The flooded Lake Eyre

The flooded Lake Eyre from the air.

Have you ever wondered what a massive lake in the middle of the flat dry Australian desert looks like?  Can you even begin to imagine what or where this famed lake is? Lake Eyre for those who know where it is geographically conjures visions of expansive dry salt fields beside the red sand dunes of the great Simpson Desert. And the Lake Eyre Basin is huge, straddling four Australian states – the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and a small part of New South Wales. The basin has one of the largest internally draining river systems in the world. It’s as unique as it is a paradox, generally known as a dry arid environment with hardly a drop of surface water. And yet it floods

Before I had any inkling about Lake Eyre, during the wet season of 2009, Yogi (in his mind) was already planning a long road trip westward. He kept telling me, “Water is entering Lake Eyre. It is flooding now! We must prepare to go.” And so I googled Lake Eyre and HELLO, it’s 3,100 km from Cairns! And I was still in the middle of preparing for our 18 month long expedition to six countries of the Coral Triangle! So in early 2009, I ignored Yogi’s nagging. In 2010, thick into our journey still in Indonesia, Yogi read news from home and said, “the wet season this year is still strong! Water’s still entering Lake Eyre! We have to go!” Deep into our WWF job, for the second year, I ignored Yogi.

It was some sort of a wondrous moment when I finally understood how phenomenal Lake Eyre’s flooding was. How the rain water pouring into Queensland slowly moved the immense distance towards South Australia, to an inland lake 15 metres below sea level – the lowest point of this dry continent, enough to fill it. How far this water traveled! There are several rivers that feed into Lake Eyre: the four main rivers in the basin are Cooper Creek, the Finke River, Georgina River and Diamantina River. With the strong rains in March 2011, for the third year in a row Lake Eyre received water, reaching 75% flood capacity. We were finally able to follow the water and make our trip to the lowest point of Australia. With our Troopy all decked for a 2.5 month trip, we headed southwest.

Water flowing into Lake Eyre from the Diamantina River out of Birdsville

Water flowing into Lake Eyre from the Diamantina River out of Birdsville

Winter in the cold outback with a lovely fire from sleepers of the Old Ghan.

Winter in the cold outback with a lovely fire from sleepers of the Old Ghan.

Flooded Strzelecki Desert approaching Coongie Lakes National Park

Flooded Strzelecki Desert approaching Coongie Lakes National Park

Water along the dunes! Simpson Desert Regional Reserve. The many sand dunes of the Simpson Desert very rarely get vegetation this thick. The desert dune is very green at this time when normally it is just bare and sandy. Now it is a challenge to find wide sandy patches.

Water along the dunes! Simpson Desert Regional Reserve.

Neales River bringing water in to Lake Eyre.

Neales River bringing water in to Lake Eyre.

Simpson Desert Regional Reserve where amazing lakes are found in between the sand dunes.

Simpson Desert Regional Reserve where amazing lakes are found in between the sand dunes.

Sunrise at the Cooper Creek crossing the flooded Birdsville Track.

Sunrise at the Cooper Creek crossing the flooded Birdsville Track.

The flooded Lake Eyre at sunset with wind ripples.

The flooded Lake Eyre at sunset with wind ripples.