The Upside Down Under
Ball's Pyramid


Ball’s Pyramid is the remnant of an ancient shield volcano that formed over a magma hotspot, and its seamount rises 562m (1844 ft) above sea level.

Ball's Pyramid is an erosional remnant of a shield volcano and caldera. It lies 20 kilometres (12 mi) southeast of Lord Howe Island in the Pacific Ocean. It is 562 metres (1,844 ft) high, while measuring only 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) in length and 300 metres (980 ft) across, making it the tallest volcanic stack in the world.  It is part of the Lord Howe Island Marine Park in Australia and is a uniquely remarkable sight of natural beauty and wonder.

Ball's Pyramid
Ball's Pyramid is a uniquely remarkable sight of natural beauty and wonder

Some of Australia’s most remarkable diving can be found at Ball’s Pyramid. Exploring the caves and waters surrounding the basalt spearhead, divers come face-to-face with a mass of spectacular sea creatures.

From huge schools of Violet Sweep, Rainbow Runners and Amberjack, to Marlin, Dolphin, Turtles and Wahoo, the underwater world will astound. Many rare species, like Spanish Dancers and Galapagos Whalers also make these waters their home.

Diving at Ball's Pyramid
Close up of a Painted Rock Lobster at Ball's Pyramid

Ball’s Pyramid is a popular spot for fishing charters and is the only known place where the Ballina Angelfish can be sighted scuba diving.


The pyramid is named after Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, who reported discovering it in 1788. On the same voyage, Ball also reported discovering Lord Howe Island.

In The Voyage Of Governor Phillip To Botany Bay With An Account Of The Establishment Of The Colonies Of Port Jackson And Norfolk Island (1789), Arthur Phillip gives this description of the area around Ball's Pyramid, before describing Lord Howe Island:

There lies about four miles from the south-west part of the pyramid, a dangerous rock, which shows itself a little above the surface of the water, and appears not to be larger than a boat. Lieutenant Ball had no opportunity of examining whether there is a safe passage between them or not.

The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay
The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay

The first person to go ashore is believed to have been Henry Wilkinson, a geologist at the New South Wales Department of Mines, in 1882.

Climbing Ball's Pyramid

In 1964 a Sydney team, which included adventurer Dick Smith and other members of the Scouting movement, attempted to climb to the summit of the pyramid; however, they were forced to turn back on the fifth day as they ran short of food and water.

Balls Pyramid - Climbing the Worlds Tallest Sea Stack
Balls Pyramid - Climbing the Worlds Tallest Sea Stack

The first successful climb to the summit was made on 14 February 1965 by a team of climbers from the Sydney Rock Climbing Club, consisting of Bryden Allen, John Davis, Jack Pettigrew and David Witham.

In 1979, Smith returned to the pyramid, together with climbers John Worrall and Hugh Ward. They successfully reached the summit and unfurled a flag of New South Wales provided to them by Premier Neville Wran, declaring the island Australian territory (a formality which it seems had not previously been done).

Climbing was banned in 1982 under amendments to the Lord Howe Island Act, and in 1986, all access to the island was banned by the Lord Howe Island Board. In 1990, the policy was relaxed to allow some climbing under strict conditions, which in recent years has required an application to the relevant state minister.

In 2014 two yacht-supported climbers successfully made an unauthorised one-day ascent. They bivouacked 80 meters (262 feet)  below the summit and during the night sighted several live Lord Howe Island stick insects.

The elusive Lord Howe Island Phasmid (stick insect)

Another amazing thing about Ball's Pyramid is that it has a secret!  68.5 meters (225 feet) above sea level, hanging on the rocky surface of the pyramid, there is a tiny little bush and under that bush two climbers discovered something that should’t even exist.

Here is the full story. 21 kilometers (13 miles) from Ball’s Pyramid is a larger island called Lord Howe Island. On this island there used to be an insect that was made famous for its gigantic size, its a stick insect that masquerades as a piece of wood and was so large that the Europeans called it a “tree lobster”! As big as a man’s hand it measured about 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) long and the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world

Lord Howe Island Phasmid
The Lord Howe Island Phasmid (stick insect) is about 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) long

After a supply ship crashed into Lord Howe Island in 1918, rats that were aboard the ship ventured ashore and decimated the population of the insects and they became extinct. After 1920, there wasn’t a single sighting and by 1960 the Lord Howe stick insect, Dryococelus australis, was noted as extinct. But the stick insects were never “officially” declared extinct.

Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
Lord Howe Island Stick Insect

Fast forward to 2001, when two Australian scientists decided to take a closer look at the species or what was left of it at least. David Priddel and Nicholas Charlie boated over to Ball’s Pyramid from Lord Howe Island, where they proceeded to climb the ancient volcano’s side to about 152 meters (500 feet), where they discovered a few crickets. Not completely happy with the findings they started to make their way down, where they encountered excrement from a VERY large insect. Since the “tree lobsters” are nocturnal creatures, they came back after dark and investigated. What they found shocked them, it was the thought-to-be extinct Phasmid!

Video: A daring Australian Museum expedition to Lord Howe Island has succeeded in its search for the rare and elusive Lord Howe Island Phasmid.

It turned out that this one bush sustained the entire population - between 24 and 40 individuals. It gained the reputation of being the rarest insect on Earth, supported by a single bush.

Just how they made it from Lord Howe Island to the safety of Ball's Pyramid remains a mystery, but they might have been carried over as nesting material by common noddy birds.

Eggs were brought back from Ball's Pyramid, and Melbourne Zoo now runs a breeding program for the rediscovered insect. The long-term plan is for rodents to be eradicated from Lord Howe Island and the captive population of stick insects reintroduced, with a species of owl to keep their new population in check.

The stunningly illustrated true story of the Phasmid from CSIRO Publishing

Video: Jeb Corliss and Luigi Cani explore Ball's Pyramid in true adrenalin fashion. Complete with a beautifully haunting soundtrack from Prituri se planinata


Ball’s Pyramid

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