Searching for Mick Dundee

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Kakadu swimming

Hello moody Kakadu. Look but don’t touch

Kakadu swim adventures

This Easter I ventured to a part of Australia where chocolate eggs could NEVER survive. The very north of this massive country where ‘hot as a bastard’ is the standard room temperature setting, crocodile warning signs are more common place than street signs and locals are so tough they view freshwater crocodiles in the same category as ‘cattle dogs.’

N.T (Northern Territory) or ‘Not Today’ as it’s known to its friends, is literally another country compared to the coffee-swilling, kale and quinoa state of NSW.

Sure you can’t just judge England on London, or the US on New York City, but the Northern Territory is so enormously different to urban Australia, it’s like an extreme ‘Wife Swap’ episode.

 For starters, you’ll actually see many indigenous Australians and how they live their lives. I can’t begin to understand the complexities of the culture and the challenges that they face. So I won’t even attempt it for this blog post. But I will say it’s both fascinating and sad.

Soap box to one side, if it’s wide open spaces, red dirt and green savannahs you are looking for, then a visit to Kakadu is your ticket. This World Heritage site is Australia’s largest national park, the actual size of a European country (Slovenia, if you’re interested to know, or half the size of Switzerland). It’s so big, you really need a few days to do it justice (note-to-self), but our whistle-stop tour did allow me some jaw-dropping swimming action.

Kakadu is home to dozens of waterholes, billabongs and waterfalls all utterly breathtaking. There’s just one major mood killer you need to be aware of at all times. That would be the 10,000 crocodiles (approx) that can be found in the park. For that reason it’s best to swim with a professional and even then take precautions (more on that later).

rock pool kakadu swim

Motorcar falls, Holden not included

Motorcar Falls

Watching Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ a few years back the movie had one stand out for me. Forget the cute indigenous kid, and Hugh Jackman’s shirtless scenes, the amazing swimming hole where Hugh and Nicole take a dip was all I remember. But, like most of Baz’s films, I figured it was touched up and probably exaggerated.

So arriving at Yurmikmik track, a 45 minute walk in 35 degrees through dry vegetation and clamoring over rocks then… hello sailor. It turns out my outback swimming fantasy could actually come true in Kakadu.

Motorcar is a perfectly shaped deep pool, a dark emerald green surrounded by smooth rocks and a towering orange cliff face where a waterfall flows. As one of the few swimming holes that had been deemed ‘ crocodile proof’ so early in the season it was fairly busy, but there was still plenty of room to float on your back or starfish like a local.

Highpoints: Its sheer beauty. Your archetypical Australian waterhole and floating experience.

Lowpoints: There were some mighty large spiderwebs that one needed to avoid on entry.

Overall rating: 9.4 – my standout swim rating of the year. Corker mate 

kakadu swimming

Float like no one is watching

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Molines, hello something has caught their eye. Look closely at kids with snorkels

Moline rockhole

So this is supposedly a secret swim spot that is also largely crocodile proof year round. On closer inspection it turns out this is based on what is your definition of a crocodile. But let me come back to that.

Moline’s is another lovely swimming spot, slightly smaller than Motorcar with deep darker water that makes it perfect for jumping off the surrounding rocks. With a powerful waterfall it’s also the perfect location to remake your own personal timotei commercial.

After the swim it was amusing to watch the local kids dive off the rocks and land like pencils while tourists resembled scud missiles. After the hardy local kids got bored of diving they started snorkeling around the rocks, targeting one rock where they started poking at the crevasse with sticks.

Our bet was they’d discovered a water snake, creepy, but not harmful. Kerry, our guide leaned in. “Just a freshie under the rock.” We weren’t sure if he was joking, with more than 20 people swimming including a handful of floating toddlers (basically bobbing apples for crocs) he couldn’t be serious.

Turns out when NT locals refer to ‘no crocs’ they usually mean saltwater. The larger deadlier types. Smaller ‘freshies’ are less harmful and generally don’t attack unless provoked. So they don’t always rate a mention. Good to know, after you’ve survived.

Low point: Learning there was a croc in the pool

High points: Learning there was a croc in the pool after our swim

Overall rating: 9.0

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The NT relaxed parenting style to kids playing with crocs

 

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A helpful reminder

The top pool swims of Sydney 2014

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Blue skies forever

End of the golden summer

This week I’ve started to spot images of melting snow and weedy daffodils appear in my Facebook feed, courtesy of Northern Hemisphere folk. This is a sad reminder that in my backyard, my good friend Summer is about to hit the highway.

One of Sydney’s greatest strengths is that it doesn’t let go of summer that easily. It lingers, like a persistent blowfly during the mango season. While technically it is supposed to end on the last day of February, in my view it kind of holds on until early April. After this point the temperature plummets to a crisp 18 to 19 degrees Celsius (I like to call it ‘Australian cold’), and Sydneysiders pull out their cable-knit sweaters, scarves, mittens and earmuffs (this is not sarcasm).

Swimming, however does take on a more challenging edge. For that reason and to celebrate six months of ‘I’d Swim’ action I’m outlining my top tips to swim out and enjoy the last weekend of summer.

And if the thought of winter is just too much subscribe for my regular updates to get a little bit of saltwater under the skin all year round (yes shameless plug).

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Holding tight at Mahon’s

Best ocean pool

Overall winner: Mahon’s pool

It’s unpredictable, a little off the beaten track and always a crowd pleaser.

Runner up: Bronte ocean pool

Who can’t say no to the most attractive suburb in town. Hugh Jackman not included.

 

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Contemplation at Redleaf

Best harbour ‘pool’

Overall winner: Murray Rose Pool(formerly Redleaf)

Just moments from the traffic snarl of New South Head Road, below the Woollahra Council building lies a little gem of a protected beach/pool.

 Runner up: Dawn Fraser baths: A bit of love for the Inner West swimming. Dawn does you proud.

 

Drop n roll and the Alfred

Best Olympic size pool

Overall winner: North Sydney Olympic pool

It’s ridiculously iconic, crowd pleasing and also a damn good swim.

Runner up: Prince Alfred Park Pool

The new kid on the block 1950s poolside Los Angeles comes to Sydney. And it’s public (not so American).

