Lake Gairdner - Gawler Ranges

Pictures & facts of an amazing wilderness area

Lake Gairdner is a huge salt lake in Outback South Australia. The glistening white surface, surrounded by red foothills of the Gawler Ranges in the south, is a beautiful sight. Along with the much smaller L. Everard and L. Harris, the three lakes form Lake Gairdner National Park. The national park was proclaimed in 1991 to protect the unique environment, flora, fauna and the scenic features.

The colours of the Outback - red earth, blue sky, and a shimmering salt lakeThe colours of the Outback

The irregularly shaped Lake Gairdner is about 160 km long and it covers an area of roughly 4,300 sq km. Actually, it is Australia's fourth largest salt lake, and it is usually dry. There are also several small islands within the lake. The salt is over 1 m thick in some parts, mostly in the southern area.

6 creeks and rivers feed the basin: Garden Well Creek, Gorge Creek, Yeltabinna Creek to name a few. Usually, those creeks are dry as well, they only flow for a short period after rain.

All pictures on this page were taken at the Mount Ive access area.

Photos and Facts

salt crust at the shore

The slopes of the Gawler Ranges clearly define the shores of the lake in the south. Further north there are low sand ridges. This is a remote and arid country. It is beautiful, nevertheless. Vegetation is scrub and salt bush and desert flowers after good rain.

Glistening salt lake surrounded by red hills

Well, as I said above, Lake Gairdner is usually dry. However, when I visited in November 2008, water lapped the shores as you clearly see in the photos. This can happen after rain during winter and spring. Once temperatures rise, the high evaporation dries the lake quickly.

red rocks in a shallow lake


The southern edge is about 150 km north west of Port Augusta. In fact, the south shore of Lake Gairdner forms the northern boundary of Mount Ive Station.
The northern end is a few kilometres south of Kingoonya, the Trans Australian Railway and the Stuart Highway.
So you might think this is not a very remote location, but still, travellers should be well-prepared when visiting Lake Gairdner.

National Park sign at Lake Gairdner

There are no facilities at the public access area on the lake. The hut pictured below provides some shade if you want to sit down and have a picnic. Although it was a hot day, the rainwater tank held cool and fresh water.

Corrugated iron hut to protect visitors from the sun at Lake Gairdner

Once a year at the end of summer the lake gets very busy when the Dry Lake Racers have their race week. Of course, the event depends on the weather. The surface of the lake has to be firm and dry, and permission of the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) has to be granted for the event. Visit the Dry Lakes Racers website for more information about this event.

How to get there

Several tracks leave the Eyre Highway in the south...

  • Iron Knob to Mount Ive road via Nonning
  • Kimba to Kingoonya road is the main track through the area. In the northern parts the road passes between the lakes Harris and Everard (on the western side of the road) and Lake Gairdner (east of the road).
    Coming from Kimba, visitors can leave the main road near Thurlga to reach Mt. Ive.
  • Minnipa to Yardea road crosses the Gawler National Park before it finally joins the Kingoonya road.

Access to Lake Gairdner

The national park is surrounded by station properties. Many tracks in the area are private roads so please stay on signposted track and roads.

  • The main route to the lake is via Mount Ive station on a 34 km station track. If you stay at Mt. Ive station, a visit to the lake is definitely a highlight you shouldn't miss.
  • A recently opened public access road (PAR) goes from Waltumba tank near Moonaree station to the edge of the national park. There is no vehicle access to the lake bed here.
gravel road to mount iveRoad to Mount Ive Station

Road conditions

All roads and tracks in the area are unsealed gravel or sand roads. Conditions can change quickly depending on the weather.
We didn't have any problems when we travelled to Mount Ive and further north on the Kingoonya road. But as conditions change frequently, you'll hear people saying the roads are good, while others think they are horrible.
Drive carefully, always expect hazards like animals on the road, rough gutters, washouts and grids.

Check out Outback Roads South Australia or call Ph: 1300 361 033 before you go.

Take some spare parts & a spare tyre to help yourself in minor troubles. Of course, take plenty of water and some extra food, just in case you break down.


Mount Ive station has a small shop where you get frozen bread & other items. They also sell soft drinks & beer. However, they ask visitors to bring their own food, their provisions offered are just for emergencies. Fuel is also available.

And that's about it. You won't find any more supplies between the Eyre Highway and Kingoonya. So apart from fuel, bring your own provisions.

sign at a station gate saying private road

Permits, Dos & Don'ts

  • For the Mt. Ive station track to Lake Gairdner a permit & a key is required for a fee.
  • As elsewhere in the Outback don't expect garbage bins. Please take your rubbish with you!
  • Always leave gates as you found them. It might be a nuisance to get off and on the car when you drive on station tracks, nevertheless, when a gate was closed, please shut it again once you have passed.
  • Do not drive on the salt lakes! For any vehicle activity on the salt crust permission from the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) is essential.
  • Respect private property.

Visiting Lake Gairdner National Park is a wonderful experience. Enjoy it & take care.

Discover the secrets of the Gawler Ranges

The articles below will help you prepare your journey