Make the most of Sydney’s coastal culture and dip into these local secrets.
By Jac Taylor
Australia's harbour city loves to relax in the sun and water, and Sydneysiders not only have their favourite beaches, but their favourite ocean and harbour pools too. Forget the chlorine. You'll be swimming in saltwater from the ocean or harbour. The oldest pools were built by convicts in the 1800s and remain a Sydney cultural institution to this day.
See some of Sydney's most beautiful ocean and harbour pools
BONDI ICEBERGS POOL, BONDI
The public pool at Bondi Icebergs (named after Bondi's winter swimming club) is arguably one of Australia's most photographed spots and attracts a gloriously varied community of sunbathers, socialites, families, friends and celebrities. This adored local icon at the southern end of Bondi Beach is 20 minutes by taxi or 40 minutes by public transport from the city. Swim in the pool complex, use the sauna and gymnasium, or settle into one of Icebergs' two cafes. There is also an onsite casual eatery, a fine-dining restaurant and an upmarket bar. All have views of the pool and beach.
BRONTE BATHS, BRONTE BEACH
Built in the 1880s, this stunning ocean-fed pool is found at the southern end of Bronte Beach, five minutes by taxi (or a 20 minute stroll) from Bondi Beach, and 20 minutes by taxi from the city. Like the nearby neighbourhood of Bondi Beach, Bronte has its own small shopping village, with several cafes and restaurants. So after you've had a swim you can enjoy a relaxed meal. At The Bogey Hole cafe, which serves breakfast and lunch daily, you can try coffee by one of Sydney's favourite coffee bean roasters, Toby's Estate.
DAWN FRASER BATHS, BALMAIN
Swim right into Sydney's history at the beloved "Dawn", Australia’s oldest pool and home to the nation's oldest swimming club. The country's first water polo game was held here in the 1880s, and you can still catch hard-fought matches up to international level in a sectioned-off part of the pool. This tidal-flow saltwater pool can be found deep inside Sydney’s famous harbour, with a little adjacent beach that local kids like to play on at low tide. Balmain is in Sydney's Inner West, just 10 minutes by bus or ferry from the city.
FAIRY BOWER POOL, MANLY
Manly Beach (a half hour ferry ride from Sydney's main ferry terminal, Circular Quay) is on many travellers’ must-do lists, but you'll find a spot that makes your visit so much more special if you follow the coastal path for about five minutes past the southern end of the sand. Locals have been swimming in the Fairy Bower ocean pool for almost a century, and it provides a beautiful option for families who like to have a splash around. For those who love to snorkel, the marine life in the open water alongside the pool is fantastic. Even a short swim from shore allows swimmers to see coral, large fish, seadragons and starfish.
MACCALLUM SEAWATER POOL, CREMORNE POINT
The views at MacCallum Pool alone make it worth a visit. An unbeatable sunbathing spot on a heritage timber deck looks out over the harbour to Sydney city, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Like so many of Sydney's harbour pools, this was once a rockpool but is now entirely enclosed, and filled with fresh saltwater each week. To get here, catch the ferry from Sydney's Circular Quay (near the Sydney Harbour Bridge) to Cremorne Point and follow the short path along the water's edge.
CHOWDER BAY BATHS, MOSMAN
You won't find Chowder Bay in tourist brochures, but this gorgeous pool is much loved by Sydney locals. Like MacCallum Seawater Pool (above), this pool is 20 minutes from the city, on the northern side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the city is on the southern side), in the upmarket suburb of Mosman. Surrounding bushland and the calm waters of Chowder Bay make this a very popular picnic and swimming spot. Cool off in the harbour pool and look out for the seahorses that live along its netted edge. There are several cafes and restaurants nearby.
GILES BATHS, COOGEE
The beach suburb of Coogee is just five kilometres (three miles) south down the coast from Bondi, or a 45 minute bus ride from the city. It has so many ocean pools that you could spend a whole day visiting them. The shallow Ivor Rowe Rockpool is a warm wading pool on the breathtaking Coastal Walkway that winds all the way up to Bondi. The Ross Jones Memorial Pool at the beach's southern end is hugely popular, and Wylies Baths are a beautiful, unmissable piece of Sydney culture. But Giles Baths are something else again: a clear, natural and calm rockpool, open to the waves at one end.
MCIVERS BATHS, COOGEE
McIvers has been a spot for women and children only since the 1920s. Its rock-platform location is hidden both by the curve of the coastline and by its distance from the road via a set of steps. Female visitors can sunbake in privacy on the surrounding rocks and enjoy the sensational ocean views across to Coogee Beach.
FIGURE EIGHT POOLS, ROYAL NATIONAL PARK
These magnificent, delicately shaped rockpools full of clear ocean water are set in a rock shelf near Burning Palms Beach in Sydney’s beautiful and vast Royal National Park, about an hour's drive south of the city. Now an Instagram phenomenon for their exquisite natural shape (look for the hashtag #figure8pools), the pools can be the ultimate swimming hole when the tide is low and the sea calm (during high tide, the entire rock shelf is underwater, and unsafe). It will take you about an hour to walk along bush tracks to get here, but people come from all over the world to see this natural wonder. You'll find directions and safety advice on the Royal National Park website.
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