William Creek in the centre of South Australia is the closest town to one of Australia's greatest landmarks, Lake Eyre. It's the largest inland lake in the world.
The Lake Eyre Basin covers one sixth of the continent and cradles much indigenous and non-indigenous culture and history. The lake is 280km long and 85km wide. It is made up of large parts of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, with a small slice of New South Wales thrown in.
The oasis in the desert has filled with water just a handful of times in the last hundred years, and thanks to run-off from floods that hit Queensland early last year, now is one of those times.
William Creek Hotel
Whether you arrive by plane or road, the first place to stop is the famous William Creek Hotel along the Oodnadatta Track, halfway from Oodnadatta to Marree. It was built in 1887 to service the Ghan railway line between Alice Springs and Adelaide. It's not exactly the centre of town it is basically the town itself and a visit is an experience in itself.
The timber and corrugated-iron building is adorned with business cards, hand-scrawled notes and all sorts of memorabilia left by visitors from around the globe. It provides drinks and refreshments for travellers, and accommodation is available if you wish to stay on. There's a campground and demountables with twin share rooms. It's basic, but it will fulfil all your needs.
Across the road is a little museum established by the William Creek Progress Association and the owners of the William Creek Store.
From the pub it's about an hour's bumpy and dusty drive for your first glimpse of the lake. It's definitely four-wheel drive country and should not be attempted in anything less. Giaan Rooney said it was like looking at a mirage or a mighty ocean and it was difficult to comprehend the enormity of the lake. You can't get really close by road, and the other way to take it all in is, of course, by air.
Established in 1990, Wrightsair has a fleet of Cessna 172s, 207s, 210s and an Australian-made CA-8 Airvan. Their pilots are highly experienced in outback flying and specialise in scenic flights, Aboriginal art tours and charters from William Creek and Coober Pedy.
The 1.25 million square kilometre Lake Eyre Basin is breathtaking from the air, even more incredible when you realise you are in the driest part of the driest state on the driest continent on earth.
When the lake is up to 80 percent full, 85 bird varieties in their millions appear and the colours and patterns of the lake are accentuated.
On the tour, you will see a video telling the history of Lake Eyre and then you're ready to take off. The plan flies low so passengers see islands, the shoreline and birds, and as you climb, you will see just how enormous the lake is.
It's just as exciting when there is no water in the lake it's so white and shimmering you could be flying over Antarctica, so if you can't get there while it's wet, it's just as fascinating when it's dry.
Related video: Lake Eyre regatta
Lake Eyre, 700km north of Adelaide.
Williams Creek Hotel campsites are $10 for each adult and $5 for each child. Cabins are from $80 per night.
Wrightsair, a division of Freycinet Air, have one- and two-hour scenic flights over Lake Eyre. One hour is $230 per person with a minimum of two people and two-hour flights cost $350 per person with a minimum of two people. Children's fares are $200 and $250 respectively. Flights depart from William Creek daily at 8am, 11am, 2pm and 5pm.
Prices correct at October 14, 2010.
For further information
William Creek Hotel
William Creek 5710
Ph: (08) 8670 7880
Fax: (08) 8670 7881
Private Bag 52
Via Port Augusta 5710
Ph: (08) 8670 7962
Fax: (08) 8670 7962