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02 - Government House Lake - Salt Baths

Government House Lake - Salt Baths

Rottnest Island, at one point in time, comprised 10% of salt lakes, with Government House Lake being the deepest of them all with a depth of 8.5 metres. It was described as being so concentrated in salt, it was impossible to sink and that, the buoyancy is remarkable, it has to be experienced to be believed”. Swimmers find that trying to breastroke through the water, makes their legs lift up and out.


It is also the biggest lake on the island, measuring an approximate 1900m long and 650m wide.


During the cooler and cold seasons, the water levels of the lakes rise on par with the average sea level and becomes meromictic. This is when the lower levels of the lake’s water is up to 10°C higher than that of the surface, due to fresh spring water and the rain spreading over the surface of the lake, above the heavier hypersaline water (2).


During the warmer seasonal periods in summer and autumn, evaporation and strong winds destroy the stratification. The level of the water tends to also fall more than a metre during this time (1).

Benefits of Salt Baths

During the late 1940’s, Government House Lake was compared to Salt Lake City in Utah and it was found that the composition of both lakes was identical.


It’s no wonder these salt baths were highly sought after by sufferers of:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (long-lasting autoimmune disease that mostly affects the joints)

  • Psoriatic arthritis (pain and swlling along the bones that form the joints)

  • Ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and joints)

  • Knee osteoarthritis (a degenerative joing disease of the knee)

  • Neuritis (inflammation of the nerves)

as well as many other disorders.


Many people have been making regular visits to the island to bathe in the Government House Lake and have done so since the 1920s (1).


Some claim that the lake’s salty water has not only given them temporarily relief from their ailments but healed them altogether. Others take home bottles of water to rub onto their aching joints.


Whilst the internal consumption of salt can lead to a number of minor to extremely severe health issues from bloating to high blood pressure, swimming in salt baths and pools is known to have many benefits.


Sea salt contains magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron and potassium, which are all skin friendly minerals. It can:

  • reduce inflammation,

  • prevent fungal growth,

  • stimulate blood circulation,

  • promote healing,

  • ease sore muscles and

  • regenerate new skin.


Accommodation conveniently located in close proximity to the lake opened up for those wanting to take advantage of the heavy-mineralised lake waters. Due to the popularity of the salt lake, gendered dressing rooms were constructed from corrugated asbestos sheets.


The Old Bathing Groyne

A new winding path from the ti-tree grove on the Causeway-road across the hill, took visitors to a wooded cove on the lake.


In 1933, a flight of steps cut from local rock gave people access to the bank of the lake, from the winding bush path. There they would find a sturdy stone pier, 60 metres long and five feet wide, leading out into the deepest part. Steps at the end gave easy access into the water, bypassing the rough-bottomed shallows and reach deeper water in comfort”. Many maps refer to this pier as the ‘old bathing groyne’.


To construct the pier, large slabs of rock from a nearby cliff was blasted and cut, placed on steel rollers and pushed across the beach, through the shallow water. The water being so dense and buoyant, particularly in the deeper areas, made the slabs readily float over to the area they were required, before being forcibly sunk into position. There they would be heavily weighted down until cement held them in permanent positions.


Those with skin injuries would find the concentrated salt water made their wounds extremely painful. Warnings were also given, highly recommending swimmers to avoid swallowing water and to keep their head above water to protect their eyes. If wanting to see the stromatolites on the floor of of the lake, face masks and snorkels were recommended (1). The stromatolites are believed to grow approximately 1.5mm per year and are very likely the reason why the salt lake bath was closed.




(1) Guidebook to the Geology of Rottnest Island – Phillip Playford.

(2) Bunn, S.E., and Edward, D.H.D., 1984, Seasonal meromixis in three hypersaline lakes on Rottnest Island, Western Australia: Aust. Jour. Marine and Freshwater Research, v. 35, p. 261-265.

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