THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE GULF TO GULF AIR TOUR
Back in 2011 the first Gulf to Gulf Air Tour took off from Adelaide Airport. Since then the tour has become one of Bill Peach Journeys most popular tours. This Australian Outback Air Tour was designed after reading an article about Jeff Johnson who walked from the Spencer Gulf to the Gulf of Carpentaria to raise money for the Deaf & Blind Society. It was also inspired by reading the stories of our early explorers such as Burke & Wills. The thing that makes this tour so special is the extraordinary places we visit. The tour visits the famous Dig Tree, Innamincka, Birdsville, Mt Isa, Adels Grove, Groote Eylandt, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and finishes at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges. They are hard to get to places – with incredible communities. Below are some interesting facts from some of the places we visit on the way as we traverse from one end of Australia to the other.
You can find the complete tour itinerary here.
LAKE EYRE – THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
A part of this extraordinary Outback Air Tour is a low flight over the Lake Eyre Basin which has flooded 6 times since 2009, creating a natural wonderland.
Located in the arid interior of South Australia, the lowest part of Lake Eyre forms the continent’s lowest point, 16 metres below sea level. For the most part is a large salt pan covering some 9,300 square kilometres. Lake Eyre has international significance, both for its large expanse of salt pan and its occasional floodings.
“Simply the greatest show on earth… this oceanic enigma, shimmering under the outback sun, presents a vision every bit as incomprehensible and as contradictory as the waters of the moon.” – Charles Woolley, 60 Minutes, 2000.
FLYING OVER THREE OF AUSTRALIA’S LARGEST DESERTS
On the Gulf to Gulf Air Tour we are lucky enough to fly over 3 of Australia’s largest deserts, the Simpson, the Great Victoria and the Tanami. Our early explorers were not so lucky. The Simpson Desert lies on the border of Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. In 1845 the explorer Sturt, while in the area of the then un-named Simpson Desert, finally admitted defeat and turned his back on the country where he had hoped to find the Inland Sea. He said in a letter to his wife, “It looked like the entrance into hell”.
OVER THE MASSIVE SIMPSON….AND ON TO AUSTRALIA’S MOST REMOTE PUB…BIRDSVILLE
Birdsville is located 600 kilometres south-east from Alice Springs, in the far south-west corner of Queensland. The town was founded in 1872 by a Sydney man named Robert Frew. It was named for the great flocks of birds which inhabited the permanent water in the Diamantina lagoons. Birdsville was the strategic point for the best possible cattle track to Adelaide. A head drover named Tom Ford pioneered the Birdsville Track in 1882. He brought a mob of 2000 cattle down the Georgina river from Lake Nash in the Northern Territory through Birdsville and down a south-southwest track to Adelaide, a journey of nine months and two and half thousand kilometres!
Birdsville is not the place that it was in the 1890s when there were three pubs, a border Customs House, several shops and dozens of houses. Now there are only 100 people, one pub and apart from the annual race meeting, the biggest thing that happens in Birdsville is our plane!
THE GULF COUNTRY
One of the many highlights on this Outback Air Tour is flying over the Gulf Country and landing in Adels Grove. The Boodjamulla National Park or Lawn Hill National Park as it was formerly known lies on the traditional land of the Waanyi. In the 1870s European settlers moved into the area and started running cattle, with a number of smaller properties amalgamated to create Lawn Hill Station, one of Queensland’s largest cattle stations. An area of station land was given by the owner to the government as Crown land in 1984 (with a further grant in 1992), to be used for public benefit.
The land lies across sandstone ranges, with creeks and rivers crossing it. The outstanding attraction is Lawn Hill Gorge which we are lucky enough to cruise through. Another highlight of this region is the Riversleigh Fossil and Mammal Field. The fossils at Riversleigh are unusual because they are found in soft freshwater limestone which has not been compressed. This means the animal remains retain their three-dimensional structure, rather than being flattened like in most fossil sites. It is an outstanding site and recognised as a World Heritage area.
From the air Groote Eylandt is incredible with some beautiful untouched beaches and bays along its shores, vistas just made for our clients, like the stunning archipelago up on the north coast, around Northwest Bay and inside of Chasm Island. Groote Eylandt is the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the fourth largest island in Australia. It is the homeland of, and is owned by, the Warnindhilyagwa people. Our time on the island is spent understanding its rich history and vibrant Indigenous culture. It is also home to one of the loveliest properties in the region – Dugong Beach Resort. We spend a couple of nights looking over the Gulf of Carpentaria. It’s the perfect spot to have a glass of wine and watch the sunset.
COOBER PEDY – A LIFE UNDERGROUND
Of course a visit to Coober Pedy is a must and an important part of this outback tour. Coober Pedy is renowned for its unusual underground buildings and dwellings – built to provide some protection from the harsh climate as well as for its Opals. For the early Opal Miners Coober Pedy was an endurance test for those men who ventured there to try their luck. Their lives were hard and lonely, the conditions on the fields almost insufferable. Temperatures averaging over 300C made the place hardly bearable. Often – and this was the biggest problem – water was more precious than the finest opals! So they burrows into the scarp, in order to escape the uncomfortable soaring temperatures of the day and the cold winds at night. In fact, the dug-out scheme was so successful, it is still widely used today, for large, modern homes, often containing four or five rooms. We spend a night underground in the very comfortable Desert Cave Hotel. Not all guests like to be underground so there are luckily air conditioned rooms above ground as well.
A TOWN LIKE ALICE
Situated almost geographically in the centre of Australia, there is no other town quite like Alice Springs. To her town folk she is simply ‘Alice’ while the rest of Australia give her the almost regal title of ‘The Alice’. It has always been a unique town, even before Nevil Shute made her sights and sounds famous in his best selling novel A Town Like Alice.
In 1871 the route for an overland telegraph line was sought from Adelaide to Darwin as part of a link between the Australian colonies and Europe. When a surveyor found a bubbling spring in a dry riverbed in Central Australia, it was decided to establish a Repeater Station there. The river was named the Todd, after the Postmaster General, and the spring Alice, after his wife. The town only started to grow rapidly when the railway was built, and then it was christened Alice Springs.
On the Gulf to Gulf Air Tour we visit the incredible Alice Springs Desert Park. Nestled against the backdrop of the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges the park showcases the landscapes, animals and plants of Australia’s deserts, and their traditional use and management by Aboriginal people. We also have dinner at the Northern Territory’s most famous Asian restaurant, Hanuman’s.
DON’T MISS OUT
With only 8 passengers on-board this is set to be a truly remarkable outback air tour into the heart and soul of South Australia, Outback Queensland and the Northern Territory. Click here for a list of upcoming departures.