Record rainfall in the driest state on the driest continent is breathing life into one of the most ancient landscapes on earth.
Parts of the South Australian Outback and Flinders Ranges have received record rains, greening the desert, filling Lake Eyre, bringing long-dry waterfalls back into flow and causing wildflowers to bloom in areas normally known for arid peaks and dusty plains.
Tourists are being urged to head for the remote region to experience the once in a generation conditions.
“It’s absolutely beautiful. This rain we’ve had, you won’t see it again for another 40 years. It was like this in ’74 and everywhere you look it’s just green,” said Lyall Oldfield, who owns the Marree Oasis Café, motel and caravan park.
The Outback town of Marree is about 700km north of Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, and is one of the closest towns to Lake Eyre, Australia’s biggest lake.
Although it is normally dry, Eyre is the thirteenth biggest lake in the world when full and, being 15m below sea level, is the lowest geographical point in Australia.
The 9500sq km lake fills only about four times a century – the last time it was full was 1974.
Marree has recorded its wettest September since 1949 following consistent rain through the winter months. The small township is at the start of the famous Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks, which Oldfield said were open and accessible despite the rain.
Oldfield has lived in the Outback for almost 70 years and said the lake level was the fullest it had been since the late 1980s and could reach the heights of 1974.
He said the desert wildflowers and birdlife attracted to the lake including pelicans and stilts were also amazing.
“The big bonus on top of it compared to ’74 is the fact that there’s no rabbits because they were such an environment disaster,” he said, referring to the successful eradication of the introduced species.
“Now they’re gone the country is green and there’s bush everywhere.”
Water from local storms and wet season rains in outback Queensland also feed into the lake through a network of rivers that drain into a basin covering a sixth of Australia – about the size of Spain. These waters are expected to continue to flow for several months
“We could have the inland sea next year the way it’s going,” Oldfield said.
About 200km south, the 540 million-year-old Flinders Ranges is also experiencing a bumper season. The region is known for its rugged red ranges, gnarled gum trees and stony creek beds.
But the wet winter has set creeks and waterfalls running, helping the region spring to life with flowers and greenery.
Parachilna is a tiny town in the heart of the Flinders Ranges and is among 75 South Australian weather stations to record its wettest September.
The nearby Angorichina Tourist Village has been hosting a steady stream of visitors, including a number of Dutch and German guests.
Proprietor Dave Scicluna said it was one of the best years for flowers and wildlife for two decades.
He said the abundant wildflowers included molly daisy, hop bush and Sturt’s desert pea – the South Australian floral emblem.
“It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve had to re-tune my whipper snipper and get the lawnmower going,” he said.
“It’s green, there’s water flowing in the creeks and there’s wildflowers – the Blinman Falls are beautiful at the moment.
“The wildlife is brilliant at the moment too. The emus have got young ones, there are kangaroos everywhere and almost every doe kangaroo’s got a joey in the pouch.”
Scicluna has lived in the Flinders Ranges for 32 years and said he expected to be busy with tourists for at least another month.
“Until we hit half way through November, it’s going to be absolutely beautiful,” he said.
“We’re not quite in the desert but we’ve got all different colours flowing through our hills at the moment and running water through the creeks and that’s unusual.”
The town of Port Augusta is known as the Gateway to the Outback and is home of the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. Manager Cherie Gerlach said the cooler winter and steady rainfall spread evenly over several months meant this year’s wildflower season was later and longer than usual.
“We’ll have more people over the next month than we might have had because knowing it’s a good year people will be out looking for them,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful year to be in the Flinders Ranges and the Outback, there’s no doubt about it.
“We’ve had a high number of people coming through from further north who have commented on the green year.
“The flowing creek beds through the Flinders and the waterfalls are definitely worth getting out and having a look at over the next month or two before they dry up. “
Arid Recovery is a large fenced conservation reserve near Roxby Downs, a mining town about 260km north of Port Augusta.
While it hasn’t received the rainfall of some other Outback areas, Arid Recovery Office Science and Education Officer Kimberley Solly said it had been an excellent season for poached egg daisies, paper daisies and native hollyhocks.
“It’s not just the annuals that have come up, all the perennials like the blue bushes are flowering as well,” Solly said.
However she said the popular Sturt’s desert pea had been elusive this season following a strong showing in the area in 2015.
Flinders Ranges pictures courtesy of Tim Lindner/Born Free Photography
Lake Eyre picture and video courtesy of Julie Fletcher Photography