 

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North Bondi Rescue

Best beach swim tourist trap for a reason award

Overall winner: North Bondi

Yes there’s always a chance you’ll end up with a camera in your face, the people really are ridiculously beautiful and the wanker count is off the spectrum. But North Bondi is a good old fashioned, bathwater gorgeous when it comes to swimming.

Best off the beaten track

Overall winner: Woollongong ocean pool trail – read the full details here and enjoy it while you can

Runner up: Malabar rockpool

Ignore the snake sign, ignore the prison and you’ll find a piece of up and coming Sydney swimming, I’ve got my eye on.

Sydney ocean pools

It’s sunset to summer Sydney

The ocean pool or photocopier?

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Australia ocean pools

All paths lead to Austinmer baths

The Wollongong Ocean Pool trail

Local councils in Australia don’t always have the best rep. I can’t help but think balding middle-aged men, bulging bellies over tight white shirts stained in Chinese food. But I have been known to generalize. (Disclaimer: I also had a real late 90s thing for Bob Jelly, one of the greatest Australian TV characters of all time, so I can empathize with the challenge of retaining all tax receipts).

Anyway, when a story broke just before Christmas that Wollongong Council was looking to cut costs by closing up to three ocean pools, it fired up this fair-weathered swimmer.

Now the folks at Wollongong City Council do have a slightly checkered history. Something about a sex and bribery investigation a few years back, but I’m paraphrasing. Whatever the past they seemed to be keeping their noses clean until the Sydney Morning Herald led with this front page expose “up to $135,000 saved annually if two to three pools were closed.”

The locals quickly fired up, defending their rock solid pools. A lifetime of swims sacrificed for what they could save in photocopying. The council just as quickly worked to diffuse the situation explaining they didn’t want to deprive any toddler of its swimming lessons. Put simply, there are a lot of elderly pools in the area. As some of the pools fail they want to assess if they can create a ‘do not resuscitate’ order. The jury is still out.

So I took a trip south on a sunny Sunday to work out for myself if the Wollongong area has too much of a good thing with its nine ocean pools dotting the coast line.

I know I might be gushing but this is a lush part of the world, with crazy craggy hills, rambling green fauna and a ridiculous amount of beaches (and of course ocean pools) to choose from.  It’s also insanely close to Sydney, in just under 90 minutes. Starting at Wollongong (The Gong to its friends), the beaches and small towns become more gentrified the further you move towards the big smoke.

A $60 million bridge (fact) – the Sea Cliff Bridge has become a tourist drawcard as Sunday drivers park up and walk the vista.

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Wollongong where the vans seem pinker

But enough of the scene setting, the big question you’re probably all asking. Does the Wollongong Council have a sea leg to stand on? Short answer, not in my view, but it very much depends on what’s on your horizon. From the shoreline of the lovely Bulli beach where a lone swimmer lapped the ocean pool you can clearly spot two other pools in easy walking distance.

Some might argue that might be one pool too many, but as I watched a toddler on the brink of a meltdown flee the surf and demand to swim in the ocean pool, I realized isn’t that the beauty of the freedom of choice.

Where to head on the Wollongong trail

Woonona – long, lovely and deserted

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I’d catch that

Bulli Beach – also near empty, on a lovely beach

Thiroul – set back from the beach, popular with the teens

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Thirroul massive drop and roll

Austimner – double rockpool with cafes nearby

CoalCliff – the green pool is popular with little people, added ambience from the polka band nearby

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green like the hills

or read the full list here

Highpoints: Long, lovely laps without the crowds. There’s almost enough for one pool each judging by the crowds on the day I visited. Scarborough hotel for a schooner après swim, and a ridiculous ocean vista

Low points: There was a high algae factor in some of these pools, namely coalcliff. Noisy motorcyclists also enjoy this stretch of the coast. Try to ignore them.

Cost: Free (for now….)

Attire: White moustaches, buckets for water fights, and bikinis with culotte pants

Best for: Weekend excursions, container shipspotters (Cape Vessel anyone?) and solitude swimming

overall rating: 8.0

Australia ocean pools

Not everyone’s interested in ocean pools

 

Togs or undies?

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Sydney ocean pools

Togs appropriate, with water nearby. Step away from the pool and he is a potential at-risk offender

The art of the Eastern Suburbs weekend wardrobe

It’s a wet summer’s weekend here in Sydney. Real cats and dogs kind of Sunday where people in the Eastern Suburbs just don’t know what to do with themselves.

This is for obvious reasons, such as it prevents them from tanning on the beach, but more importantly, it also throws their weekend wardrobe attire, which consists of a LOT of Lycra.

I’m all for a bit of weekend workout wardrobe but it’s an Eastern Suburbs phenomenon where one stays in their gym gear from dawn till dusk. Before you know it you start the day with a short run, then end it in a local wine bar still dressed in your fluorescent yellow New Balance trainers.

Then there are those who take it one step further. The 24/7 swimsuit syndrome. Swimwear is of course appropriate at the beach. But what proximity from the water does it just become plain underwear?

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Major togs undies offender spotted near Bronte Beach. Running shoes nicely offset outfit

I live about a 20 minute walk from the beach. I can sense the ocean is nearby, every now and then I might hear the odd lost seagull, but if there’s a tsunami to hit Bondi Beach I’m definitely going to survive. All of the above factors make me believe it is inappropriate to wander up my street in just your bikini or even worse budgie smugglers.

A New Zealand commercial made a fair point a few years backs. On the beach it’s togs (cossies/swimmers), cross the street – it’s just plain underwear people.

ibiza

Example of swimsuit appropriate, hello beautiful people of Ibiza.

 

The Coogee wake up call

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Sydney ocean pools

Friday twisting by the pool

 

Giles Baths, Coogee Beach

This pool is a bit like the love interest that’s been right in front of you all of this time, but it just takes one sunny Friday afternoon for you to finally notice.

A craggy yet almost canal shaped rock pool that connects with the northern end of Coogee beach it’s a perennial favorite for families and small people, pregnant ladies and vacationing American teenagers.

Less of a structured pool like nearby Wyllie’s, or even the Ladies Pool, it offers the best of both world’s, the safety of a ocean pool while being only spitting distance to Coogee beach.

