Located 20 minutes south of Margaret River, Lake Cave has one of the most impressive and beautiful entrances of all the Western Australian show caves. The cave is found at the bottom of a huge circular crater, or doline and so named because of the underground lake, which is formed by a stream flowing through the cave.
In 1867, Francis Bussell, the sixteen year old daughter of the pioneer Alfred Bussell, discovered the Lake Cave entrance while out searching for cattle. Francis reported the discovery to her family at the time; however it was some thirty years later that her brother John Bussell, Tim Connelly and others finally ‘re-found’ the entrance and entered the cave. They roped themselves 15 metres down the limestone wall of the huge hollow, and whilst exploring the floor of the doline found a narrow opening leading into the cave. To explore the cave it was necessary for Connelly to wade through the lake in semi-darkness aided only by simple hand lamps.
Lake Cave was opened to the public in 1901. A wooden staircase was built to enable visitors to get down into the doline and an earthen pathway was laid down the centre of the cave for easy access. The cave at this time was called “Queen of the Earth”.
Lake Cave is the deepest tourist cave in the South-West with a depth of 62 metres; the lake chamber is 82 metres long. The Lake Cave doline was once an extensive underground cavern which collapsed, forming a deep hole with a sloping floor leading to a small entrance into the cave.
The cave has been subject to flooding throughout its history. After bushfires had denuded the surrounding area in early 1924, torrential rain occurred with heavy run-off into the doline. Extreme saturation of the doline floor caused a rock and soil subsidence which in turn blocked the stream passage. It took seven to eight months to construct a tunnel to release the floodwater. In 1941 the cave again flooded, but the work done previously was sufficient to clear the water in less than three days.
The most common types of cave formations or decorations seen in Western Australian caves are straws, stalactites, stalagmites, columns, shawls, helictites and flowstone. The correct term for these decorations is ‘speleothems’; pronounced ‘spe-leo-thems’, from Greek and literally meaning ‘cave deposit’. These speleothems are made from calcite, a crystalline form of calcium carbonate. As rainwater penetrates the limestone, some of the rock is dissolved, creating a solution of calcium carbonate. When this solution enters the cave it is redeposited in crystalline form; as calcite.
Straws are long, thin stalactites with a hollow centre resembling a drinking straw in appearance. Numerous straws hang from the roof of Lake Cave.
Stalactites also hang from the roof of the cave. Often the centre of the straw has been blocked forcing the solution to run down the outer surface. In this way the straw is thickened as well as lengthened. Lake Cave has some excellent stalactites.
Stalagmites grow up from the floor and are formed by drops of solution falling from the roof.
Columns form when a stalactite and stalagmite join.
Shawls are wavy sheets of calcite that hang from the ceilings and walls.
Helictites defy gravity growing in many different directions, twisted and worm-like. They grow via a small capillary canal in the center, which is often under pressure; with surface tension and attraction they grow in any direction.
Flowstone forms when solution seeping out of the wall of the cave or flowing over a gently sloping section of floor deposits sheets of calcite over a relatively large area.
Lake Cave is known for a spectacular formation called the Suspended Table. Two columns support a sheet of flowstone between them, which is suspended only a few centimeters above the stream.