The Upside Down Under
Lake Hillier


From a distance, Lake Hillier of Australia’s Recherche Archipelago looks like a swath of solid bubble-gum pink. Draw closer, and the color takes on a more watery, translucent quality, but remains unmistakably pink.

Lake Hillier is about 600 metres (2,000 ft) in length by about 250 m (820 ft) in width. The lake is surrounded by a rim of sand and a dense woodland of paperbark and eucalyptus trees with a narrow strip of sand dunes covered by vegetation separating its northern edge from the northern coast of Middle Island

Lake Hillier
The bubble gum pink water of Lake Hillier

Whereas the causes behind the unusual coloring of other pink lakes, such as the nearby Pink Lake and Senegal’s Lake Retba, have been definitively confirmed, the reason for Lake Hillier’s color remains a mystery.

Theories abound, of course. Some speculate that Lake Hillier’s colour,  like that of the other lakes, is the result of high salinity combined with the presence of a salt-loving algae species known as Dunaliella salina and pink bacteria known as halobacteria. Unlike other pink lakes, however, which regularly change colors in accordance with temperature fluctuations, Lake Hillier maintains its pink shade year-round. The water even retains its pink hue when bottled.

Lake Hillier
The naturally pink water of Lake Hillier

Despite the high salt content levels (comparable to those of the Dead Sea), Lake Hillier is safe to swim in. However, there are very few ways to reach Lake Hillier. Helicopter is one of the most common methods of travel. Cruises are also an option for passengers wanting to visit the isolated lake, and surrounding forest area.

Floating in Lake Hillier
Due to its high salt content, floating in Lake Hillier is easy

As recently as 2012, Lake Hillier has been located within the boundaries of the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve. Since 2002, the lake itself has been considered to be a wetland of “subregional significance”.

Interesting Facts about Lake Hillier

  • The lake was discovered in 1802
  • The Salt Content in water is much higher that, it forms a Crystals of Salt at the Shore
  • The water colour never changes even if you pour on any objects
  • No other living things than micro-organisms are present in it
  • As it is surrounded by forest, helicopter and cruises are the only options to reach the lake's location
  • It is one of the attractive pink lakes among the four other pink lakes in Australia

The Discovery of Lake Hillier

Lake Hillier was visited by the Matthew Flinders' expedition on 15 January 1802. Flinders' journal entries are considered to be the first written records of the lake. Flinders observed the pink lake after ascending the island's highest peak (now called Flinders Peak), describing the lake as follows:

'In the north-eastern part was a small lake of a rose colour, the water of which, as I was informed by Mr. Thistle who visited it, was so saturated with salt that sufficient quantities were crystallised near the shores to load a ship. The specimen he brought on board was of a good quality, and required no other process than drying to be fit for use.'

Salt crystallizations in Lake Hillier
Salt crystallisations in Lake Hillier

Flinders visited Middle Island again in May 1803; he intended...

“to stop a day or two in Goose-Island Bay, for the purposes of procuring geese for our sick people, seal oil for our lamps, and a few casks of salt from the lake on Middle Island”.

It is reported that Flinders subsequently named the lake after William Hillier, a crew member of Investigator who died of dysentery on 20 May 1803 prior to the expedition's departure from Middle Island.

In 1889, Edward Andrews investigated the commercial possibilities of producing salt from Lake Hillier, and briefly moved onto the island with both of his sons. They left after working the salt deposits for about one year.

The lake was subject to salt mining during the late 19th century. The salt mining enterprise is reported as failing for a number of reasons including “the toxicity of the salt collected for consumption”

In the video edition of Weird Places (below), we visit Australia's Lake Hillier, which is a shockingly flamboyant shade of pink. Hank's here to tell you science's best guess as to why.


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