A pretty white archway marks the entrance, which on closer inspection serves as a memorial for the 20 Eastern Suburbs locals that lost their lives in the 2002 Bali bomb attacks, including six young Coogee rugby league players. Sobering stuff, especially when you’re having first world problems, like did I put enough money in the parking meter. (Unfortunately, no I didn’t. Sigh…Randwick Council, the $102 cheque is in the post).

High points: The Friday afternoon vibe, the gorgeous vista of Coogee beach

Low points: Low tide wasn’t great for depth but was ample volume to soothe my summer mosquito bites. Parking ticket also didn’t help

Attire: Australian flagged bikinis (tis still the season), holiday tans

Cost: This is the ocean people, no charge, unless you count the parking ticket

Best for: Those bunking off work early on a Friday

Overall rating: 6.0

ocean pools Sydney

Girls perfecting the ‘swim talk’


Australia themed beach rocks

Australia themed beach rocks


A Giles sundowner

A Giles sundowner


Giles Gateway

the Giles gateway

Happy Straliya Day Weekend swimmers

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Cronulla Australia Day swimming

Beach flag pride in Cronulla

The country’s favourite public holiday, kind of like a Christmas Day and the Melbourne Cup all rolled into one. Although I’ve had a few of them I still have a David Attenborough like fascination for what goes on.

Beach parties, street parties, barbecues, picnics, and water slide parties. The national flag becomes as ubiquitous as fruit flies. From car flags to sun hats, headbands, tattoos, bikinis, nappies, beach towels, windscreen wipers and condoms.

Cronulla Australia Day swimming

Wearing it whichever way in Cronulla

Celebrating national pride in such a confident way is as foreign to me as dancing live on stage at a Beyonce concert. For kiwis and Brits, it’s just not what we do.

But watching Australians celebrate their country is bloody brilliant.  And what better place to observe than the epicenter of Australian suburban beach culture, Cronulla.

Yes, it might be a little controversial. It does have a bit of baggage around Australia Day thanks to 2005 race riots, but this year the beach was full of nothing but blue and red-flagged abiding citizens (helped out by a lot of bored looking police officers).

I’ve been meaning to check out the ocean baths of South Sydney for some time. Basically, I’m going to have to pay the Cronulla ocean pools another visit because there were so many distractions I didn’t even make it to the pool steps.

From the surf competition to the wave riding machine to the free concert where a group of middle aged men were dressed as batman baddies playing Men at Work. Driving out of Cronulla and towards the Botany Bay National Park the Aussie pride got bigger and the street parties more raucous. I spotted one flag possibly as large as my apartment. I almost ran down one kid on his Australian flag scooter. Apparently business is booming in China where most of the flagged merchandise is produced. Alanis Morissette might say that was ironic.

Cronulla Australia Day swimming

Puberty Blues mole in training

 

flag on the run

flag on the run

Boys in blue hang in the Nulla

Boys in blue hang in the Nulla

North Cronulla Baths

North Cronulla Baths

Getting your flag on in the burbs

Getting your flag on in the burbs

Big in Japan

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How amazing would this cat handbag look poolside this summer?

Japanese Onsen Swimming

Ah Japan, the land of the rising sun, or as I like to call it that utterly fascinating country of Olympic proportioned randomness. Cat cafés, robot bars, vending machine parlours and ninja photo booths are just some of the eye boggling delights I sampled on my recent trip. And with that randomness comes contradiction, like you have never witnessed before.

This is a country obsessed with safety, hygiene, knee high socks and above all doing the  ‘right’ thing. Example one; while visiting one of Tokyo’s high end department stores shoppers are urged to hold onto the handrails when travelling the escalators. Fast forward to the ski fields and the majority of chairlifts on our first day skiing have no safety bar.

Example two; Tokyo is a fabulous futuristic, style conscious city like no other. High end fashion and pointy nosed architecture is a national sport. Most women strolling the streets of fashionable Ginza can be seen in top-to-toe Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcon or Miu Miu. Yet, outfit choices are commonly offset by the eyesore of a cheap white paper surgical mask covering most of the face to protect against unwanted coughs and sneezes. I’m just saying, they didn’t match their handbags.

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A white surgical mask would really improve this outfit

But probably the greatest contradiction of all is the Japanese relationship with the human body.  The sexualisation of school girls seemed to be fair game for business men after 10pm but don’t even think about making hand contact with a shop assistant when paying for a bottle of water.

So it was with this knowledge that I approached my first Japanese swim assignment with an extreme case of cultural anxiety. Onsen, (Japanese baths), are a cultural icon, as Japanese as 24/7 sushi and sake in a karaoke booth duet with a sumo wrestler. Onsen’s are about capital B ‘bathing’, no clothing is allowed, single sex only and cleanliness is paramount.

Skiing in the Hakuba region, around four hours from Tokyo, surrounded by fresh mountain air and powdery snow, this seemed like the perfect place to take the onsen plunge.

japan onsen swimming

Behind this door lies a cultural hot pot, the onsen

Out the back of our Swiss style chalet, behind an innocuous brown door, hid a cultural mind-field dressed up as a hot tub. After a few ‘Lost in translation’ moments with the hotel staff I ascertained it was not necessary to walk naked through the snow to the tub. It was typical to change in the bathhouse, and as I later worked out, wear some sort of footwear that resembled terracotta crocs.

From the hours of 5-6pm and 8-9pm the onsen catered for ladies only. The evening hours in between were for the blokes. Helpfully inside the onsen was a large clock to avoid any additional embarrassment.

Shuffling through the snow, I walked towards the sound of running water and took a punt on the first brown door I could see. Success. Sliding the door open I walked through a black curtain which unveiled a small changing area below wooden steps that lead up to the tub.

Recalling the onsen for dummies article I had just read in a tourist brochure I steadied my panic, and attempted to undress calmly in the open-roofed below 10 degrees wooden shed. Point two of the article highlighted the need to always wash before entry. Scoping the shed there appeared to be no shower or tap.

I attempted to play it cool. Casually I climbed the steps up to the onsen. An older woman who was already in the tub threw me a wooden ladle and seemed to be blocking me from entering before I washed myself. I casually dunked the ladle and threw water over myself, trying to conceal the fact that I was frozen, starkers and clueless what to do next.  

I repeated the ladle routine a few times until she seemed to lose interest, or perhaps nodded off from heat exhaustion. Point three of onsen for dummies told me it was customary to exclaim loudly on entry. No rehearsal required. The water was so scalding I shrieked as I slowly entered the tub.

