Water-loving authors Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon select their favourite places to swim in and around the Harbour City this summer from their latest book Places We Swim Sydney.
Maccallum Pool | Wylie’s Baths | Collins Flat Beach | Erskine Creek | Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton | Salmon Haul Bay
Maccallum Pool, Cremorne Point
Meditate on life’s big questions at the North Shore’s most peaceful pool.
Type of swim: Harbour pool
Distance from CBD: 7.6km/15 min drive
Address: Behind 24 Milson Rd, Cremorne Point
Cost of entry: Free
Kid friendly: Yes
Dog friendly: No
Ideal tide: Any tide
Open hours: 24 hours
Facilities: Outdoor shower
Public transport: Bus 225 stops at Milson Rd. Ferries F2 and F6 stop at Cremorne Point Wharf.
For many, it’s just another day on the Harbour. Cars and trains rattle across the Bridge, filled with weekend commuters, as ferries make small ripples, zig-zagging efficiently across the water. But down below there is a man gliding across the glassy surface in a big orange kayak, grinning ear-to-ear. Sometimes the scenic route is also the most direct.
Our friend Rupert has paddled from his home in Kirribilli, with a dry bag full of snacks, to meet us for a swim at Maccallum Pool. This historic 30-metre-long pool is hidden on the western side of Cremorne Point. Some may say it’s one of Sydney’s best-kept secrets. You didn’t hear it from us.
Tucked into the leafy hillside (along the Cremorne Foreshore Walk), this harbour pool has prime views back towards the city skyline, the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. This was once a members only facility for locals and retains a certain air of exclusivity. In the 1920s, it was named the Cremorne Bathing Pool, and entry required wearing a patch on your swimsuit bearing the red initial ‘CBP’. Back then, swimming here cost five shillings a year. Entry is free these days and no gang affiliation is required.
Maccallum Pool is up there with some of the most iconic places to watch the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and may be the closest most of us will get to owning a boat on the Harbour. To be clear, it is not where you go to swim a kilometre. It’s too short and notoriously cold, due to its sheltered position. However, the perimeter timber decking catches the afternoon rays and is what makes this such a special place. Visitors drop in from the footpath above, walking the timber deck as they marvel at the views just beyond the picket fence.
This is where people go to enjoy their own company. It’s meditative and thoughtful. The afternoon sun feels healing and gentle. On any given day, you will likely find someone drinking a beer and reading a book, making a long phone call to an overseas family member, or stretched out on a yoga mat. As we break bread and cheese with our friend, we are grateful for this stolen moment and to live in a city where such things are possible.
Locals originally constructed the pool in the 1920s by rolling rocks and cutting into the reef. Residents Fred Lane and Hugh Maccallum were responsible for enlarging and formalising the pool, though major restoration was done in 1985–6, with help from the North Sydney Council.
Thelma and Louise
Shop 1/1 Hayes St, Neutral Bay
Being in such a discreet point at the pool, you’re not all that close to the amenities in the hub of Neutral Bay. But a 20-minute walk west to Neutral Harbour will get you to Thelma and Louise – a retro, cobalt-blue space at the entrance of the ferry wharf. Grab a coffee and do the Cremorne Point Walk, or sit down for scrambled eggs with harbour views. You can also swim at Hayes Street beach while you’re here.
Cremorne Point Walk
This is an easy foreshore trail with views across Mosman Bay of the city skyline, native bushland, English gardens and ornate mansions. From Maccallum Pool, walk south to the Cremorne Point Ferry and around Robertsons Point Lookout. Walk north on the other side of Cremorne Point, passing the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club, Mosman Rowers, and around the cove to Mosman Bay wharf. Get a ferry back or do the return walk.
3 Centenary Dr, Mosman
A slick, three-level sports club on Mosman Bay that has been reinvented to include an all-day dining room, a bar and a huge outdoor deck with views for days. Here you can order jugs of cocktails and rosé on tap, it’s a great spot for a drink on the water.
Wylie’s Baths, South Coogee
A natural-bottomed ocean pool and an enduring monument to the golden era of swimming.
Type of swim: Ocean pool
Distance from CBD: 11km/25 min drive
Address: 4B Neptune St, Coogee
Cost of entry: Adult $5.50, kids $2.60
Kid friendly: Yes
Dog friendly: No
Ideal tide: All tides. Waves wash into the pool at high tide.
