Are you considering a flight over Lake Eyre from William Creek? I recently did a flight with WrightsAir to see this incredible salt lake and the Painted Hills on Anna Creek Station. Here’s what I thought and all the things you need to know for your own flight over Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.
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Note: I was not sponsored on this tour, I paid full price for my ticket and my opinions are completely independent.
Why I Took a Flight over Lake Eyre from William Creek
A flight over Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre has always been one of those mythical things in my mind that “other people” do. But as I planned my trip to Coober Pedy, I thought why not go to William Creek too. This place was one of legend in my family. I grew up in the country and my Dad travelled regularly throughout the Outback, and I was always hearing tales about some wild pub and the characters that inhabited it. The William Creek pub was one such place.
My initial thought was to do a day trip from Coober Pedy just to “have a look”. It’s around two hours drive each way using the direct route. Then I thought – why not keep going and come home via Marree? This meant we could overnight in William Creek. And since we were there, we may as well take a flight.
William Creek is tiny. There are really only two main buildings in town – the William Creek Hotel and the WrightsAir office right next door! Across the road is the caravan park with some cabins too. The caravan park office is the front bar of the pub! So there’s not much to do in William Creek, and taking a look around the town takes all of five minutes. William Creek solely exists as a stop on the famed Oodnadatta Track and as a base for scenic flights over Kati Chanda-Lake Eyre and other nearby attractions.
Booking your Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre Flight
Bookings can be made on the WrightsAir website here or by calling their office. You can even wait until you arrive in William Creek and just walk into the office and book. I recommend leaving the booking until you are sure you can get to William Creek, simply because there are so many variables that can disrupt your trip. We booked online the morning before, less than 24 hours before our flight.
Why two names? In 2012 the original Aboriginal name for the lake (Kati Thanda) was appended to the name the Europeans gave to the lake on their arrival (Lake Eyre) to give the whole official name as Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.
Getting to William Creek
This is half the problem when it comes to taking one of these flights – William Creek is out in the middle of nowhere! Getting here is an adventure in itself.
William Creek sits along the Oodnadatta track, a 617km section of dirt road between Marla in the west and Marree in the east. There are only two settlements (I’m not sure they can be called towns) along the track, Oodnadatta and William Creek. The quickest ways to get to William Creek are directly across from Coober Pedy, a drive of 170km on a dirt road that will take around 2-2.5 hours or from Marree, around 200km on dirt which will take around 3 hours.
We didn’t drive the direct route, but instead went from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta (195km), then Oodnadatta to William Creek (201km). As we left, we went on to Marree. During our trip, the roads were in reasonable condition, with the leg from William Creek to Marree being the roughest. We drove it in an AWD car, and while it is probably possible to do it in a 2WD, I would not recommend it. At the very least a higher clearance over the rocky road is needed.
Due to the remoteness of these roads, it’s really important to know what the road conditions are going to be like. They can be badly affected by even just a few millimetres of rain, and quickly become impassable. Before you leave, check the outback road conditions on the website here, and then make sure you check the signs as you access the roads from which ever direction you are coming.
Need a hire car for your trip?
If getting to William Creek itself is not possible, WrightsAir also run flights from Coober Pedy, Marree and Wilpena Pound that will also take you over the area but because of the distance they will be more expensive. You can also chat to them and arrange a flight that suits your needs if one is not offered as standard. For example, I spoke to people who had included the Marree Man with their Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre flight.
Preparing for the Flight
When you arrive into William Creek, call into the WrightsAir office and let them know you are here. At the moment you will need to fill in some covid declaration forms and have your temperature checked too. You will then be given a time to meet your pilot and directions to the departure gate.
We received a call after we had “checked in” to see if we wanted to change our flight to a later time. This did not suit us, so we stuck to the time we had booked. This was no issues for them, they were just letting me know a bigger plane was going up later if we preferred that.
Boarding the Plane
At 6:45am we were waiting at the departure gate. Unlike other airports where you might expect a fancy building, here the departure gate is a park bench next to a small gate in a wire link fence.
