Lake Eyre is the largest salt lake in Australia and a place that captures the imagination of many people.
Facts and Figures:
Here’s what everyone wants to know about Lake Eyre, like where it is, what it is, how big it is and how often does it fill up:
- Lake Eyre is Australia’s largest salt lake
- It’s located 647 km north east of Adelaide, in the state of South Australia
- Lake Eyre is actually comprised of 2 lakes: Lake Eyre North and Lake Eyre South
- The lakes are connected by the Goyder Channel, which is 15 km long
- Together, both lakes are 144km long and 77km wide
- Lake Eyre is the lowest point below sea level on the Australian mainland (15.2m below sea level)
- Lake Eyre is the focal point of Australia’s second largest drainage system, the Lake Eyre Basin
- The Lake Eyre Basin covers over 1 million square kilometres
- The Lake was named after explorer Edward John Eyre, the first European to see it in 1840
- Lake Eyre experiences a small (1.5 m) flood every 3 years, a large (4 m) flood every 10 years and fills an average of only four times each century!
There are a few things that you’ll need to know if you want to visit.
Lake Eyre can be reached via the Oodnadatta Track. There are three places to see it:
- At Lake Eyre South, easy access from the Oodnadatta Track via pull in bay
- Near William Creek via the Halligan Bay Track (rough 4WD only track)
- Near Marree via Muloorina Station and the Level Post Bay Track (rough 4WD only track)
Lake Eyre travel advice and safety tips can be found on this page.
One interesting fact about the Lake is that it’s been an important site for Arabunna and other Aboriginal people for several thousand years. Aboriginal people continue to consider the lake an important cultural site and are involved in its management today.
Even though Lake Eyre is one of the driest places in Australia, the waterways and mound springs encouraged European settlement in the 1860s.
Pastoralists had established many cattle stations in the area by the mid 1880s, although many of these were abandoned during a drought in the 1890s and early 1900s.
The largest cattle station in Australia, Anna Creek, is located on the south-eastern side of Lake Eyre.
The Lake Eyre National Park was established in 1985, whilst the Elliot Price Conservation Area was donated by Elliot Price of Muloorina Station in 1967. There is no public access to this conservation area.
Lake Eyre Water Levels
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 water entering Lake Eyre comes mostly from the rivers from the northeast (in Queensland), which flow down from the Channel Country. A smaller amount of water comes down from Northern Territory from the Finke River catchment, via the Macumba River.
Generally, it takes around 6-8 weeks for water from the Channel Country to reach the lake.
Lesser amounts of water come from local rainfall. Local rainfall filled the lake in 1984 and 1989.
However, it is the strength of the tropical monsoon that determines if water reaches the lake and how much water it will receive.
The deepest water level ever recorded in the lake was 6 metres, in 1974.
One of the more disturbing facts is that as water fills the lake, the salinity increases and causes a massive fish kill. (Yes, there are about 6 or 7 species of fish which live in the lake!).
Once the lake is full, however, it’s no more salty than the sea. As the lake dries up and the wter evaporates, its salinity increases again.
During this time Lake Eyre often appears to turn ‘pink’. This is in fact caused by a pigment found within an algae species that lives in the lake.
Current Lake Eyre Water Levels
In early 2010, massive summer rains in Queensland saw the Diamantina, Georgina and Cooper Creeks flood into the Lake Eyre Basin. This was the first time that Cooper Creek had reached Lake Eyre since 1990.
Over winter in 2010, hundred of thousands of pelicans, gulls, avocets and other waterbirds migrated to the area and began breeding.
The lake filled by mid-year, and saw many tourists visiting to see this once-in-a-lifetime event.
More recently, heavy rain in summer 2011 (Jan-March) has filled the southern end of the lake, and also caused many of the creeks in the north-east to flow into the lake once more.
The satellite photo above shows water from Coopers Creek flowing down into Madigan’s Bay in winter 2010.
Good follow-up rains in 2011 and early 2012 throughout the catchment area meant that water levels in the lake remained high.
However, over autumn and winter 2012, much of the water in the lake has now evapourated.
As of November 2012, there is less than 5% coverage of Lake Eyre by water.
Read more about Lake Eyre water levels here.