The Mysterious Ball’s Pyramid

Ball’s Pyramid is one of the most interesting rock formations in the world.

It is a remnant of the lost continent of Zealandia and home to an almost extinct species of insect. 

The Mysteries of Ball’s Pyramid

According to Atlas Obscura, Ball’s Pyramid is one of the few remaining land formations above sea-level left on the micro-continent of Zealandia. Danny Collins with The Sun explains that Zealandia has all of the major characteristics of a continent, it’s just mostly underwater. Nevertheless, Ball’s Pyramid is actually the world’s tallest volcanic stack on the planet.

It was discovered by Lieutenant Henry Ball of the Royal Navy in 1788. For more than two centuries, it was believed to have no life. Atlas Obscura wrote that in 2001, scientists studying this huge volcanic spire discovered a colony of the Lord Howe Island stick insect that was long thought to have been extinct. Since this time, expeditions have gone back to the island to attempt to repopulate the species in captivity as discussed in this YouTube video on the Australian Museum channel. 

The Massive Peak of Ball’s Pyramid

Coming out of the Pacific Ocean seemingly out of nowhere, Ball’s Pyramid sticks up over 1,800 feet in the air. It is located 23 kilometers from Lord Howe Island. Climbing this volcanic remnant is no easy task. A rock-climbing club from Sydney, Australia was the first to climb Ball’s Pyramid in 1965 according to this YouTube video. Getting to the top is no easy task, making the expeditions to save the Lord Howe Island stick insect all the more difficult. 

The Eighth Continent

According to National Geographic, Zealandia broke away from Australia about 80 million years ago. Today, only seven percent of Zealandia is above sea level. In this seven percent are a number of islands and landmasses much like Ball’s Pyramid. You might recognize the name of Zealandia’s largest landmass, New Zealand. Indeed, the country of New Zealand is the largest area of this micro-continent that is above sea level. Part of what makes Zealandia so interesting is the unique peaks, like Ball’s Pyramid, that poke out of seemingly nowhere. They are, in actuality, part of a much more intriguing continental mass that many people don’t even know exists. 

What You Need to Know to Visit The Big Almaty Lake

It is a beautiful fall morning in the mountains.

The day is warming up nicely as your taxi deposits you at the mouth of the trail. Energized by the lingering effects of the traditional sweet coffee you had at breakfast, you start your hike. Rounding the bend, the vision in front of you takes your breath away: the intense turquoise blue of Big Almaty Lake.

How to Get There

Your story begins when you visit this picturesque alpine lake located just outside of the Kazakhstan city of Almaty in the Ili-Alatau National Park. Both nature enthusiasts and Instagrammers alike flock to the site to photograph the intense hues of the reservoir that serves as its namesake city’s water supply. To get there, have the hotel arrange a taxi or use the Yandex app to schedule your own.

Things to Know

Planning ahead will make your trip much more comfortable and drama free. Some things you will want to consider:

  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes appropriate for hiking up and down mountain terrain
  • Bring your passport in case you are stopped at a security checkpoint
  • Pack snacks and water as there are no concessions in the park
  • No swimming is allowed
  • You may need an International Driving Permit if you choose to drive yourself

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, trails leading to the Kyrgyzstan border have been closed, but many others are open to adventurers. A short hike from the lake reveals a fantastic waterfall. Pack a picnic if you’d like to spend more time on the mountain.

Safety and Security

Travel in Kazakhstan is generally safe. However, like any city in the world, travelers can be targeted by thieves. Use common sense security measures such as keeping your valuables out of sight and refraining from walking alone after dark. 

Learn about Space at the Baikonur Cosmodrome

If you’re interested in space, visiting the Baikonur Cosmodrome deserves a spot on your travel bucket list.

Since NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011, American astronauts head to space from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. 

History of the Baikonur Cosmodrome

While the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is now known among space enthusiasts as one of the most-used launch sites for sending astronauts, cosmonauts, and supplies to the International Space Station, it has a far more complicated past. During the Cold War era, Soviets used the location for testing a variety of missiles. At the height of the Space Race, Russian cosmonauts used the site in their attempts to land a man on the moon before the American astronauts. 

Since the end of the American space shuttle program in 2011, American astronauts have begun to use Baikonur as their primary launch point, as it is located closer to the equator than any other reasonable option. Although they are no longer able to launch shuttles out of nearby Cape Canaveral, Florida, NASA still communicates with American astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz rockets and the International Space Station from mission control in Houston, Texas.   

Visiting the Baikonur Cosmodrome

While all travelers with valid documents to enter Kazakhstan may visit the city of Baikonur, tourists can only visit the Cosmodrome as part of a guided tour. Many tours need to be booked several months in advance, and they can last for several days. Visitors will be able to see several museums filled with space artifacts, learn about the history of the Russian space program and its recent collaboration with NASA, tour other parts of Baikonur, and possibly even watch a live Soyuz launch.

Careers in Space

Although the American space shuttle program does not exist at this time, Americans may still pursue careers as astronauts with NASA. However, those chosen to travel to space will need to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, for the foreseeable future.  

Students interested in working as astronauts, at mission control, or in other positions at NASA should take rigorous courses, attend space camps, and prioritize grades as early as possible. Very few prospective astronauts are accepted, virtually all of them go far above and beyond minimum requirements, and many have pilot or military experience. 

Visiting the Baikonur Cosmodrome introduces tourists to the latest in space travel, what lies beyond Earth, and what the future of space travel may hold. 

Gippsland Lakes Bioluminescence

Located in Victoria, Australia, the Gippsland Lakes are a network of connected inland waterways that stretch over 250 square miles.

The three main lakes in the network are Lake King, Lake Victoria, and Lake Wellington. Everything you could ever want to do on a lake can be done here from fishing and boating, to swimming and kayaking.

However, in 2008 something really spectacular occurred here: a bright blue bioluminescent bloom.

What is Bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is a quite simply light created naturally in a living organism. Fireflies are an example bioluminescence found on land, however most bioluminescent organisms live in the sea or in brackish water. Bioluminescence can be found primarily in jellies, bacteria, and fish.

Curious travelers can find bioluminescent kayaking and boating tours in areas where bioluminescent algae blooms occur regularly. Kayaking is a great option for seeing bioluminescence because the rowing of the oars activates the algae, surrounding you with a brilliant blue glow. Clear kayaks are especially popular for these experiences for obvious reasons. 

Bioluminescence at Gippsland Lakes

According to the reports of travel blogger and photographer Phil Hart, in the summer of 2008 something peculiar and wonderful occurred at the Gippsland Lakes. Due to a series of events including raging brush fires and extensive flooding, a mix of soil nutrients and an excess of salt water entered the lakes. These additions created just the right conditions for the bloom, or population surge, of Noctiluca scintillans. These organisms emit a blue light that are every photographer’s dream. 

Unfortunately, bioluminescence sightings are unpredictable and the blooms at the Gippsland Lakes are no exception. An updated post by Hart revealed that the blooms had returned in 2013 but to a lesser degree than the previous blooms.

Though the lakes themselves are worth the visit, it would be best to check with local experts before planning your whole trip around a chance at seeing this rare phenomenon.