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Photo Adventure to Lake Tyrrell

Updated: Apr 10

Been an exciting few weeks as I packed up the van (formally known as "The Big Rig") and headed out west with 5 photographers, destination Mungo National park, with a few stops along the way.

We made detour into Victoria to check out Lake Tyrrell, Victoria's largest Salt Lake for a few days. Was it worth the effort?

A few of my favourite landscape shots from the trip - what an amazing place! Like another planet....

Birding was a bit challenging with moderate winds making it hard for me to track birds in my usual fashion - which involves a lot of careful listening!

But I did manage to find a few birds eventually:

Black-faced Woodswallows

Good old Crested Pigeon...

My friend Andy alerted me to two birds 'that look like seagulls but aren't seagulls'. After pondering that for a bit I realised he meant Black-shouldered Kites 😂

Here's the transcript from the video I posted above:

I wasn’t that excited about visiting Lake Tyrell.  My friends Don and Andy were really keen to stop there for drone and astro photography, but as my drone is out of action and I’m not much of an astro photographer, I was expecting to grab a few landscape shots and move on.  I knew there weren’t many bird there and I thought I’d be a bit bored after 24 hours of so.  But I had to eat my words, I absolutely loved the few days we spent there and I can’t wait to go back again.

Lake Tyrrell is Victoria’s largest salt lake, with over 100,00 tonnes of salt harvested each year.  It’s a fascinating place to visit and it’s been geared towards photography tourism with good reason.

The nearest town to Lake Tyrrell is Sea Lake, a sleepy wheat belt town most known for the Mallee Rally motoring event and it’s murals and silo art.  It’s one of those towns you’d probably drive though without bothering to stop.  But it’s really worth a closer look. There’s impressive artwork at the silos near the town and couple of cafes to grab a bite to eat including the aptly named sky mirror gallery & cafe showcasing stunning photography of Lake Tyrrell, so make sure you stop there for some creative inspiration and an espresso.

Photos of Lake Tyrrell on social media have probably helped to put Sea Lake on the map. The combination of earth, sky, salt and water make Lake Tyrrell a fascinating subject to photograph.  Shimmering plains of salt juxtaposed with huge expanses of sky make you feel like you’re on another planet. 

I was surprised by the many moods of the place in just a few short days, and we weren’t there in anywhere near it’s full potential, where pink algal blooms can flourish and shallow layers of water over the salty depression create dazzling walk-on-water reflections. 

The main viewing platform at Tyrrell features oversized letters, a pretty nifty circular viewing platform and “The Sky Lounge”, decked out with laid back outdoor lounges and some interps signs about the constellations.  The Buloke Shire has really gone the extra mile for photographers with red lighting in the toilet block up on the hill, providing a strangely surreal loo experience that eliminates the chance of spoiling any astrophotographers’ shots with unexpected lights.

Lake Tyrrell has a couple of hidden features that are popular in compositions and are splashed on social media fairly frequently:

One is the old grader sitting about a kilometre out in the salt bed.  It was a highlight of our trip trekking out through the salty slush to photograph it on sunset.  And it really was a trudge with the combo of shallow water and salt not unlike trekking through snow or wet sand.  We accidentally kept referring to the salt as ice throughout our stay.

The sunset seemed to go on forever, although not the best we’ve seen, it was moody and dramatic and shone some nice light on the rusty old grader.  It was a long trek back to our vehicles in the dark and the wind, but we were all happy little campers and spirits were high with the pretty favourable light conditions.

Second feature is the old abandoned bus, a favourite with astro photographers.  Unfortunately the timing of our visit was not ideal for astro, with bright moonlight dominating the night skies.  My intrepid friend and talented photographer Andy diligently waited for the right moment at some ungodly hour and managed a couple of milky way shots while I was happily snoozing the night away.

Photo thanks to Andy Bennett

Third Tyrrell feature is drone photography potential. The views from above are incredibly detailed and nuanced, creating a story all of their own that’s just not apparent at ground level.  Check out the amazing variation in colour and form in these beautiful shots by my friend Don Goldney. I’m definitely bringing my drone next time!

Photo thanks to Don Goldney

Photo thanks to Don Goldney

Photo thanks to Don Goldney

Birding at Lake Tyrrell is a secondary feature, It was a little challenging with moderate winds throughout our stay. I found it difficult to hear and track birds, and with such a harsh environment to contend with, it’s pretty amazing there’s any birds here at all - but there are.  More than you think there would be from first impressions.  With a near-perfect backdrop of samphire, saltbush and bleached driftwood, it was really worth persevering to find a bird - any bird - to photograph.

The Crimson Chat was number one on my list of birds to find, but unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to spot one this time., I did see some black-faced wood swallows, a couple of honeyeaters, Black-shouldered Kites, Pied Butcherbirds, some trusty Crested Pigeons and a pair of camera-shy white-fronted chats who zipped away from pretty quickly.  With very little foliage it was not easy to sneak up on any birds, who could quickly take off and be too far away to pursue further.

My birding highlight was tracking a delightfully patchy male white-winged fairy wren and a fluff ball juvenile, who eventually allowed me a shot ... but only after having my shoe pulled off by some incredibly stinky mud in the process. I stupidly didn’t bother to put my gumboots on and they are an absolute must for birding at this site.

Camping isn’t permitted at Lake Tyrrell, but we roamed around undisturbed at night and as it wasn’t school holidays, we mostly had the place to ourselves during the day.  A handful of tourists periodically pulling up for the obligatory 5 minute viewing and selfie.

Slinking around for hours looking for birds in the wind can be tiring work, so I decided to return to the campground at Green Lake Recreation Reserve each night - about a 15 minute drive away.  I have so many good things to say about this fantastic spot, it’s definitely deserving of it own video, so stay tuned for that one! 

But if camping is not your thing, there’s quite a few good looking accommodation options in Sea Lake, and at only 6km from the lake, it’s an easy drive, even well before dawn.  My friends stayed at the Royal Hotel, and although it was a little noisier on a Friday night, they reported clean and comfortable rooms.

Lake Tyrrell has well and truly earned it’s place on any photography tour worth it’s salt 😉

The combination of a surreal landscape with big skies with just enough interesting birds place it on my list for a return visit.  And at only about 4 hours drive from Melbourne, I’m surprised at how quiet it was, a mostly undiscovered, albeit sludgy, salty and windy gem.  Sea Lake and Lake Tyrrell, thanks for an unexpectedly great visit and see you again for another salty adventure!

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