Open hours: Mon to Sun 7am–7pm (most of the year)
Facilities: Change rooms, toilets, showers, kiosk
Public transport: Buses X73, 373, X74, 374 and M50 all stop at Arden St, Coogee.
Wylie’s Baths is not a secret spot, although it is easy to miss. Off the South Coogee footpath and down a flight of stairs and you can’t help but feel like you are sneaking into a secluded, private residence. It’s not until you click through the turnstile and land on the sprawling timber deck that Wylie’s finally reveals itself.
Opened in 1907, it’s one of the oldest ocean pools in the country and it has somehow withstood the test of time and erosion. If there is any place that best represents our Sydney swimming culture, it is this well-worn monument to leisure. There is an element of theatre and the deck hugs the cliff like a grandstand, sending a clear message that the ocean should be the source of our entertainment.
To avoid pumping and filtering, the pool was deliberately carved below the high-tide line, flushing twice daily as the sea swallows the pool. Because of this natural filtration system, the shallow sea floor is home to resident fish, a reclusive octopus, and enough sea urchins to merit packing a set of tweezers with your togs. A hundred spindly legs elevate the east-facing vantage on Wylie’s deck as it bends around the cliff face. Down below, bathers rest among these wooden stilts as if in a forest glade. Locals are quick to claim the most prized positions: shaded nooks underneath the stairs or a sunny length of sandstone slab.
Matthew Martin is one of these locals, a cartoonist who moved his saltwater addiction as a surfer to lap swimming in this ocean pool. He’s been coming to Wylie’s almost every day for 17 years, documenting it through sketches, forming a record of the rocks and the water, the bolts on the wood and the swimmers – locals of all shapes and sizes, and kids diving into the water from the rocks. One time he swam over a Port Jackson shark that washed in at high tide.
Wylie’s is a remedy to the sensory deprivation of lap-swimming. The repetitive efficiency of following lines and trying not to get kicked in the side by someone doing breaststroke. Entertained by the bottom of the pool, you don’t anticipate the end of your lap. There is no counting of metres (46 if you’re wondering) or halfway point. This is free-style in the true sense: no lane ropes, no order, just the scraping of your knuckles on the bottom of the pool to remind you how low the tide is. It represents Sydney’s overarching value of living with the ocean, rather than trying to control it.
The Diver Cafe
250 Arden St, Coogee
If you’re not perched high at the cafe at Wylie’s, take a short stroll back to the Coogee drag to this hole-in-the-wall cafe. Coffee is by Little Marionette and cold drinks include milkshakes and naked smoothies. Dishes are generous and made by local producers or with local produce – the bacon and egg burger with crispy bacon and barbecue sauce is our pick.
Cafe De France
19 Havelock Ave, Coogee
Known for their croissants, croque monsieurs and baguettes by day, Café De France is a casual, French-style eatery serving dinner four nights a week. It’s the kind of neighbourhood spot where you can stop in for dinner straight after the pool, for steak frites, coq au vin or a bowl of mussels, and you can BYO wine.
The Lion and Buffalo
203 Malabar Rd, South Coogee
For something a little more substantial for breakfast or lunch, head up over the hill into South Coogee to this local cafe. Coffee is by Single O, bread is by Iggy’s, and dishes include full blood wagyu, freshly grated wasabi, ora king salmon and Pepe Saya butter. Their selection of cakes is also hard to resist.
Collins Flat Beach, North Head Manly
A knockout secret beach tucked between North Head and Manly Cove.
Type of swim: Beach
Distance from CBD: 16km/35 min by car
Address: Collins Beach Rd, Manly
Cost of entry: Free
Kid friendly: Yes
Dog friendly: No, this is a penguin sanctuary and bringing a dog will incur a $1200 fine (yikes!).
Ideal tide: It’s quite a shallow beach, mid to high tide is the nicest.
Open hours: 24 hours
Public transport: Bus 135 from Balgowlah will drop you at North Head Scenic Rd, opposite Collins Beach Rd. From there it’s a 1km walk. Catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf and walk 1km from there.