We could see a couple of the planes being prepared, the first rays of sunshine just starting to light up the area. Our pilot came over to us almost exactly on time, and I was happy to see we had Lainie flying us. We had met her the afternoon before at the office.
We were to learn throughout the flight that she was one of ten pilots based here at William Creek (half of the total population of the town!). She was doing her first season here, after covid meant she no longer had her job flying internationally on the Boeing 777’s with Virgin. We were clearly in experienced hands.
Our plane was a little four-seater, a Cessna 172. These small planes might make other people nervous but I have no issue with them. It’s been a while since I’ve been in one though, and I was excited to get up into the air.
Once we were all strapped in – a fairly simple process – we were off! The wind direction meant we were going to use the older gravel runway which required something I have never seen before. We had to taxi across the main “highway” through town to reach it! Luckily there’s not a lot of traffic out here.
Flying over the Painted Hills
After takeoff we continued flying in a south westerly direction to the Painted Hills on Anna Creek Station, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. Sunrise over the outback is another experience to include on the bucket list!
During the thirty minute flight to get there, we learned all about Anna Creek. This is the largest cattle station in the world. At just under 24000km² it is larger than Israel and many other small countries. It runs about 10000 head of cattle, but the area we were flying over had just been mustered so we didn’t see any.
The Painted Hills themselves run for about 50km deep within the station. There is no land access to them, the only way they can be seen is from the air – or with a landing during a WrightsAir flight. After much discussion between the owners of Anna Creek Station, the Williams Brothers, and Trevor Wright, in 2019 an airstrip was built to allow the planes to land. We had opted for a landing during our flight to see the Painted Hills up close.
But first we saw them from the air. They are just awesome! I really struggle to find enough words to properly explain just how incredible it was seeing the many colours in the early morning light. The hills just glowed. The landscape is unique and the colours intense. I was told that an early morning flight was the way to go, and I absolutely agree. I don’t think the Painted Hills would have had quite the same magic about them later in the day. I just can’t believe we have this amazing natural attraction in South Australia and even many of the locals don’t know about it. Take a look at these pictures to see why!
After flying over The Painted Hills we looped around and landed. We then got to walk amongst them for around half an hour. From this view point the hills look completely different. Rather than the smooth mounds we saw from the air, not we see piles of pebbles, almost reminiscent of the piles dug out of the opal mines in Coober Pedy we saw just a couple of days before. We again saw all the different colours in the rocks, and also saw fossils found in the area and smooth glacial rocks brought in from further afield millions of years ago.
The Flight over Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre
We were in the air again and making our way towards Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. As we approached I was hopeful that there may still be water in the lake from the rains a few weeks ago, but there was only a small amount in one area. We did get some of the beautiful reflections off this wet area, but since the water was no more than a puddle a millimetre or so deep, we did not have the abundant bird life that flocks to the lake when it’s got more water in it.
Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is the largest lake in Australia. The salt lake is around 145km long, and at it’s widest is 77km wide, covering around 9500km². At 15m below sea level, the salt lake is also the lowest point in Australia. Most of the time the lake is dry, but after heavy rains in Queensland and New South Wales, the lake can fill up with water from three large river systems, the Diamantina & Georgina Rivers and Coopers Creek all flow into the northern end of the lake. We were flying over the southern end of the part of the lake called North Lake Eyre.
We were farewelled with a smiley face in the desert as we started the flight back to William Creek.
While this was the part of the flight I came here for, the day I went it was secondary to the amazing views over the Painted Hills. Oh, the lake was till really cool to see – it’s size alone is worth seeing – I just thought the hills were one of the best natural attractions I have seen anywhere in the world!
The flights from William Creek over Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre are not cheap, but if you have made the effort to come to this area, they are an absolute must! If I were to do it again I would customise my trip to also include the Marree Man. Since I didn’t, it just means I have to go back – and I’m not sad about that at all!
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.