated from what he thought was an impenetrable chain of salt lakes. Pastoralism was the ﬁrst European land-use of the Eyre Basin, generally involving unmanaged herds and ﬂocks. Some arid-zone trees, by nature very slow-growing and taking several hundred years to reach maturity, are not regenerating because of introduced grazing animals, particularly rabbits.
South Australia’s ﬁrst arid-zone park – the 64 570-hectare Elliot Price Conservation Park – was created on the shores of Lake Eyre North in 1967 and Lake Eyre National Park was proclaimed in 1985, setting aside the entire bed of Lake Eyre North, Lake Eyre South and part of the adjacent Tirari Desert.
Once Lake Eyre dried up the country appears to have been unoccupied until around 5000 years ago. At this time, the Arabana, on the lake’s western shores, and the Dhirari people living around the lower reaches of the Warburton and Cooper rivers, relied on mound springs for water. When the lake was full, abundant food resources allowed people to move across the land with ease, conducting trade and ceremonial business with neighbouring groups. When the lake was dry the people gathered around the springs and waterholes. Dhirari country was a crossroads for major trade routes: pituri from the north, stones from east and west, ochre from the south; pearl shell from Cape York even reached this far south. After a long native title battle, the Arabana people have now regained ownership of land to the west of Lake Eyre, a significant part of their homeland and heritage.
This is the driest, most arid and one of the hottest parts of Australia. Lake Eyre is the largest saltpan in the world, covering 8000 square kilometres, and one-sixth of the country channels rainwater towards it – at 15 metres below sea level it is the lowest point on the continent. Three major river systems flow into the lake from Queensland and the Northern Territory: the Diamantina, the Georgina and the Cooper. Floodwaters from the Diamantina–Georgina system reach Lake Eyre, on average, every two years, from the Cooper about 10 times per century. To completely fill such a huge lake there needs to be a decent flood down more than one of the drainage channels. Since European settlement, the lake has been flooded only a handful of times (1891, 1950, 1974, 2000 and 2010).
Few plants can live around a desert saltpan, and those in Lake Eyre National Park must contend with saline surroundings, fierce heat during summer, and winter nights when the temperature plummets to zero. Around the lake there is samphire, glasswort and saltbush, and further from the shore, canegrass, bluebush, nitrebush, needle bush and native willow. River red gums and coolibahs are found along the watercourses, upriver where salinity is lowest.
When the lake is dry, delicate tracks of insects and reptiles on the salt crust are the only sign that creatures live here. The Lake Eyre dragon has adapted to the environment, sheltering in loose sand beneath the salty crust and feeding predominantly on ants. Painted dragons are abundant among the samphire bushes that fringe the lake. Water in the lake brings an explosion of life: pelicans, cormorants, silver gulls, red-necked avocets, stilts and whiskered terns arrive as if by magic and the lake brims with fish. Needle bushes make favourite nesting places for zebra finches and some other small birds.
The park offers incredible sights, photography, bush camping and (sometimes) birdwatching. There are views over Lake Eyre South from the Oodnadatta Track at Bopeechee, but one of the best perspectives is from the air. Scenic ﬂights leave from William Creek. Visitors are requested not to drive on the lake’s fragile surface.
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