The Figure 8 Pools are considered the jewel in the cluster of rock pools that line the coast in Sydney's Royal National Park. The National Parks & Wildlife Service warns that at low tide you have to be aware of rogue waves that wash across the rocks and that access to the pools is only possible when it's safe, at low tide. You also need to be a bit daring to take a dip as the variety of sea life will make you feel like you are dunking in an aquarium. To get to the pools, follow the rocky track that hugs the cliffs of the coastal escarpment from Garrawarra Farm car park or the Burning Palms Track. It's a steep climb back up to the car park so be prepared before you venture down to the pools.
Dee Why rock pool
As well as ocean beaches, New South Wales has around a hundred ocean rock pools and baths. These pools are tidal swimming pools on the open coast and waves often break over the side of them. Those around Sydney - and there are many - were used by the local Aborigines to cool off during the summer months long before European settlers arrived and began using them for the same purpose. Today, people of all ages swim, play, exercise, snorkel, sunbake, fish, socialise, get acquainted with the plant and animal life of the rocky shores and admire the views.
Sydney's ocean pools and baths can be as simple as a ring-of-rocks on beach sand, or a natural pool in the rock platform or rocky shore that's been enhanced by deepening it, adding concrete walls or smoothing its floor. Many are un-fenced and available for use at all hours, very few have admission charges and none of the current ocean baths are reserved solely for use by men, but some once were.
If you are from out of town (or from another area of Sydney for that matter), we recommend you put a visit to Bondi Icebergs high on your 'to-do' list whilst in Bondi. The famous Bondi Baths have been a landmark of Bondi Beach for over 100 years. Back in 1929, a group of enthusiasts met on the rocks at South Bondi to indulge in their favourite pastime of winter swimming. There were a mere eight or nine such pioneers and they swam regularly in what was then, and is now known as the Bogey Hole, near Bondi baths. They formed the Bondi Icebergs Winter Swimming Club and drew up a constitution and elected office bearers. Included in the constitution was a rule that to maintain membership it was mandatory that swimmers compete on three Sundays out of four for a period of five years.
If you visit the Ivor Rowe Rock Pool on a week day, particularly outside of the summer season, chances are you'll have this small rock pool all to yourself, except of course for the small shelled creatures and other aquatic sealife that inhabit the shallows of the pool floor. The pool is easy to find and enter - just a short walk from suburbia via steps off south end of Bunya Parade in South Coogee.
Freshwater Rock Pool is a perfectly-positioned 50m Olympic Pool, with lane markings on the floor. It sits right under the cliff on one side at the northern end of Freshwater Beach, but unlike neighbouring Queenscliff, this doesn t prevent the sun from warming the pool up pretty quickly in the morning because the cliff isn t so high here. Its position also leaves you looking out at the surf crashing in on Freshwater Beach and the rocks on all the other three sides.
Royal National Park, immediately beyond Sydney's southern suburbs, is home to some of the best natural swimming holes in the Sydney region. Because they are in one of Sydney's most well known and visited recreational spots, the park's iconic swimming spots are no secret and can get quite busy, especially on weekends, public and school holidays in the warmer months. But don't let that stop you from checking them out - they are never as busy as the beaches of the French or Italian Riviera which are wall to wall people during the peak holiday season.
Wattamolla, the most popular of the Royal National Park's beaches, is our first stop. It's easy to get to and well marked on maps. A creek enters the ocean here, but not after tumbling over a large rock ledge into a plunge pool below. In summer, the creek is dry and the wall of the falls becomes a popular diving spot. After rains, the falls can be a raging torrent.
Visitors have a choice of swimming in the pool or the ocean. Wattamolla has numerous facilities, a sizeable car park and bushwalking tracks to the north and south. The waves on the ocean beach are moderate and therefore quite safe for children and average swimmers. It was at Wattamolla that Matthew Flinders and George Bass sheltered from a storm in 1796, calling it Providential Cove.
Facilities: kiosk, grassed areas, barbecue and picnic facilities, camping areas, toilets. No direct public transport.
South West Arm Pool is much more out of the way than Wattamolla, so there are no where near as many people of know about it or how to get there. There is no road to it - you have to park on Warumbul Road at the beginning of the the Winifred Fire Trail. It is a 30 minute walk along the fire trail to Winifred Falls, where you can have a splash in its pool, before heading off down the track on the left, past the viewing point of the falls and continuing on to South West Arm beside the river. Soon you'll see South West Arm Pool which is giant bottle green lagoon with high cliffs on both sides, which are perfect for leaping off into the deep water. For those game enough, there is even a rope swing. This deep 60 metre natural rock pool is connected by South West Arm Creek out to the ocean, so you'll find the water is salty. It is a 3 km return walk from Warumbul Road and 118 metres down to the pool.
The small Deer Pool near Little Marley Beach is a bit out of the way for most visitors to Royal National Park, but to those walking the coastal track or camping at one of the camping spots around Marley, it is a favourite freshwater swimming hole fed by Marley Creek. Deer Pool has a sandstone platform, as well as a small, sandy beach. The creek and waterfall can run dry if there has been no rain, but the pool remains just deep enough for a cooling dip. Entry is via a 3.8km walk along the Marley Track from Bundeena Road.
Just south of the Audley Boatshed in the Royal National Park (a brilliant spot for kayaking, by the way), a tributary runs into the Hacking River. Known as Kangaroo Creek, it begins in the park. To reach the best swimming spots, take the Karloo Walking Track, a five-kilometre walk starting at Heathcote Station. Karloo Pool is the most popular the water is pristine. If it's busy, make tracks downstream, where you'll find more pools.
