If you see an image of the flamingo pink Lake Hillier, your first thought might be that the photographer made ample use of Photoshop. But no, the breathtaking sight is for real.
Lake Hillier is a saline lake located on the edge of the Middle Island, the largest of the islands forming the Recherche Archipelago in the Gold-Esperance region off the South Coast of Western Australia.
Lake Hillier is a wonder of nature because of the combination of colors. The 2000 feet long lake is of eye-catching pink, fringed by white sand and green forests of dense paperbark and eucalyptus trees and separated from the deep blue ocean by a narrow line of sand dunes. It’s today an uninhabited nature reserve that can only be visited under very special circumstances.
In 1802 British navigator and cartographer Mathew Flinders was on board the expedition vessel HMS Investigator. He stepped onto Middle Island, climbed the highest peak and saw a bright pink lake. On investigation, he found that the color didn’t change even when the water was put into a bottle and that it had a high salt content. He named his discovery in honor of a recently deceased crew member who had died from dysentery when docked at the island. He and his crew gathered salt from the shore of the lake to replenish their supply.
Origin of the Pink Color
There is, of course, a scientific explanation, or rather more than one because tests carried out by scientists, led to various opinions. Most likely is the presence of a specific species of microalgae, called Dunaliella Salina. Also present are halophilic bacteria and the combination of the two, able to tolerate high salt concentrations like in Lake Hillier, produce carotenoid pigments, which are responsible for the color.
They are similar to the beta carotene found in carrots, but, although it’s perfectly safe to swim in the lake and does not affect the skin, it’s extremely unhealthy and dangerous to drink the water. A – pink – sign near Esperance explains the color. Until the early 20th century, salt was mined from the lake.
How to Visit
As a rule of thumb, you cannot visit Middle Island and Lake Hillier on foot. There are scenic flights departing from Esperance on a daily basis, so you can admire the pink lake from the air.
You can hire a boat and watch the lake from the shore and maybe visit on foot and have a swim or go on a cruise. Best contact the Western Australia Tourism Board for any chance to get to the lake proper.
Other Pink Lakes of the World
Lake Hillier is not the only pink lake in the world. Another one is Lake Retba in Senegal which used to be the finish line of the Dakar Rally. Then there is Dusty Rose Lake in the Tweedsmuir Park in British Columbia/Canada. The lake is not a saltwater lake and totally devoid of life because of its anoxic water (absence of oxygen). The pink color comes from the pigmentation of the environment.
Two salt lakes known as Salinas de Torrevieja are to be found near the seaside resort of the same name on Spain’s Costa Blanca. The same bacteria and algae as Lake Hillier are responsible for their color. The lakes are home to rose-colored shrimps which are devoured by countless flamingos living on the shore and competing in pink with the water.
Lastly, there is Masazirgol salt lake in the Qaradag region near Baku in Azerbaijan. In this case, they are chloride and sulfate which cause the pink color of this 10km long lake, a great source of salt production in the region.
Inka worked as an international attorney for many years before turning travel and lifestyle writer. She has contributed to BBC/Travel and writes for several inflight magazines and is a tripsavvy contributor for Spain and Portugal. She currently lives in Spain's Costa Blanca.