Exploring Lake Tyrrell which is a shallow, salt-crusted depression in the NW of Victoria, Australia. It is Victoria’s largest salt lake (over 70 square miles), however, it is so shallow you can walk just about anywhere and when there is water, it is a great spot for reflective photography.
The name derives from the local word for sky and it is often referred to as the Lake Tyrrell — Sky Mirror. Sadly I am yet to get any astrophotography shots here. But there are plenty of other things to keep a photographer and nature lover happy.
Where is Lake Tyrrell located?
Lake Tyrrell is approximately 20 minutes from Sea Lake, which really is the closest town with accommodation, food, petrol etc. Not that there is a lot here, it’s a sleepy little country town. Sea Lake itself is nestled in the heart of The Mallee region about 4.5 hours drive (398 km) from Melbourne. Many people come up for just the weekend, see the local street and silo art in Sea Lake and then head to Lake Tyrrell for sunrise, sunset and astrophotography. But there is more it offers.
What to capture during your visit to Lake Tyrrell
Most people just head out for the lake, but when the lake is dry, like my last visit, then what? The salt crystals form on anything they touch. There are so many interesting things from fences, salt mining, dune buggy racing and power lines. There is machinery and remains of buildings and driftwood.
If you drive around the lake there is an off-road racetrack. There are some intriguing finds like Hillbilly Lookout, and if you are fit and game, a very long walk finds an abandoned grader (I never made it that far!). The bottom of the lake is a bed of mud, even when it is dry it can still catch the unwary traveler. But you can walk pretty much everywhere … you just need to be careful.
There is ample wildlife on the edges as well, birds, wallabies and such. Since our last visit in 2019 a boardwalk, sky lounge and toilet block has been installed, as well as a car park. Which makes getting there a lot easier, but it is fast becoming a real tourist area.
When is the best time to visit Lake Tyrrell?
According to a little research on the internet and chatting to a few people, October and November is the best time to visit. During this time, there is more chance of water and the heat turns the algae pink.
It is a natural dark sky area so perfect for astrophotography, but not when there is a full moon. Unless you want to capture the moon, of course.
Is there always water and is it always pink?
No, there is not always water and it needs a certain algae to make it pink. My last visit saw the lake so dry there were barely puddles, let alone a decent coverage for reflections.
We first visited the area in November 2019. There was much more water, but we had a very long, very muddy walk to get to it. The new boardwalks can help with that a little. Of course, if you decide to drive to different areas and walk in, that’s a different story and you will probably be faced with more mud! The more water, the more mud.
The cloud reflections back in 2019 were wonderful! You can just imagine the night sky reflecting in the water!
What to pack
The usual, hat, sunscreen and camera gear and tripod. What is essential is a pair of gumboots (wellingtons or galoshes) or good sturdy waterproof footwear! Even when relatively dry, the mud flats and just below the surface of the water is ALL MUD. Thick, sticky, pull the shoes right off your feet mud! I found taking a walking stick helped me find stable ground to maintain my balance was also VERY handy.
When venturing onto the mud flats, I only took the one camera with the wide-angle. Just in case the worst happened, I still had at least one camera free from mud! Thankfully I never fell over nor wrecked my camera, but I have heard some horror stories. Placing your camera in a plastic bag prior to venturing out isn’t a bad idea. Especially at night.
And just to mention, this is a salt lake, so be sure to wipe or wash down tripods and any exposed camera gear with clean water to remove any salt residue. Also wash the mud off your shoes/boots BEFORE it dries, as it’s a much easier job when it’s still wet! Be sure to carry plastic bags to put your shoes in before getting back in the car.
We’re planning on perhaps heading back later in the year to 1) get a better sunset or sunrise and 2) to capture the night sky with some water. I would totally love to further explore the Lake Tyrrell Sky Mirror phenomenon.