Lake Eyre -Kati Thanda is in South Australia’s outback.
This massive salt lake is 144km long and 77km wide, and is the lowest point on the Australian mainland – just like Death Valley is in the US.
Most of the time the lake is a dry, salt expanse.
However, every 10 years or so it fills after rainfall far away in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
When this happens this usually dry lake bursts to life, becoming a major breeding ground for waterbirds from all over Australia.
The lake has only filled to capacity three times in the last 150 years.
We’ve been fortunate to see the lake almost full several times now – and we can say that this is one of our most treasured outback experiences.
The good news is that Lake Eyre -Kati Thanda is not as hard to get to as you might image – in fact it’s possible to see it without the need for any serious offroad 4WDing.
Why You Should Visit
That’s a no-brainer question, really: Lake Eyre is Australia’s largest lake. Add it to your outback bucket list!
Amanda likes to compare seeing the lake full of water with seeing Mt Everest with her own eyes for the very first time. It was one of those memories to treasure for a lifetime.
However, even just seeing the lake as a vast expanse of white that extends further than the eye can see is worthwhile. It’s like looking at a field of snow.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit the lake when there’s water in it, then you may be able to witness one of the incredible wonders of the avian world: massive breeding colonies of waterbirds who travel thousands of kilometres to roost and raise their young.
We’ll also say that the experience of camping at the lake is unlike any other we’ve had in the outback.
Even though we were in the middle of Australia, in one of the driest parts of the continent, the experience was very much like camping in the sand dunes at the beach.
Add to that all the fun of getting there: along our very favourite outback track: the Oodnadatta Track.
As we’ve said above, getting to Lake Eyre Kati Thanda National Park is an adventure in itself!
Lake Eyre is 697 km north of Adelaide. That’s a full day’s drive for most people.
The quickest and easiest way to see Lake Eyre National Park is to drive from Adelaide to Roxby Downs, take the Borefield Track and then turn left at the T-junction with the Oodnadatta Track.
Less than half an hour later, you’ll see Lake Eyre South.
There is a large pull in bay with lots of interpretative signage and plenty of space for a cuppa and a walk onto the lake.
You’ll find a lot of interesting information on the signs here about Lake Eyre – Kati Thanda National Park
As this route is on very good gravel roads (and the road is sealed all the way to Roxby Downs), you could easily drive a standard 2WD vehicle here, provided it hasn’t been raining!
This is the safest option if you’ve never driven a 4WD before and have no outback driving or camping experience.
Another option is to go to William Creek and take a flight over the Lake. In fact, we recommend this for everyone!
A flight gives you an idea of exactly how large Lake Eyre is from the air and spectacular views.
Read our review of what it’s like to take a Lake Eyre flight, including tips to get the best out your experience here.
For those with a 4WD and remote area driving and camping experience, there are two other options: the Level Post Bay Track and the Halligan Bay Track.
You can access both of these routes is via the Oodnadatta Track.
Do not attempt either of these tracks if you have no previous outback 4WD experience.
Please read the ‘Safety Tips’ section below.
It’s also important to note that both tracks are public access tracks which cross pastoral (farming) land.
Keep in mind that the owners of the pastoral properties (cattle ranches) are not able to rescue you if you get into trouble.
They also reserve the right to close the tracks if they believe that conditions on the track are too dangerous to drive on.
The Halligan Bay Track is located about 7 km south of William Creek, along the Oodnadatta Track.
It’s 64 km in length and it can take up to 3 hours to reach the lake, depending on the track’s condition. The average time taken is about 1.5 hours.
The Level Post Bay Track can be reached from Marree at the start of the Oodnadatta Track.
This track is 94 km in length, so be prepared to take up to 4 slow hours to reach Lake Eyre – Kati Thanda from Marree. This track takes you through Muloorina Station, a working cattle property, and past the Muloorina Station Bore camping area (see below).
The average time to drive this track is about 2 hrs 15 min.
Again, the Level Post Bay track is 4WD only, and you will need to know how to drive a 4WD properly!