My helpful neighbor was difficult to see over the mist of the onsen. She started to make chat with me, and tried to explain something about the onsen being a giant miso pot. Or she could have been recommending to be me where to have dinner, my Japanese needs work.

After a few minutes I began to acclimatize and the swirl of the steam from the hot springs became completely hypnotic. I stayed in the pool until I was suitablly prune like and the clock reminded me it was soon to be boys night.

Not far from our chalet was a popular tourist attraction, the Japanese snow monkeys. These pink faced little guys spend their entire days just soaking in the tub while crazy tourists take photos of them going about their business. Considering there’s a no photo policy in the onsen I really feel for the monkey’s modesty.  But a monkey that spends all day lounging in a hot tub, forget climbing trees, that animal has my vote.

japan onsen swimming

The real life hotel onsen, posed by models, with faux modesty towels

japan onsen swimming

Japanese onsen crocs

japan onsen swimming

Grandad monkey gets a head massage

 

Auckland gets its swim on

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ImageAucklans swimming
Parnell Baths, Tamaki Drive, Auckland
Life is always a little slower across the Tasman. Visiting Auckland over Christmas, my original hometown, the city has a slight post apocalyptic feel after Boxing Day, when the country’s four million population leave en mass for small beach towns and the typical kiwi holiday. This is characterised by cramming into fibreglass box shaped beach houses (known as baches), playing beach cricket, watching kiwi bands play at small country pubs, swimming, fishing, reading five year old Woman’s Days and using the barbecue for three meals a day. It’s the kind of no frills relaxing yoga retreats charge thousands for, but with more wine and carbohydrates. 
For those left behind in New Zealand’s biggest city, which really isn’t that big by global standards, it feels like it’s just you and the motorways. 
On some levels Auckland also offers some similarities to Sydney. There is a giant harbour, a upper middle class North Shore, bogans in the West. But sadly unlike its much more glamorous bigger cousin, the city just did not have the same kind of parental guidance growing up. Especially when it came to ocean swimming. While one of the North Shore beaches did offer a beach pool it was demolished in the 1950s. 
Parnell Baths on Auckland’s waterfront is your best option if you want to enjoy outdoor swimming with a touch of kiwiana kitsch. A little untapped gem this place embodies everything that’s great about New Zealand. Clean, unpretentious, accessible and entirely practical. While its brasher cousin is celebrating the recent opening of water park Wet n Wild Auckland teens and families are quietly enjoying there own local version with much less hype. 
Half of the 50 metre pool has been created into a kids area where the thermal temperature keeps both parents and kids contented for hours. There are fountains, small slides, platforms, dive boards, and hot tubs for the parents. For the big kids the Olympic sized pool is close to empty and there is one lane per swimmer on the day I visit. Framed by red pohutakwa trees and the once active volcano Rangitoto Island watches in the harbour this is a great day out  at such a small price. Auckland I felt a little proud.
 
High points: This place is just kidtastic. It’s free for under 16s. The water is heated to bathtub temperatures so parents can lounge and float with the rest of them
 
Low points: The water was a little Auckland icy. No heating in the big kids pool. Also no KFC allowed (true story).
 
Attire: School bags, rash suits, frumpy hats and sustainable clothing
 
Cost: $6.30 (NZ) for adults, free for under 16s. Nice thinking Auckland 
 
Best for: Auckland families wanting to get out of the suburbs for a cheap day out
 
Overall  Score: 7.5 out of 10
 
Auckland swimming
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bridge to bathing

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sydney harbour pools

Bridge over still waters

Northbridge Baths,

I’ve always been a sucker for a big bridge. Especially one that resembles a Game of Thrones set piece. For many people this is the only reason to visit Northbridge. A suburban pocket of the L.N.S (Lower North Shore) that is about as sleepy as a one-week-old newborn.

Surrounded by thick green bush and the noisy cries of Kookaburra’s the Northbridge Baths are not really on the Sydney swimming map. But always one to seek out the innocuous, I was intrigued.

Greeted by a very steep carpark and a large sign alerting swimmers to ‘visually inspect the water before entering,’ I would not be deterred. Fair enough, the swimming pool is actually an open bath situated on Middle Harbour, so it pays to know what you’re getting into. Literally.

The sign continued. “If the water is discoloured, smells or has significant debris get out.” Okay, point made Willoughby City Council.

The baths are really in a lovely spot, and despite being only a few kilometres from North Sydney CBD, the swimming spot seems almost forgotten.  The only chatter came from a family playing a civilized game of boules, a sunbathing group of North Shore tweens and half a dozen kookaburras. The water looked pretty good to me, although only one swimmer was actually game enough to try. Surrounded by a decent sized boardwalk and a decent array of yachts and launches, Northbridge I’m glad I persevered.

Highpoints: The lovely solitude and touch of bushland, only a few kms from the CBD.

Low Points: Pollution was a little off putting when it came to swimming

Attire: Labradors, European cars and boat shoes

Cost: Free as the many birds in the area

Best for: Getting away from North Shore and avoiding Military Road

Overall rating: 5.5

sydney harbour pools

Northbridge family paddle

sydney harbour pools

Always pays to know what you are getting into

Greenwich bath time benders

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sydney harbour pools

Greenwich kids rules

Greenwich Baths,

Things are fairly sedate in the OTB (over the bridge) suburb of Greenwich, North Sydney.

It’s a quiet neck of the woods, made up of lovely rambling sandstone homesteads and a few ambling Sunday walkers.  But follow the road to the edge of the harbour and you will hear the silence interrupted by small person hysteria.

Was there a kids party I had crashed, was Peppa Pig doing some sort of flash mob appearance? Turns out, no. It was just a standard Sunday down at Greenwich Baths where little people have full swimming pool domination. To be fair there was a Finding Nemo bouncy castle positioned on the beach and a toy box that seemed to be laced with cat nip. I guess this is the adult equivalent of a happy hour special with free cheese.

The little pool is actually a harbour beach that is surrounded by the safe bosom of a shark net. For Australians shark nets are a nice to have, a bit like leaving the burglar alarm on when you leave the house. You know you can live without it, but isn’t it nice to know it’s there.

