Middle Island, the largest island in the Recherche Archipelago
Middle Island is situated approximately 130km east of Esperance and 9km south of Cape Arid National Park, the nearest mainland. It is an A Class Nature Reserve vested with the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM).
The largest island in the Recherché Archipelago, Middle Island is 1080ha in area (4½ times the size of Woody Island). It slopes down from high cliffs on the south coast to a long beach and low granite coastline to the north.
The western end is dominated by Flinders Peak, a large granite hill 174m high. Behind the beach is Lake Hillier, a shallow saline lake about 1km across and very pink in colour. Salt was mined from this lake years ago and train tracks are still visible. Much of the vegetation on the island was wiped out in an uncontrolled fire lasting from Jan 10th to Feb 7th 1977. The vegetation is now showing signs of full regeneration.
Matthew Flinders and his botanist Robert Brown visited Middle Island in January 1802 to collect flora material during his voyage through the Recherché Archipelago. The island boasts 232 resident flora species. As there are only 373 species recorded for all the islands in the Recherché Archipelago, the botanical importance of Middle Island is obvious.
The island is practically covered with forest on the granite and sandy interior slopes with very dense, almost impenetrable scrub growth on the limestone tracts. Eucalypts are the most prolific tree on the island as well as many specimens of Yate with wide spreading branches, girths of up to 2m and reaching over 12m in height. Large areas are also occupied by Melalueca woodland.
Middle Island is rich with fauna, with possibly the most well-known resident being the Tammar which resides in the vegetated sections of the island. Several reptiles have been recorded with the only snake being the Crown snake. 31 species of birds have been positively identified as resident.
A rough track (marked with surveyors tape) leads to the top of Flinders Peak. You need to be reasonably fit and adventurous to attempt this climb. On the summit there is a cairn of rocks, the builder unknown. Many climbers who reach this peak have recorded their name and date in a register found near the cairn. From this summit a breathtakingly spectacular panoramic view of the whole island, Cape Arid and the islands to the south is available.
The northern bays of the island provide safe anchorage and good swimming beaches. The wreck of the vessel ‘SS Penguin’ is visible from the beach. Lake Hillier is a short walk from the beach and the intense pink coloration is quite spectacular.
Historical sights found on the island indicate previous settlement. A granite fireplace with a baker’s oven is located south from the old hut in a direct line with Lake Hillier. Metallic remains of horse drawn rail wagons and old lightweight rails are located on the western end of Lake Hillier. They were probably used to transport the salt to the beach. About 300m east of the fishing hut and behind the coastal dunes is a rock well 6m deep and several granite fireplaces. The water from the well is saline. There is evidence of man made water catchments on the granite outcrop south of the fishing shack made to divert and catch rain water.
Goose Island, adjacent to Flinders Peak and accessable by dinghy, is a major breading ground for mutton-birds. The area is inundated with burrows so tread carefully if visiting this island. Black rabbits and some Crown snakes also reside on this island. Most vegetation is low but quite prolific. A cairn similar to the one on Middle Island is located on a high point on the northwestern end of this island.