On the map, the tiny dot that marks Ball’s Pyramid is almost lost in the surrounding ocean. It is an obelisk so tall that it seems to touch the sky. Although only 440yds (400m) across as its base, Ball’s Pyramid reaches a height of more than 1800ft (550m) – almost twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. In the Guinness Book of Records, it is listed as the highest rock pinnacle in the world.
Lying off Australia’s east coast, Ball’s Pyramid is about 435 miles (700km) northeast of Sydney. The solo aviator Francis Chichester, looking down on the great rock during his trans-Tasman flight of 1931. described it as a ‘broad primaeval dagger of stone.
Beneath the ocean’s glassy surface, myriad brightly coloured fish dart around rock columns and under arches. Their playground is a plateau of volcanic rock, for Ball’s Pyramid is a crumbling, long-extinct volcano with only its peak above the water. It is one of a series of Volcanoes that became inactive 7 million years ago.
Ever since the sea has waged war on the intrusive landmass that forced its depths. Waves have gnawed at the rocks for centuries and, thanks to their persistence and the help of the wind, They are winning. Only three per cent of the original landmass is left, reduced by the ocean’s wear and tear to a chain of islands and outcrops.
The first person known to have set eyes on the rock was Henry Lidgbird Ball, in command of HMS Supply, which passed by in 1788 with settlers for Norfolk Island. Ball named the pyramid rock after himself, and on the way back anchored off the largest island in the chain, naming it after Lord Howe, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty.
When Lieutenant Ball and his crew set foot on the crescent-shaped island, only 7 miles (11km) long, they found themselves in a forested paradise where wild animals showed no fear at their approach. But later other ships called, and hungry sailors hunted birds such as the white gallinule to extinction. By 1834, Lord Howe Island had been settled by people who made a living from trade with passing ships.
With the settlers came rats, which swam ashore from a sinking ship. The island was offered from a sinking ship. The island offered the rats abundant food- the lizards, birds, and insects had no defences against them, and they wiped out five species of bird and pushed unique races of geckos, skinks and stick insects to the edge of extinction.
But Ball’s Pyramid, about 12 miles (20km) south of Lord Howe Island, remains intact. Boats circle it while their passengers gaze upwards in awe. Only the sea birds show no reverence as they wheel about the summit and perch on perilous ledges. For them, this windswept stack is an ideal home, and thousands, including masked boobies, providence petrels, noddles and red-tailed tropic birds, raise chicks here every year.