LAKE Ballard, approximately 180km north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, is unknown to many in the eastern states. Anyone driving from Melbourne to the Pilbara or Kimberley regions faces a round trip of up to 11,000km and, if taking the inland route, theyíll probably pass close by this attraction. However, even if aware of the lakeís existence, the thought of all those kilometres still ahead possibly deters many from stopping off.
WA is big, but you donít realise how big until you try to drive it from south to north. Crossing the Nullarbor prepares travellers for seemingly never-ending drives through nothingness, but itís just a precursor to what lies ahead (not a lot).
The gold-mining city of Kalgoorlie is a hive of activity that breaks the monotony of the drive. Everywhere you look there seems to be mining activity; itís a place that gives the impression there isnít a stone that hasnít been turned over in pursuit of that precious metal.
Travelling north of Kalgoorlie, the countryside quickly becomes sparsely populated semi-desert, where the low scrub is punctuated by occasional signs of mining activity. The town of Menzies (population: 56) is where the bitumen turns to dust for those wanting to take a shortcut north-west to Meekatharra and pick up the Great Northern Highway.
At more than 500km, perhaps the word Ďshortcutí isnít entirely appropriate. For anyone thinking of doing this drive, the wide gravel roads are generally in good condition (albeit far bettersuited to a 4x4 than your average Commodore). But, after rain, the red outback dirt quickly turns to mush that can see roads closed for extended periods.
Dry salt lakes pepper inland Western Australia, but Lake Ballard, 54km from Menzies, is very different from any other dry salt lake in Australia. Its notoriety is due to the 51 stylised human sculptures dotted over its 10km2 surface. Created by artist Antony Gormley and called Inside Australia, the installation was
originally commissioned for the 2003 Perth International Arts Festival. These two-metre-tall and somewhat alien-looking male and female statues were meant to be removed after the event, but they proved so popular with passing tourists it was decided they should be left in place.
The lake is usually dry, with a glistening white crust of salt, and itís possible to walk an 11km circuit to the statues. Unless it has rained, of course, as the lakeís surface becomes slippery red mud that makes reaching even the nearest figures a challenge.
Rising above the white salt Ė a few hundred metres offshore Ė is a small conical island of red rock, which visitors can climb to get a birdís-eye view of the lake. The very regular shape of this steep-sided hill gives it an artificial appearance, providing an otherworldly setting for the statues. Watching the sunrise over the lake from the vantage point of the low rocky ridge behind the campground, itís quite easy to imagine youíre standing in another world.
Lake Ballardís excellent campsite is a good place to rest up before tackling the long straight roads that stretch north towards the Pilbara. Those who choose to stay overnight may be lucky enough to have the place to themselves.
Itís peacefully quiet overnight, with an outback sky so clear the stars feel close enough to touch, while in the morning, the campground is filled with an amazing variety of tuneful birdcalls.
A fascinating, one-of-a-kind attraction in an otherwise relatively desolate landscape, Lake Ballard will reward those who take the time to seek it out.
To avoid the blistering summer heat, the best time to visit Lake Ballard is during the cooler months of April to October.
The lakeís campground has self-composting toilet facilities. Fire restrictions apply from November to March, and campers need to provide their own firewood. No drinking water is available.
The wide gravel roads are generally in good repair and are best suited to a 4x4. Beware of occasional potholes and washouts, and use extreme caution in the wet.
Menzies Visitor Centre Web: www.menzies.wa.gov.au Ph: (08) 9024 2702