Lake Eyre Kati Thanda National Park is one of the most remote and potentially dangerous places in Australia.
If you’re leaving the Oodnadatta Track and venturing out on either of the 4WD tracks, you need to be fully prepared and experienced in off road driving and bush camping techniques.
People have perished in Lake Eyre Kati Thanda National Park, in particular overseas tourists who had no outback driving or camping experience.
For this reason we don’t recommend that overseas tourists in hired campervans do these tracks unless you are an experienced off road driver and are totally self-sufficient.
Also, your hire car agreement may forbid you to drive on these tracks, so check before you do it!
See & Do:
Camping, photography and birdwatching are the main activities that people do when they visit Lake Eyre – Kati Thanda.
However, there’s also scenic flights over the lake, which you can take from nearby William Creek or Marree, or further afield – even from capital cities.
Click here to read our complete guide to Lake Eyre flights.
Lake Eyre National Park has two camping areas, and they’re both great for relaxing and kicking back after a long dusty drive.
One is at Halligan Bay, the other at Muloorina Station Bore (access via the Level Post Bay track).
If the Lake has filled, you’re far more likely to see water in Lake Eyre from Halligan Bay than at Level Post Bay.
Both camping sites are bush camping, which means you need to be totally self sufficient. Bring all your own food and water.
No booking is required at either camping site, but a small camping fee applies.
A Desert Parks Pass is required to visit Halligan Bay. However, you can purchase a day pass at William Creek Hotel (ph: (08) 8670 7880) or from the Marree store (ph: (08) 8675 8360) for $20 per vehicle. The pass includes overnight camping.
There are toilets and a shade shelter/table at Halligan Bay, but no showers.
Halligan Bay is extremely exposed, flat and open.
You’re not allowed to have campfires at Halligan Bay.
As Halligan Bay is located within the National Park, and because of the fragile nature of the lake shore, be certain to only camp where designated.
Halligan Bay is the best place to see Lake Eyre’s wildlife and birds – especially if there’s water in the lake. It’s also great for photographs, walking and birdwatching.
We’ve found that camping at Lake Eyre – Kati Thanda is remarkably like camping at the beach, only you’re in remote outback Australia.
Muloorina Station Bore is actually a lot nicer than Halligan Bay.
It’s a pleasant campsite near a small wetland that’s fed by a bore. There’s a flushing toilet, a table and some seats.
You can also have a campfire here, as it’s on a pastoral station rather than on the national park.
There’s also a bit more natural vegetation at Muloorina, providing windbreaks and shade.
The only drawback is that the camping area is a little bit of a drive away from Lake Eyre itself. It’s another 20 km to Level Post Bay on the Lake itself.
The charges for camping at Muloorina are: $8 per car per night and a further $2 donation for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. An honesty box is available on site.
Please note that at both places, campers are requested to take their rubbish with them.
An alternative camping option if you are sticking to the Oodnadatta Track is Coward Springs.
The campground can get busy here, but whenever we’ve stayed, so it’s a good idea to arrive early.
The current fees for the campground (2016) are $12 per adult, with children free.
As well as the hot tub, Coward Springs has showers and toilets, camel tours (during winter), a small museum and several walks. If you’re into birdwatching then it’s a must!
Coward Springs has its own great website, where you can book accommodation, camel tours and learn more about this special oasis in the desert. Please make sure you check it out: www.cowardsprings.com.au
When to Go:
Really the best time to go is when there’s water in the lake, ideally in the cooler months.
Like most places in this part of the outback, Lake Eyre experiences extremes of temperatures that range from 50°C in the summer, to below freezing in the winter.
We’d recommend that you avoid camping here in the summer -it’s simply too hot! Although you can still visit the lake during summer, you’re better off staying in air conditioned accommodation at William Creek or Marree.
Winter (May-September) is the very best time to visit the lake. We highly recommend a trip during the winter – you’ll be astounded at the brilliant night skies!
Lake Eyre is one of our very favourite places in the entire outback. We’re really happy to be able to share this information with you and hope that you’ll visit this place at least once in your lifetime.
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