In the relatively little visited Dharawal National Park in the Macarthur region just south of Sydney, this pool is a near-perfect 40m oval, enclosed by a horseshoe-shaped rock platform, with a huge monolithic boulder standing like a sentinel opposite. The water is clean and deep and good for jumping into. A waterfall flows continuously into the pool, thanks to the hanging swamps upstream in the park. Avoid of jumping straight in from the rock ledge, the water in these pools is often murky and there are unseen hazards at places below the surface. Enter is from carpark at end of Victoria Road, Wedderburn. The pool is a 30 minutes/1.5km bush walk from the car park. Jingga Pool (below) is nearby and accessed by the same track.
Sited at what must be the most superb location of any public swimming pool in the world, the Pool complex allows everyone to combine swimming with other leisure pursuits in the one spectacular location overlooking Sydney Harbour, next door to Luna Park and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
North Sydney Olympic Pool has a rich heritage. It was built in 1936 and became known as the 'wonder pool' due to both its technical innovation and it being the site of over 86 world records being broken by such swimming greats as, for example, Jon and Ilsa Konrads, Lorraine Crapp, Frank O'Neill, Judy Joy Davies, John Devitt, Shane Gould and Michelle Ford. In 1938 it hosted the swimming events of the British Empire Games, at which time the bleachers were extended and the pool was excavated to facilitate the diving tower set up at the western end under the smile of Luna Park. The pool is uniquely salt water, has palm trees lining the column-arched promenade along the water and glass detail makes this historical pool a stunning location. When you have finished your swim, you can enjoy a meal at the pool's award winning restaurant. 4 Alfred Street South, Milsons Point. Ph: (02) 9955 2309.
Located on the western side of Cremorne Point, Maccallum Pool is a unique harbourside pool with heritage character and superb views. Its waterside timber deck is an unparalleled sun bathing spot especially on winter afternoons. It was originally just a rock pool created by local residents to form a safe harbour swimming hole. The architectural style of the current pool dates back to the 1920s and was restored in keeping with this heritage theme by the local council in 1985-86.
At the southern tip of Killarney Heights on Middle Harbour is a beautiful, secluded bay with a small beach that feels as though it is miles from anywhere. On the southern fringe of Garigal National Park, it is one of those places the essence of which can never be fully captured in a photograph. On weekends, families come here for a swim in its calm waters and to clamber over the rocks at the head of the cove, followed by a beach picnic. On weekdays, there is rarely anyone here, so those who do visit generally have the place to themselves. Behind the beach the waters of Flat Rock Creek tumble down the escarpment in a number of spectacular falls and races before entering the bay at the head of the beach. Come after rains for the best flows; in the middle of summer the flow can drop to barely a trickle.
Located in the eastern reaches of Blue Mountains National Park is the beautiful Glenbrook Gorge. Starting from the Glenbrook NPWS Visitor Centre car park (vehicle entry fees apply), at the end of Bruce St, the gorge track eventually follows the base of the gorge. Look out for the historic railway tunnel built in 1911. The rubble from its construction can still be seen on the sandbar where Glenbrook Creek meets Nepean River, near the end of the track. After 1.2km there's a shallow pool nestled among giant boulders. 1.5km further on the rock shelf ends at a cliff. Cross the creek and you'll soon come to a long, open pool in spectacular gorge scenery.
Close by is Jellybean Pool, a great place to enjoy a refreshing dip. There is plenty of parking at the end of Jellybean Road. Remember to take your binoculars if you want to bird watch.
Though it is not quite Sydney, Mermaid Pools is close enough and stunning enough to get a mention here. It sits at the base of a colossal amphitheatre with dramatic, sheer walls. Swimming in its dark green water with the cliffs and trees and sky towering up around you gives a real buzz, especially for first-timers. The 2km walk to the pool begins at a car park at N end of Charlies Point Rd, Bargo, just before junction with Rockford Rd. Take path that leads underneath the bridge and down to the large, sandstone swimming holes that form part of the Bargo River Gorge. Access to water is dangerous from here - the jump is 20 metres high; safe access can be found at the far end of the pool. The water is quite deep and there is a rope to swing out on.
Deep in the heart of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park on Cowan Creek is Refuge Bay. Across the head of the bay are cliffs over which flows a creek, tumbling into a pool on the beach before entering Cowan Creek. This secluded little corner of Paradise is a popular place for launches to anchor and enjoy a picnic lunch. There is nothing better on a hot day after a swim than to take a cold water shower under the waterfall. Access is by boat or on foot. Topham walking track winds its way through open woodland to the escarpment overlooking Cowan Water, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and leads to the top of the escarpment overlooking Refuge Bay.
Erskine Creek on the Jack Evans Track is such an enticing place to escape the city and spend a weekend - a 200m pool bordered by a large sand bank that's perfect for pitching a tent or two. The bush seems to melt right into the pretty pool, and compared to many swims in The Mountains it s a cinch to get to! Sculptured cliffs loom over the deep water, and little swallows dart above its surface, harassing dragonflies. In the morning you ll be awoken by a joyful assault of birdsong - when all the birds of the valley chime at once.
Wentworth Falls is in the Blue Mountains and not Sydney, but because it can visited on a day visit from Sydney, it gets a mention here. Everyone visits the top of the falls but not many venture down to the bottom where you can have a swim in the cold water right up close to where it hits the pool after its 187 metre fall. The cliffside track down from the top provides one of the most memorable views of the Jamison Valley, making it one of the Blue Mountain's best vantage points. The walk down to the lower falls is quite steep and the last section involves a series of near-vertical caged ladders, but to gaze up at the constant boring of the water as it plummets from the falls onto the rocky floor below is worth all the effort. To get an idea of the actual height of the falls, the section in the photo above is the lower section of the photo below..