We didn’t hit the dirt road from Coober Pedy to travel to the tiny outback town of William Creek in the far north of South Australia for the same reason that a lot of others had, which was to experience the spectacular flood waters entering Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest lake (when full).
It was however most certainly an additional highlight (for one of us in any case). More on this rare occurrence and the reason why I don’t have one single Lake Eyre photo of my own to show you!
Here we arrive at the junction of the dirt William Creek Road (coming from Coober Pedy) and the iconic Oodnadatta track (seen above snaking north towards the outback town of Oodnadatta). We turned right and headed to the tiny town of William Creek (below), located on the world’s largest cattle station, Anna Creek Station , thats over 15,000 square kilometres of station!
No, you didn’t miss it, those few buildings in the distance make up William Creek.
The well known William Creek Hotel is a slice of outback life for travellers from far and wide, home to a few William Creek employees and hub for the pilots of Wrights Air.
It’s safe to say this outpost is a fair way from anywhere! 871 kms north of Adelaide, 3020 to Perth….it’s a wide, open and dry outback so best to be well prepared. Certainly don’t stray from your vehicle as one Austrian tourist did when her car bogged near the lake, she tragically didn’t make it and lost her life.
Another tiny piece of advice…..make sure you have one of these lovelies on your head! It will save you from swallowing a million pesky outback flies!
You’ll not only enjoy good outback tucker in the restaurant, you’ll also enjoy stepping back in time with the walls and ceilings brimming with memorabilia from William Creek’s historical and more recent past, including some indigenous artworks, the odd pair of walking boots and a ceiling full of patron’s business cards in the iconic front bar (you are sure to meet a character or two if you hang out here long enough with a coldie)!
Check out those old Ghan sleepers (more info on the old Ghan railway for those of you who are interested in this link)
The international staff (backpackers) at the hotel were a happy and relaxed bunch, keen to chat and get into the outback spirit. Below at the front bar is Alexi from Toulouse, France.
Somewhat closer to home is Peter the mailman, he makes the mail run from Coober Pedy to William Creek stopping at a number of Stations along the way. Not only does Peter load his 4WD up with the mail, he even takes tourists onboard.
What a wonderful way of seeing the outback, being part of an integral service to its locals and learning about outback life and the region while doing so. (I believe you can organise this trip through the tourism office in Coober Pedy).
Peter told me he has been running the mail here for 17 years, so he would definitely know a thing or two about the area and its locals.
Here he is pulling in the mail bag while his clients are lunching at the pub.
The accommodation at the pub is basic and clean, below are the motel rooms bathed in glorious outback light at sunup.
Some lens baby weirdness while shooting a few interior room vignettes!
There would not be too many housekeeping staff in the hospitality industry that require this particular headgear and vehicle, only in the Australian outback! Thanks Rosaria for your kindness in allowing me to photograph you.
The pub’s corrupted iron shimmers in the midday sun as Frenchman and resident chef Simon comes back from the cold room with the bacon.
William Creek as a destination to discovering the wonder of Lake Eyre
The usually dry lake, known officially as Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre is at the lowest natural point in Australia at around 15 m below sea level, and has only filled to its brim a mere three times in the last 150 years. It’s currently at its fullest in 45 years.
Below is an excerpt from – Abc.net.au
‘Lake Eyre basin is one of the largest and most pristine desert river systems on the planet, supporting 60,000 people and a wealth of wildlife.
It’s a rarity in a world that has harnessed, tapped, pumped and dammed its rivers, sometimes, to death.
Residents say they’ve learnt to go with the flow even though, mostly, there is none.
When the water does come, you celebrate the moment, but you “don’t get greedy”.
The Lake Eyre Basin covers one-sixth of Australia across four states and territories. It’s fed by three major systems — the Georgina and Diamantina rivers and Cooper Creek.
Floodwaters from the north drain towards Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre — the country’s lowest point — spilling over riverbanks and across the floodplains, filling waterholes and wetlands, and carving new arteries across the landscape — giving the Channel Country its name.
Most of the rain which falls in the north never finishes the 1,000-kilometre journey to the lake, making the event of its filling so incredible.
The land is a sponge. Evaporation across the basin is 20 times the average annual rainfall.
Historically, the water’s journey south has taken anywhere from three to 10 months, but this year, it was much faster, arriving in two.
The sheer volume of water created by the torrential downpour in Queensland at the end of January meant water started arriving at the lake in late March.’
Conquering Fear (or not)!
The most spectacular and really the only way to truly appreciate this amazing lake and its flooding is from the air, and William Creek is one of the best places to jump on one of Wrights Air’s light planes and wing your way over its natural beauty.
Trevor Wright founder of the respected airline came to William Creek over 30 years ago and never left. He now owns not only the airline but most of the town including the iconic hotel and the camping grounds opposite the pub.
The airport (situated directly behind the hotel) is not only one of the most remote in Australia but it is also one of the busiest regional airports in the country.
Now I would love to be able to let you know how it feels to be flying in one of these aircraft or describe how spectacularly beautiful Lake Eyre is from the air or for crying out loud post an actual aerial photograph of the lake!
However, my fear of light planes (light being the concept that plays havoc) saw me drag my feet into the booking office, pay for my fare (for the first flight out the next morning), stay wide awake for most of the night worrying and going over in my head all the light plane crashes I could dredge up, drive my travel buddy mad with repeated out loud mantras such as ‘I can do this, I can do this’, until I was finally left standing on the airstrip with a heavy heart as said friend jumped onboard as if jumping onto a bus with a huge smile waving a goodbye with her camera at the ready!
(and yes…. I know its much safer than driving on our roads…. I know it, I do, and one day I will climb onboard because one of my dreams is to shoot aerial images, and I’ll be darned if fear will stop me again)! The frustrating part is I know if I had been on assignment I would have got on and conquered the damn fear, but it was too easy at that moment to back down and back down I did!
Thank you Susan Papazian for generously allowing me to post your stunning image (below) of the incredible landscape that is Lake Eyre (or part of) in all its watery beauty.
Meanwhile I spent time shooting photos with both feet planted firmly on terra firma, all the while cursing myself for missing what could possibly be a once in a lifetime opportunity….’stupid idiot, stupid idiot’ was the new mantra (not helpful I know)!
Petrol doesn’t come cheap out here at $2 a litre or more!
….more lensbaby weirdness
Light planes landing and taking off until sundown.
The town of William Creek and the Old Ghan railway
The following information was taken from an information panel over the road from the William Creek Hotel.
The old Ghan train line from Coward Springs to William Creek opened in June 1889, at this time the town consisted of a general store, an eating house and some housing for the railway staff.
Fortnightly trains stopped at William Creek for an hour, enough time for passengers to lunch and the engine to be coaled.
The patron at the time Charlie Bernhardt was a Jehovah Witness and served ‘Awake’ and religious pamphlets with his beers!
William Creek’s demise came in 1929 when a dining car was placed on the passenger train and the Station master Jasper Smith was transferred to Edwards Creek where a depot opened and train engines no longer required local coaling.
It would seem the one and only William Creek is very much alive and well with a strong and resilient outback spirit at its core.
I highly recommend you get some dirt on your wheels and hit the road, or jump onto one of the many airlines that make their way to William Creek from all over Australia.
Ps – Another flight very much worth taking while you are in William Creek is the Anna Creek Painted Hills scenic flight.
Next stop…Parachilna in the ancient Flinders Ranges via lunch at the Maree pub.