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.
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
Bulli Beach – also near empty, on a lovely beach
Thiroul – set back from the beach, popular with the teens
Austimner – double rockpool with cafes nearby
CoalCliff – the green pool is popular with little people, added ambience from the polka band nearby
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