Our trip through South Australia has been different in many ways from our travels along the east coast. This is largely because we have very little in the way of pre-determined stops for the state, and many of those are in the red center, not along the coast. This means that much of what we are doing is picking places at random to stop and camp while we head towards the Nullabor. Lake Gilles CP is one of those places we saw on a map and picked at random. It has turned out to be a winner.
The park is located just off the highway between Iron Knob and Kimba. If we didn’t know it was there, we likely would have missed it completely as there are no signs to mark it and little else to alert any one of its presences. The park is built around a rather unique natural feature, Lake Gilles. Perhaps because it is winter, we encountered not a soul while we were there. The camping area is little more then a swelling of the dirt road, and there are no bathroom facilities anywhere. But the ground is soft, and digging a hole was little trouble for those willing to enjoy the quiet serenity of a poop amongst the trees.
Lake Gilles is a series of interconnected salt lakes. Dry for much of the year, we lucked out in our timing and found them rather full thanks to some recent winter storms. The lakes are a wonder to explore. The salt content is very high, which creates a rather unique landscape. As the water recedes, it leaves salt crystals in the sand. The crystals made the banks look like they were covered in glitter. There was a constant sparkle as we walked from the sun reflecting off the crystals. It looked much like a brown sea.
Some areas of the beach were completely covered in large, hard salt flakes that resembled strips of snow. Most of the sand was actually covered in a hard layer of dried salt. Though it was not visible to the naked eyes, the ground would fracture like a thin layer of ice where we walked. A fractured layer of white surrounded our footprints in a way I have never witnessed before. We had some good fun watching the unseen layer crack and split with each step.
The lake and surrounding areas produce a large amount of gypsum. The crystals here are both large and varied in shape. The crystals can be found all over the banks of the lake. We found a couple crystals that were nearly the size of my thumb. We did not find any ourselves, but an info graphic we happened upon had pictures of the many uniquely shaped crystals found in the area such as arrow head and even hourglass shapes, which are very rare I am told.
The country is undulating, low dirt dunes covered in malee scrub. When upon a rise, we could see for miles. The taller malee trees and eucalypts are well spread out around the lakes themselves, and much of the landscape is dotted with low shrubs, which makes walking easy. The shrubs themselves were actually quite lovely. The dark green of their fur tree like leaves were covered in small circular red tips. The combination of colors made the plants look almost purple from afar, and the contrast between the bright red and dark green was amazing up close. The soft conical branches added a tactile element to their visual beauty, and made the area around the lakes a wonder to walk through. Because the scrub around the lakes was largely no higher then mid shin, there is little worry of getting lost, and though there are no designated trails, there was plenty of room to wander.
Without a doubt, the most picturesque aspect of the park is the absolute mirror like quality of the lakes at sunrise and sunset. The already brilliant oranges and reds the sky produce are perfectly mirrored by the glass like surface. The few trees and bushes that surround the lakes are also reflected back creating the most wonderful scene to behold. It is one of the times I wished I had a better camera then the one on my iPhone. But, in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words, even if it is one taken with my phone, so rather then try and describe the scene, I refer you to the featured image, where you can see it for yourself.
The area between the lakes and the road was rather different. It was covered in eucalypts and older malee trees, which gave it a much more forest like feel, though it was far from dense. The park is crisscrossed with numerous dirt roads that are wonderful for strolling, should one have the time and inclination to do so.
Despite the unassuming nature of the park, for me likely because of it, I found it to be a wonderful place to stop and spend a night or two. The landscape was uniquely beautiful and the beauty of the sunset over the glassy lakes was beyond words to describe. The country is diverse and easy enough to navigate to provide hours of good walking and the new sights and experiences of the salt lake would provide plenty of entertainment for persons of any age. It was another example of Australia’s magnificent landscape.