Part of travelling around a huge city like Sydney is doing research by chatting to other swimmers, friends who have lived in the city a long time, and people who love spending a weekend with little else planned but a walk and a swim. Our market research showed that this little nook of North Head was somewhat of an untapped secret, and it’s one of our favourite recent discoveries. For locals who know this spot well, we hope we aren’t stepping on any toes by revealing this knockout beach.
From Little Manly Beach, follow Stuart Street a couple of hundred metres south until it dead-ends at a coastal track. Dappled light shines through the green canopy over the path and you’ll get glimpses of turquoise water as you descend to the beach. You won’t want to venture further. And there’s no need to, as you can easily spend a whole day here – jumping from rocks, crunching over oyster shells and snorkelling around in this shallow, protected cove.
Explore paths that lead to lookouts with views back towards the beach full of sunbakers, colourful kayaks paddling around and a collection of catamarans and sail boats moored in the bay. Given how protected this small boat harbour is, it’s a popular one for weekend daytrippers taking the family out on the water.
When you hit the hot sand, you’ll notice how quiet this beach is (in a good way). Groups chat in low tones and families lay out picnics. The smell of corn chips and sun-cream unite, and unperturbed brush turkeys rummage around the scrub, hoping to pick up sandy crumbs. The sounds of a faint bell ring and a small motor boat pulls into the cove – it’s a man selling ice-creams, doing his round of the neighbouring bays. We turn to each other – does this guy have the best business plan in Australia? Kids flock the shallows to pick up Paddle Pops and Golden Gaytimes.
It certainly feels that even on a perfect summer day, this place remains peaceful and relaxed – away from the crowds that descend on Manly. Good enough to share and just enough effort required to keep the crowds away. This is what good daytrips are made of.
Collins Flat Beach is home to the only known penguin colony on the NSW mainland. The little penguins return to breed and nest each year between May and February.
19 Rialto La, Manly
Before you mission out to Collins Flat, stop for excellent coffee at Rollers Bakehouse, an open-air concrete venue with a large, plant-filled courtyard. Here, bakers produce decadent croissants; a chocolate croissant with charcoal dough and a sticky maple bacon scroll. Savoury options include a garlic bread croissant and one filled with eggplant, hummus and za’atar.
The Skiff Club
Cnr East Esplanade and Stuart St, Manly
It’s a little bit daggy (in a dated ’90s RSL kind of way), but an experience as you walk back to Manly from the beach. Old Manly custodians flock here on a sunny day for the best view of the wharf at sunset. It’s a great place to go with a large group, with long tables and an outdoor deck to spill onto to eat prawns, chicken parmis and get stuck into a bottle of rosé or a few schooners.
2A Whistler St, Manly
Right down the opposite end of Manly is a small cosy pizzeria, worth the walk from Collins Flat. The decor is done in old New York pizzeria-style – neon signage, red and white tablecloths and lacy window curtains. Dough is made daily in-house and pizzas are perfect to share between two or order by the slice.
Erskine Creek, Glenbrook, Blue Mountains National Park
A meandering gorge with endless pools for swimming, floating and rock-hopping.
Type of swim: Gorge, rock pools
Distance from CBD: 74km/1.5 hour drive
Address: Search Jack Evans Track, or Nepean Lookout, or enter coordinates (-33.8403224, 150.5814568) into your preferred mapping app. Access to Erskine Creek is easiest and best from Jack Evans Track. To get to the trailhead, enter Blue Mountains National Park at Glenbrook and follow Oaks Trail Rd past Jellybean Pool, over the causeway (can be closed after heavy rain), and up the hill. At the top of the hill, it becomes a well-maintained unsealed road which is suitable to all types of vehicles. Follow signs to Nepean Lookout for about 11km until the road dead-ends at a locked gate and carpark. The Jack Evans trailhead is in the carpark, marked by a large information sign.
Cost of entry: National Park fees of $8 per vehicle, per day.
Kid friendly: Only if they can walk about 2km of steep track.
Dog friendly: No
Ideal tide: N/A
Open hours: National Park gates at Glenbrook entry open Mon to Sun 8.30am–7pm (first Sun October to first Sun April). Mon to Sun 8.30am–6pm (May to November).
Facilities: None in the gorge but toilets are along the access road at Euroka Campground and Red Hands Cave
Public transport: Take the Blue Mountains line from Sydney Central station. It’s a 1.5km walk south-east from the station along Bruce Rd to the park entrance. The Jack Evans Trailhead is too far from the park entrance to be reached by foot (13km each way). Driving or cycling to the trailhead are the only viable options.