High Points: Sandy bottom and nice city views

Low points: Depends how you feel about lots of small children. There was also a lack of seating

Attire: Shark shaped beach towels, fluro pink bathing caps and fairy wings

Cost: $3.90

Best for: Anyone not old enough to flush a toilet for themselves. And bouncy castle fanatics

Overall rating: 5 out of  10

sydney harbour pools

Small sharks are occasionally spotted in the area

sydney harbour pools

Clouds are gathering kids

sydney harbour pools

Remnants of toy box bender

sydney harbour pools

How the serenity? Looks are deceiving

Northern Exposure (part one)

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Sydney ocean pools

The ‘Big’ Bigola pool cradles the coastline

You know you are approaching the Northern Beaches when birthday, wedding anniversary and 21st homemade signs start popping up on the roadside. “Tegan will you marry me?” Next corner. “Just joking, LOL.” Harsh. Next corner. “Happy 21st Tegan.”  Whoever you are Tegan, I hope your party was an improvement on the road signs.

Sydney’s Northern beaches are home to some serious eye dropping real estate, Alf Stewart, some very noisy cicadas and a large variety of ocean pools. These pools have been around since the 1930s and are built into the rocks of the golden surf beaches that dot the coastline.

Many of the pools are similar in theme so here’s a highlights guide on some of the top spots.

High points: Getting out of the city within 60 minutes, golden sand beaches, cliff top vistas, and great beachside cafes where you can get a bucket of prawns and a bottle of bubbles. The Boat House you deserve your own review.

Low points: Every carpark was filled with those annoying ‘My Family’ stick figure car stickers.

Best for: This is big F family territory so the pools are a big hit for little people, hardcore swimmers and, as I commonly observed, the Indian community.

Sydney ocean pools

The world’s most annoying car stickers

Bigola Beach

Don’t be put off by the hairpin turn off the main highway, this is where the truly wealthy come to hang. The biggest pool of the pack, the aptly named Bigola, is a decent swim if you’re wanting to get some lengths in, or throw a tennis ball around if you are under 10 years old. There’s also a pretty decent café where you can get a sausage roll, flat white and a blanket. Always a good touch.

Overall rating: 7

Sydney ocean pools

Bigola small child attempts to distract fisherman

Avalon

This triangular pool has a more freshwater feel with the surf crashing overhead. The beach is a mixture of families, old school surfers and small dogs who are forced to watch from the sidelines. Was also a big hit with the Indian community who seemed to be chasing the sea spray.

Overall rating: 6.5

Sydney ocean pools

All paths lead to Avalon

Sydney ocean pools

A good family soaking

Whale Beach

Whale Beach, the extra posh cousin of this wealthy family of beaches. You can dine out at nearby Jonah’s, Ripples of just hang on the beach. This is a pretty smallish and shallow pool that is popular with little tots.

Overall rating: 6.0

Sydney ocean pools

Old surf dogs dine well at Whale Beach

Mona Vale

So confession. I need to return to this pool because I was seriously distracted by the flash of colour at the nearby The Armchair Collective, a lush homeware store that is worth the drive alone. This place was seriously on palette for me. Aqua blues, yellows and retro beach prints. There’s also a excellent cafe where they stock single origin coffee. Mona Vale I will be back.

Overall score – n/a.

Armchair collective

This is not an ocean pool. But it is a gorgeous homeware store. Loving The Armchair Collective

Sydney ocean pools

Hello Mona Vale ocean pool in the distance.

Boy oh (Boy)

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sydney swimming pool, boy charlton

Boy’s master stroke

Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool, The Domain

If Tom Ford ever chose to design a swimming pool, I imagine this is pretty much what it would look like. Sleek hard lines, immaculate surfaces, and not a trace of ugliness. The salt-water swimming pool is built on the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens on Sydney harbour, nestled into the cliff, facing the nearby finger Woolloomooloo wharf and naval base. It’s not just the design that screams swimming sleek, it’s also the clientele. This pool is a definite favourite with Sydney’s glamour gays, singles and just generally beautiful people (BPs). Even the shade of the swimming pool is an immaculate deep blue that offsets their roman tans and biceps perfectly.

Loungers were in short supply as the BPs line the pool deck, sunbathe, strut and shave each others backs (well, one couple were at least).

In terms of everything you want in a Olympic size outdoor pool this Boy really delivers. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on I just wasn’t loving it like the others.  It could have had something to do with the crowd being a little twitchy to my paparazzi presence (disclaimer: if you’re not going to behave like some crazed k-pop tourist they may be more accepting).

If you want to take it up a notch the Poolside cafe has great reviews and you can even order a glass of Riesling and stare at the glamazons below. I feel like Poolside deserves a return visit, but maybe I’ll play it cool next time.

High points: The change facilities are the best I’ve seen in Sydney, although the signage for differentiating between the men’s and women’s was difficult to decipher. Or maybe that was the point.

Low points: Not feeling the love from some of boy’s boys

Cost: $6 for adults

Attire: Daniel Craig tight trunks, waxed bodies, kale smoothies in one hand, iPhone in the other

Best for: The style conscious especially Sydney’s beautiful gays (BGs)

Overall rating: 8.0

sydney swimming pool, boy charlton

Going Sycnhro style at Boy

sydney swimming pool, boy charlton

Boy strut

sydney swimming pool, boy charlton

local boys back shaving

sydney swimming pool, boy charlton

Wine time poolside

The ivy league

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sydney pools, the ivy

Photo posed by models, real swimmers not included

The Ivy Poolside, 330 George Street, Sydney

A few weeks back I posted on Bondi Icebergs which I labelled ” The Ivy” of ocean pool swimming. In the name of research it seems only fair that I give this esteemed nightclub/restaurant/lunchtime barbeque venue with rooftop swimming pool (yes, there is a link), a right of reply. For my foreign fanbase (growing by the day) The Ivy is a bit of an institution in Sydney.

To paraphrase it has palm trees, models who allegedly moonlight as swimmers and in its past it’s even had its own serial sex offender.

But does the controversy get in the way of a half decent venue with a lovely swimming pool.

Pushing aside all past connotations of Li-Lo getting poolside (note this is her venue of choice when in town), does the Ivy actually offer a bit of lunchtime South of France in the middle of the CBD.

