As you browse instagram you may occasionally come across photos of lakes that look like they have been filled with bright pink food colouring. In fact these lakes are a natural occurring phenomenon. Learn what causes the lakes to change colour, and where to find these pink lakes in South Australia.
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TL;DR? Here's the outline
- What Causes the Pink Lakes to Turn Pink?
- Are the Pink Lakes Pink All Year Round?
- How Many Pink Lakes are there in South Australia?
- Where can I Find Pink Lakes in South Australia
- Can I Swim in the Pink Lakes?
First things first though – are those photos of pink lakes on instagram real, or have they been “enhanced”? To be honest, mostly I would say that the colours have been brightened.
Yes, the lakes are definitely pink, but I’m yet to see one that is a hot pink colour like some of the photos suggest.
Some photographers do claim that they haven’t edited the colour on their photos (such as here) so perhaps I just haven’t seen them at the peak of their colour.
The pink lakes reminds me a lot of the Northern Lights. When viewing the Lights in person they are often much less impressive than the long exposure photos that are taken of them, edited then shared. The same can often be said of the lakes.
That doesn’t make the pink lakes any less impressive. Just the fact that the water is clearly PINK is amazing in itself. But be realistic when you visit yourself and don’t expect candy pink lakes at all times.
Note: All the photos here are mine, and they are all true to what I could see with my naked eye. Some have been lightly edited, but not to intentionally change the shade of pink.
What Causes the Pink Lakes to Turn Pink?
It was quite a mystery for a long time as to exactly why the pink lakes take on their colour.
While there still seems to be some conjecture, the common belief now is that it is caused by a tiny bacteria, called Salinibacter Ruber, combined perhaps with an algae called Dunaliella Salina.
Both of these secrete beta carotene (yes, the same stuff that makes carrots orange), and that is thought to give the lakes the pink colour.
Are the Pink Lakes Pink All Year Round?
Normally the lakes are not pink all year round, although some of them actually are (Lake Hillier in Western Australia is a good example of this). Mostly though the colour changes as external factors affect the water.
Often these lakes are very shallow, only inches of water. During the warmer months the water evaporates and often leaves the lake too shallow to have a proper pink tinge to the water.
I have seen lakes where the remaining salt has taken on a pink hue when this happens.
Another reason why the lakes lose colour is the exact opposite – there is too much water. Right after it rains, lots of water flows into the lakes and dilutes the pink colour, perhaps to a point where it no longer looks pink at all.
It also appears that when the weather is just right the colour is more apparent. This is usually after a nice hot spell. There is a lake in metropolitan Melbourne that tends to turn pink towards the end of long hot summers.
How Many Pink Lakes are there in South Australia?
Well, that depends! As you can see from above, sometimes lakes are pink, sometimes they are not. There are probably 5-10 main pink lakes, and there are hundreds of smaller lakes that will also be pink.
Then there are some that may not even qualify as “lakes”, rather large puddles or other areas of water.
Where can I Find Pink Lakes in South Australia
Pink lakes can be found all over, from the Limestone Coast to outback South Australia. Anywhere you come across salt lakes, you are likely to also find pink lakes.
Here are some of the most well-known of the South Australian pink lakes, and some other tips about where to find them.
Lake MacDonnell is probably the most well-know of South Australia’s pink lakes (and it is the one linked to up above). This is the lake divided by a causeway, with one side staying blue while the other turns pink.
It is the most remote of the pink lakes, and is a long way to drive just to see if the lake happens to my bright pink. it is located near the town of Penong in the western part of SA, on the road down to Cactus Beach.
From Adelaide it is more than 850km, so quite a road trip. From Ceduna it is around 90km, or about a one hour drive.
If you are not driving across the Nullarbor or going to Head of the Bight but still want to visit, I recommend going there as a day trip from Ceduna, Streaky Bay or one of the other nearby coastal towns.
I have been there twice in the last two years and both times it has certainly been pink, but nothing like I have seen in the photos of others. It’s still a must-see if you are nearby though.
It’s a beautiful area with white sand hills that look like marshmallow, unusual plants, and of course, the iconic surf mecca of Cactus Beach just a little further down the road.
If Lake McDonnell is perhaps the best known, Lake Bumbunga is the most accessible. Located near the town of Lochiel, it’s only a 90 minute drive north of Adelaide on the edge of the Clare Valley.