Short answer, yes. It also makes for A grade people watching, although not the kind you might be expecting. It’s less Paris H and more Big W based on our Friday lunch experience, but I’m not complaining.

So I dragged the gang along, which included some major Ivy skeptics, not naming names, everyday drinking. Did they have fun. Grudgingly I think they did. Did we swim? A lady never tells.

Highpoints: Watching the office crowd ogle the poolside hired help. Our extremely efficient waitress who even supplied us with free sun screen. Without a doubt the over 50 female DJ. Genius.

Low Points: This place also takes itself more seriously than a serial selfie offender. The men are also always watching.

Cost: A pizza and a vino will set you back around $30. Or you could just sip on a diet coke and take a free dip.

Attire: Where to start. Think dresses that are actually tops, Princess Leia bikinis and polyester suits if you’re a male office worker.

Best for: Out of towners who enjoy a bit of St Tropez meets St Sans Souci.

Overall rating: 7.0

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Da boys are always watching

sydney pools, the ivy

The girls don’t look like your average office workers

The Fresh Prince of Swimming

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Prince Alfred Pool

Sydney, smoking on a Saturday

Prince Alfred Park Pool, Surry Hills.

I’m not sure if I’ve been living under a very large beach towel but the opening of Sydney’s latest inner city outdoor pool completely passed me by. This week my accreditation as a self-proclaimed ‘swimming pool guru’ has been called into question for not yet visiting the newly opened Prince Alfred Park Pool.

So on a surreal Saturday afternoon where the Sydney skyline bared more resemblance to Manila thanks to heavy smoke haze, I turned left at Central station and explored a new sort of swim experience I thought did not exist in this city.

Leichardt Nonnas, Bondi beards, Darlinghurst gays, Camperdown students. Like some sort of social experiment every stereotype was today on display, lounging, sunning, splashing, frolicking and just generally loving this beautiful new space.

Think 1950s Los Angeles this 50 metre heated pool is all palm trees, pale blues and veuve clicquot yellows. My biggest gripe with retro 50s is it’s traditionally all hard surfaces and sharp corners. This place is all modern comfort and curves, but keeps the vibe of nostalgia. A wood-panelled grandstand and grassy knoll provides both sun and shade for the crowds. White sunloungers are strategically placed under trees, rectangular yellow umbrellas helps the sun smart and a fabulous café seems to be doing a roaring trade on fish burgers, bircher muesli and mango frappes.

Designed by Sydney architect Rachel Neeson who has just been commissioned to complete the new visitor centre at the Sydney Opera House, I can’t wait to see what she does to Australia’s most beloved piece of architecture. City of Sydney you have done yourself proud.

High points: It offers such a new vibe to the inner city, who knew you could swim just five minutes from Central Station. Fountain play area for kids, large clean change facilities, decent café menu. In every way refreshing.

Low points: It was pretty busy, mostly based on the hot weather and free entry fee so there was a fair bit of traffic in the slow and medium lanes. My efforts to swim 30 laps never got beyond 10.

Attire: Purple hair, paperbacks, bike helmets and beach bags

Entry fee: free until November 12 then it will cost $5.70 for adults.

Best for: Almost anyone – inner city office workers, mums, Surry Hills natives, homeless

 Overall rating: 8.8

Prince Alfred Pool

It’s all palm trees and long legs

Prince Alfred Pool

Kids taking the piss

Prince Alfred Pool

Too busy poolside for bircher

Prince Alfred Pool

Rocket girl

Prince Alfred Pool

Hipster and Nona

Can someone call a lifeguard?

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ocean pool sydney mahons pool

Moody Mahon gives me a rough ride

Mahon Pool – Maroubra.

One of the best things about Sydney’s ocean pools is there is one to suit every mood. Feeling a little pissed off, moody or maybe melancholy. Mahon Pool at high tide is the place for you. Think human washing machine with added protected sea life (weedy sea horse anyone?) this is possibly the only pool I’ve ever swum in where I’ve been caught in a rip.

For that reason this pool is not always for the faint-hearted. The day I visited the surf was smashing the pool to the point where it was impossible to distinguish where the pool stopped and the great wide ocean began. However, if exhilaration is your bag then Mahon’s is your ticket.

If you’d rather not swim but just sun yourself on the rocks nearby then there’s plenty of smooth surfaces to spread yourself around. I decided to take the plunge, which was fine until I tried to exit the pool and found my body smashed up against the nearby rocks. Still I survived and had seaweed down my top to prove it. You don’t get that at the North Sydney Olympic Pool.

Highpoints: This place is pretty drop dead gorgeous if you’re a fan of big bold waves. It absolutely blows away the cobwebs without being swept out to sea.

Lowpoints: Change facilities are limited as the toilets are in need of an upgrade. You are also at the mercy of the mood of the ocean. Tranquil one morning, moody bastard the next.

Attire:  Wetsuits, zinc for the face and floatation devices for the kids

Cost: It’s all free people

Best for: Old sea dogs and strong swimmers

Overall: 8.7

ocean pool sydney mahons pool

Rules are made for breaking

ocean pool sydney mahons pool

Get out while you can

ocean pool sydney mahons pool

Hold on tight boys, the human washing machine

The Great Malabar Comeback

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ocean pool sydney malabar

Malabar drop and roll

Malabar Rockpool

Confession, I’ve lived in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney for more than four years. I have never ventured further east than Maroubra. Well, Malabar, what a revelation you were.  Certainly worth the extra five minutes drive down Anzac Parade if you are keen to escape Kaftans and boot-camped blondes. Despite the initial difficulty in locating the ocean pool, just follow the sign that announces ‘snakes are in the area’ (Australia, always keeping you on your toes), next to the golf course and you’ll find the Malabar rock pool.

This is the real deal, average looking people doing average Saturday afternoon activities. Reading the paper, snorkeling, yelling loudly at their kids in Greek.

The almost circular shaped pool is surrounded by a concrete wall regularly washed by breaking surf. My guess is that Malabar is definitely on the up. Once maligned due to water pollution issues, a recent $3 million project to clean up the Malabar Waste water treatment has seen the water quality drastically improve and is now as healthy as the rest of them. Good for you, Malabar.

High points: The lack of crowds, fresh air and the good looking English boy wearing unfortunate shoes and socks who gave me good local advice

Low points: There’s a lack of facilities near the rockpool however if you’re willing to walk a further 10 minutes down the road there are change facilities and a café

Attire: No need for fashion fuss at Malabar. Let it all hang out, plus if you’ve got a daily telegraph under your arm even better.

Best for: Peace, quiet and no pretensions

Cost: This is the ocean’s doorstep, no cost.

Overall score: 7.5

ocean pool sydney malabar

A Malabar moment

ocean pool sydney snakes

Australia and its constant threats. It’s not all sunshine and swimming

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The Dawn Fraser Rulebook

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Dawn Fraser Baths

Dawn on duty. Possibly

Dawn Fraser Baths (open Oct – April), Balmain

Not sure I’ve ever seen so many signs around a swimming area. No bombing, splashing, pushing, littering, ball games, diving, smoking, or drinking chardonnay. And watch out for stingers. That was just the entrance.

At first approach of the pool I did think the real life swimming Legend Dawn Fraser might have been the on-duty lifeguard. At second glance I realized she was her Balmain doppelganger, but just like real Dawn, she didn’t suffer fools when it came to disciplining local children. “No throwing sand, no jumping in the shallows,” she told a group of 10-year-olds.  She was extremely efficient.

Officially Australia’s oldest public pool and swimming club, the Dawn Fraser Baths is a harbour pool. A sandy shore is surrounded by an extensive 360 degree wooden decking that offers ample space for sunbathing. The position is pretty, Cockatoo Island lies directly behind while the baths offers views of the city, Balmain and some tidy looking yachts. Due to this being authentic harbour water the clarity levels are not great, but hey, this is the inner-west. It’s hotter here and it does not have the advantage of coastline like the East. But on the plus side the vibe is much more real. Local families chat about heading to the Sydney fish market for a Saturday night barbeque, next to a heavily tattooed solo mum who splashes about with her kids. ‘Dawn’ watches from the shade.

High Points: The size of the pool is great and allows for proper swimming (lanes are in place) plus room for the teens to go nuts

Low points: The water is a little murky and you do need to avoid jellyfish although most seemed harmless.

Attire: Tattoos, Goa beach bags, body boards and large sticks for poking jellyfish

Entry fee: $4.90

Best for: Children who need discipline and cooling off in Sydney’s inner west

Overall Score: 6.8

Dawn Fraser Baths, Swimming Sydney

Dawn sparkles on a Saturday afternoon

Dawn Fraser baths

Pay attention kids. Some of the rules

Dawn Fraser baths

Kids playing by the rules

Dawn Fraser baths

Balmain Bird contemplates

Rockin it at Red Leaf

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Red Leaf before the crowds

Red Leaf Pool (officially the Murray Rose Pool)

Red Leaf Pool is a lovely little oasis of shark proof safe in the bosom of Sydney Harbour. Less of a conventional swimming pool, and more like an enclosed harbour beach it’s a secret hangout that cashed up locals have been enjoying for decades.

Nestled in the crook between Double Bay and Point Piper the pool is framed by a wooden boardwalk, separating the superyachts from the swimmers.

A bit of a difficult spot to find unless you are in the know, Red Leaf is perched below the Woollahra Council Building and overlooks some serious Sydney real estate.

It also offers a kiosk with a view, decent change facilities and a sandy beach for the kids to play. The grassy hillside also offers ample sunbathing space with leafy trees to lie under, always a plus from my pale perspective.

 Attire: Visors, Country Road towels and linen pants are welcomed by this Woollahra crowd. I did also spot a sunbather sporting plastic surgery tape.

Cost: Best things in life are free

Highpoints: It really is a winning spot, with plenty of room for picnics or the kids to play. The day I visited it was especially popular with the super senior, including one 75-year-old who was rocking a red hot string bikini. She was clearly living the Red Leaf dream.

Lowpoints: The kiosk could really up its game with the food. Amazing spot but the meals are pretty substandard.

Best for: Woollahra mums, small kids and seniors who still heart bikinis.

Overall score: 8.6

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Red Leaf local still rocks a red bikini after all these years

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Red sarongs at Red Leaf

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Red stripes, you get the idea..

Bondi and the Beautiful

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bondi icebergs

Icebergs regular works his look

Bondi Icebergs

Icebergs could easily be considered ‘The Ivy’ of Sydney ocean pools.

While only a few kilometres away from laidback Wylies or the bohemian vibe of the Coogee Ladies Pool, Icebergs is like a really attractive girl who knows exactly what to do with her beauty.

Beautiful Bondi types sunbath around the whitewash concrete while a swimming squad churn up the turquoise pool. Tourists stare from the walkway above, snapping away at the bronzed bodies proudly sunning themselves for all to see.

However, to write off Icebergs as merely a hangout for the local glitterati would be a disservice to the history of Icebergs. The swimming club has been going since 1929 and is now a national heritage listed site. Polar bears, the original heart of the club can still be spotted in action and each winter the pool is littered with actual icebergs for its winter swim challenge.

This Spring day was a little more sedate as diners sipped cocktails from the hatted restaurant above, families tucked into fishermans baskets in the club room on the first floor and sunbathers reapplied SPF30. Nothing says “Welcome to Sydney” like Bondi Icebergs.

Attire: Paisley bikinis, beach hair, raybans and botox

 Highpoints: Feeling thirsty after a swim you can nip to the club room above, sip a Sav Blanc and look out at the most killer view of one of the world’s best beaches. No complaints. There’s also a great yoga class poolside which means you can downward dog while listening to the waves crash below. Hopefully this will drown out the Italian tourists taking pictures of you above.

Lowpoints: While this place is all about the scene and being seen, so if you are having an affair, or are on the run from the law, this is not the place for you.

Cost: $5.50 for an adult, includes a swim and sauna. ‘Spectators’ cost $3 (their words not mine).

Best for: Bondi hipsters, those who like being watched

Overall score: 8.0

Bondi icebergs, Sydney sunbathing

Sunbathing for Australia

Bondi icebergs

You don’t have to be taut and beautiful, but it helps

Wylies, why not?

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Don’t you miss handstands

Wylies Baths, Coogee

For one of the most authentic ‘Oztralian’ swim experiences you really cannot go past the flagship Sydney ocean pool that is ‘Wylies.’ This place has been kicking on since 1907 and it has not lost any of its charm or authenticity.