You can access the lake right from the main highway, or just admire it as you are driving past.
In recent years it has become more pink, and with more visitors stopping to take a look, the facilities and access has been improved.
Not only is there a good path down to the lake, there is a shelter containing some seats so you can sit and enjoy the view.
A little north of Lochiel a local installed some old tyres in the lake, creating our very own Lochiel Monster. I looked out for it every time we drove past right from when I was a young child.
Just in the last year or two, another version of Lochie has been installed right on the lake in town, which is a fun addition.
Yorke Peninsula Lakes
I was going to list just one lake here, but in reality, the area around Yorketown at the heel on the Yorke Peninsula is home to over 200 salt lakes that at one time or another all take on the pink hue.
I always choose a window seat on the left of the plane if we are flying out of Adelaide to the north or west so that I can enjoy seeing the splattering of pink lakes across the landscape from the air.
Geitz Lake is one that is often known to be pink, or perhaps visit the aptly named Pink Lake.
Many of the lakes now have small viewing areas, and Yorketown has put together some different itineraries to help you plan a day of pink lake site seeing.
Like on Yorke Peninsula, the area around the Coorong is scattered with small salt lakes that will often turn pink. They are best spotted on the road from Tailem Bend down through to Meningie and then further on down along the Coorong.
Some of the pinkest lakes on the road have areas where you can pull off easily and take a few photos. If you have the time, leaving the main road and exploring some of the other areas around here would like turn up even more pink lakes.
Is There a Pink Lake in Adelaide?
Well, no, but if you are only going to be in Adelaide and you do not have to opportunity to get out to see any of the pink lakes elsewhere, there is somewhere that you can get a glimpse of what the lakes might be like.
If you travel north on South Road until just after it turns into the Northern Expressway, you will see the Dry Creek Salt Pans on both sides of the road.
These salt pans have varying degrees of pinkness throughout the year. If you visit, you will definitely see the pink hues, but it is unlikely that there will be any bright, candy pick lakes as the water is usually too shallow for that.
South Australian Lakes That (Probably) Won’t be Pink
I have told you a whole pile of lakes that could be pink, now let me mention a few that almost certainly won’t be pink. Of course the minute I say that they will all turn pink, because nature is kinda like that sometimes.
I’m going to be a little controversial here, because I often see Lake Eyre included on lists of pink lakes, but I say it is very unlikely to be pink. Mostly it is bone dry, a huge, sparkly white salt pan.
When the water does flow into the lake, it is true is could take on some pink hues, but I’ve never seen it and it would seem to be quite unlikely as the water is usually only very shallow.
If you did want to take a chance and see if Lake Eyre is pink, I suggest a scenic flight over the lake.
Another salt lake that sometimes pops up in these lists is Lake Hart. Lake Hart can be found on the side of the highway on the way to Coober Pedy.
It has a large car parking area, and is a great spot to stop and take a walk to stretch the legs. It is possible to walk out onto the lake which is always fun, to see the salt formations up close.
I think though, if you come here expecting to see pink, you will more than likely be disappointed.
Lake Gairdner is another large salt lake on the north part of Eyre Peninsula people often hear about, and this one is almost eternally dry.
In fact, even with all the rain in the last year, it was still dry and hard enough in December to have a new world land speed record for a land yacht set on it. I am almost positive this lake will not be pink.
Can I Swim in the Pink Lakes?
Technically you can swim in the pink lakes, there is nothing to stop you, but there are lots of reasons why you really don’t want to.
The pink lakes are all salt lakes, so you would be swimming in a high salt content. This can often be fun, think about the Dead Sea in the Middle East, or to a lesser extent, South Australia’s very own Pool of Siloam, down near Beachport.
Once you come out of the water though, the salt will likely leave you feeling itchy and irritated. You would want to be able to shower to rinse the salt off, but many of these lakes are miles away from any facilities.
Another reason why swimming in the pink lakes is not something you would want to do is that the lakes tend to be quite shallow. You may be able to wade in the water, but it’s unlikely that you will actually be able to swim.
And a third reason is to preserve the delicate ecosystems of the lakes that make them pink in the first place.
One of the best-known pink lakes (actually called Pink Lake) in Western Australia stopped being pink in the 1990s after the salinity dropped due to human interaction.
It is possible the pink colour will return in the future as conditions change, but we don’t want this happening to all our pink lakes.
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