Yes, there has been the controversy in the past (chlorine killed the resident octopus of 11 years earlier this year) but this swimming spot is a true all day destination. From massages by the sea ($90 for a full hour) to a café that serves half decent coffee, sandwiches and coconut water, this place oozes relaxation.

There is plenty of space for sunbathing, shade is offered under the early 20th century pavilion, while rock pools offer small children endless entertainment, mostly by poking small crustaceans with sticks.

Highpoints: So many. Great changing facilties, seated areas, fabulous art deco colour palette (think pale blues and yellows), great for kids and space to sunbathe with a view. The generous size of the pool makes it feel less enclosed.

Lowpoints: the 15 minute wait for my coffee (they clearly don’t know the influence of my blog). Getting into the pool can be a little slippery if you enter via the shallows. This is also a real swimming experience so seaweed and small crabs are part of the package. The pool also does not have lanes so watch out for serious swimmers if you are paddling and talking aimlessly.

Entry fee: $4.80

Attire: Real Australian budgie smugglers, one pieces, sun protective clothing and patterned kaftans for the eastern suburbs mums

Best for: An all day swimming day out, real swimmers and sunset weddings

Overall Score: 9.0

Wylies on a stunner Sydney day

Wylies on a stunner Sydney day

Sadly not quite everyone is welcome at Wylies

Sadly not quite everyone is welcome at Wylies

On the run at Wylies

On the run at Wylies

Cremorne’s pool with a view

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Floppy hats are essential for lower North Shore sunbathing. Watch out for approaching ferries

McCallum Pool, Cremorne Point

A hidden gem, McCallum’s is one prime piece of swimming real estate.

Positioned on the edge of Cremorne Point, not far from the ferry stop, this small freshwater pool is spectacularly positioned.

Swimming here is more about the vantage point rather than the overall facilities and pool. The council run pool is around 20 metres long and fairly shallow at one end. Sunbathing facilities are single file, boardwalk style so be prepared to be stepped over, or  to maneuver frogger style around small children.  I must also confess my swim was brief due to spring like water temperatures (19 degrees) and an acute case of ‘frozen face.’ Still what other city in the world allows you to swim your little heart out just a stones throw from the centre of a busy harbour.

Local tip, watch out for passing ferries that can create surprise swells over the sunbathing boardwalk, and can saturate your iphone if left unattended (you only learn once).

Highpoints: Who doesn’t like a view of the Opera House while they paddle. Great for locals, or anyone wanting to cool off while strolling through Cremorne Reserve.

Lowpoints: The swimming pool is a little tired in appearance. There are also no change facilities.

Attire: This is the lower north shore folks, so wide brimmed hats and chinos welcome.

Cost: no charge my friends!

Best for: Small kids, and anyone walking the harbour

Overall rating: 7.2

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The writer attempts to avoid ‘frozen face’ while swimming Cremorne Pool

All the single ladies

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Sorry boys, strictly ladies only. Clothing optional

Coogee Ladies Pool

Loved by bohemians, young kids and muslim women this place is a melting pot of everything nearby Icebergs is not. The pool is cut into the ocean below and resembles a rock pool. It’s a perfect place for a sunset dip. Bikini tops optional, and yes it does live up to its name – strictly women only. Sorry boys.

The steep grass knoll above makes sunbathing sometimes a bit of a haphazard but try your luck spreading your towel on the rocks and enjoy the scenery of nearby Coogee with enough privacy to equal a Tom Cruise relationship.

Attire: Based on the mixed clientele, anything goes, from burkini’s to the topless Ibiza look

High Points: the closest you get to swimming in the actual ocean without a fear of sharks. Less of a swimming pool, more of a large rock pool.

Low Points: Again not ideal if you are a ‘real’ swimmer. The pool is  20 metres in length, but it can get busy.

Entry fee: The best 20 cents you are likely to spend today

Best for: Women if you’re having a fat day, or feeling a little bit ‘European’

Overall rating: 8.1

Ladies pool Sydney, ocean pool sydney

Ladies own this stage

Bronte Beautiful – shark free swimming

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How to sunbathe like a whale, Bronte style

Bronte Ocean Pool

This little pool has a certain character about it that for some reason makes it my top ocean pool in the east. Yes, it is often green with seaweed, overpopulated and there is likely to be a high toddler urine count, but there’s something about the overhanging cliffs and being eyeline with breaking waves that makes it a little bit magical.

Attire: Your best matching kaftan and matching bikini are welcomed at this pool.

High points: The seawall around the edge of the pool that allows you to stand on the ledge, grip the railing and feel the ocean spray of breaking waves from below. Amazing for hangovers. Occasional whales can also be spotted.

Low points: It can get extremely busy so ‘real’ swimmers beware. For those who enjoy the ‘swim talk’ this is a great place for an aquatic catch up or paddle.

Best for: Hangovers and people watching

Entry cost: Did I mention it’s also free. Winner.

Overall rating: 9.0

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Get your stroke on at Bronte Pool

Sydney swimming royalty

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Hello Sydney harbour, don't mind if I do

Hello Sydney harbour, don’t mind if I do

North Sydney Olympic Pool

Ah, North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool, the Miranda Kerr of seafront swimming pools. Perched below Sydney harbour bridge with the rumble of trains above and the screams from teenagers at nearby Luna Park, nothing says Sydney like this perfect piscine.

So we know it’s got style but does it have substance? The short answer, yes. The pool is well resourced and proudly embraces its art deco history. The salt water outdoor pool was a comfortable 25 degrees on the spring day that I attempted 25 laps. An excellent lane system that separates a freestyle slow lane from a nonfreestyle lane allows a sometimes floater like myself the comfort to paddle away in my own time without holding others up.

Attire: Speedo 2 pieces, snorkels while freestyling were in big demand here. String bikini for the sunloungers after a swim, optional.

Highpoints: The sundeck loungers, fitted with faux grass directly below the big bridge. Not sure if anyone on the sunloungers had actually taken a dip, but they add to the big Sydney feel,

Lowpoints: an extra 50 cents for a shower. Really.

Best For: Tourists or anyone you are trying to convince to move to Sydney

Overall rating:
8.5 out of 10

How's that for a panorama Sydney?

How’s that for a panorama Sydney?

Art Deco transport

Art Deco transport

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