Erskine Creek at Jack Evans Track is one of the closest Blue Mountains swims to the city, yet also one of the most secluded. The deep gorge is typical of the region, formed over millions of years as the small creek slowly carved through layers of sandstone during its journey to join the Nepean River downstream. The result is a narrow valley that is almost entirely unmarked by human contact. The creek meanders among boulders and beaches, as small waterfalls spill into deep pools. Like many of our favourite places, it’s a little off the beaten track, but the extra effort yields enormous rewards.
From Nepean Lookout carpark, you can take a quick 500-metre side-trip past the locked gate to the namesake lookout. Otherwise, locate the trailhead near the large information signs in the carpark. Jack Evans Track is well-built and easy to follow. It cruises through open woodland among scribbly bark gums and grass trees for a couple of hundred metres before emerging on a rock-shelf with dizzying views of the gorge and Erskine Creek below. From this vantage point, it’s then about two kilometres of steady descent to the valley floor. The ease of which is only slightly tarnished by the knowledge that you will have to return the same way.
The track ends at the bottom of the gorge, where you will find a big, slow-moving pool. It’s at least 100 metres long and perfectly swimmable. However, we prefer to continue another 600 metres downstream, just past the next bend. There is not a defined track from this point on, so you have to find your own way among the trees and boulders. Look for a series of small cascades with clear water. Deep pools are nestled among the large boulders like ancient spa baths. Below, the creek pours into a clean, wide basin. It’s an ideal place to spend a whole day drifting in the lazy circles of an eddy. If you are quiet enough you may even spot a platypus.
With any luck, you will have this place all to yourself. It’s the perfect remedy for a restless body and weary mind. Jumping barefoot from rock to rock feels a lot more natural than sitting at a desk. Here we find comfort in an endless cycle of warming and cooling. We dive into the pools and then sprawl across the lichen encrusted boulders to capture their radiant heat. A few hours immersed in this simple world is enough to soothe the anxieties of our urban lives. It’s not until the sun slips behind the rim of the gorge that we begin our reluctant climb back to the carpark. Although we leave the place behind, we always try to take its lessons of calm with us.
Be sure to pack a picnic lunch, so that you can remain in the gorge as long as possible during the day. The national park locks the Glenbrook gate at 7pm (6pm in winter), so make sure you get back to the park entrance in time.
Red Hands Cave
Red Hands Firetrail
It’s a short, well-signed drive and a 10-minute walk from the carpark at the end of Redhand Firetrail to this excellent example of ancient Dharug rock painting. Not unlike the Red Hands Cave in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, this site contains an extensive gallery of coloured handprints, thought to have been painted between 500 and 1600 years ago. It is likely that older works have faded or are concealed beneath the collage of red, yellow and white ochre hands that we see today.
Con’s Continental Deli
31 Park St, Glenbrook
An iconic corner deli bursting at the seams with their huge selection of cured meats and gourmet cheeses, along with many other continental products – tinned fish, Snowy Mountains smoked trout, nuts and pastries. Con’s is the perfect place to stop as you come through Glenbrook to pick up supplies for a picnic. They also have a selection of ready-made sandwiches, salads, frittata, spanakopita and fishcakes.
A Team’s Kitchen
4/52 Rooty Hill Rd North (along Weston La), Rooty Hill
This suburb is fast becoming the place to go for Filipino food, with a Filipino community clustered around the Blacktown area. A Team’s Kitchen looks much like many take-away joints on a suburban strip, but you can dine in from 8am–8pm most days. Dishes here include noodle soups, silken tofu, sweet sago puddings and traditional Filipino breakfasts of rice, eggs, pickles and sweet sausage, which can be eaten at any time of the day.
Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool, Woolloomooloo
A seasonal swimming retreat nestled between The Royal Botanic Garden and Woolloomooloo Wharf.
Type of swim: Pool
Distance from CBD: 500m/2 min drive
Address: 1c Mrs Macquaries Rd, The Domain
Cost of entry: Adults $6.90, concession $5.20, family (2 adults and 2 kids) $19.50
Kid friendly: Yes
Dog friendly: No
Ideal tide: N/A
Open hours: Swimming season is 1 Sept to 30 April, Monday to Friday 6am–7pm, Saturday to Sunday 7am–4pm
Facilities: Toilets, change rooms, wading pool, cafe
Public transport: Catch a train to Martin Place and walk through The Royal Botanic Garden.
Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool (ABC) is our go-to place for an inner city swim. ABC is where we have ‘business meetings’ with our office-worker friends and colleagues. It’s an island of calm, heated to 25°C, overlooking the Woolloomooloo Wharf and nestled into the furthest corner of The Royal Botanic Garden. Immersed among Moreton Bay fig trees and towering palms, with a soundtrack of tropical birds, it is hard to imagine that you are in the middle of Australia’s largest city. And yet, where else but in Sydney could a pool like this ever exist?
Woolloomooloo Bay has had almost as many swimming facilities over the years as it has ‘Os’ in its name. However, this site didn’t really take off until 1901, when Sydney diverted its sewerage system from the Harbour to Bondi. Originally called Domain Baths, ABC was renamed in honour of, you guessed it, Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton in 1968. Charlton was Sydney’s homegrown Olympic champion, who famously challenged and beat the world’s top swimmer, Arne Borg, in this very pool.
Recent modifications have given a modern adaptation to this iconic site. Entering the 50-metre pool via the perforated deck feels like boarding a ship. To the left is the Poolside Cafe, where floor-to-ceiling windows and an open-air terrace overlook the lap lanes. Down the stairs we find the city’s finest change rooms; admittedly, there is little competition. Filtered light floods through the building’s metallic brise-soleil, giving the rooms an open and airy atmosphere. Rather than scurrying in and out, holding our breath, we are almost tempted to linger on the wooden seats. Almost. After all, they are still change rooms.
These days, the most competitive event at the pool is sunbaking atop the lounge chairs. They are hot property, with uncompromised views of the naval fleet at the wharf behind. The eight lanes of heated saltwater fill up with pre- and post-work crowds. But most of the day it is just us freelancers cutting slow laps between the cafe and pool.
Flour and Stone
53 Riley St, Woolloomooloo
The celebrated panna cotta lamington at Flour and Stone is pretty hard to pass up. They sell out early, so if you do miss them, cram into this pocket-sized 10-seater cafe for a slice of date and almond cake with caramel – it’s perfect with a cup of breakfast tea.
Continental Bar & Deli
167 Phillip St, Sydney
The bar is where you want to be at this European-style bistro, drinking a Mart-tinnie (a martini that comes in a can) and eating tinned fish, like sardines and mackerel. Round it out with cheese, olives and crusty bread.
The Apollo Restaurant
44 Macleay St, Potts Point
The Apollo is located a 20-minute walk from the pool, but it’s also one of our favourite Sydney restaurants. Its wood-fired Greek food is designed to share, such as tentacles of octopus and shoulders of lamb, but it’s for simple dishes like grilled saganaki with honey or taramasalata that we keep going back.
Salmon Haul Bay, South Cronulla
The crown jewel of Cronulla swims.
Type of swim: Beach
Distance from CBD: 28km/40 min drive
Address: 58 Glaisher Pde
Cost of entry: Free
Kid friendly: Yes
Dog friendly: On leash only
Ideal tide: Any tide
Open hours: 24 hours
Facilities: Toilets and outdoor shower
Public transport: Catch the T4 train to Cronulla station and walk 2.5km along Nicholson Pde or the Esplanade Walking Track. Get the 971 bus from Cronulla station to Ewos Pde and walk 100m to the beach.
South Cronulla is the best-kept secret in Sydney. The tight-knit village is contained within the Cronulla peninsula, surrounded by Port Hacking and the Pacific Ocean. You don’t need a car, or even a bicycle here, as everything is within a couple of minutes’ walk. Life runs on a constant supply of swimming, surfing and boating. People are friendly and welcoming, a pride of place evident in their warmth and willingness to share their knowledge. No matter who you ask, Salmon Haul is a unanimous favourite among locals. Anyone that grew up in The Shire has spent countless summer days here – and we feel like we have to make up for lost time.
You’ll find this sheltered beach and foreshore area at the southernmost tip of Cronulla. Far from the bustle of Main Beach, it feels like a hidden secret as you round the Esplanade walking track or descend the stairs from Cowra Place. It’s protected from the east and north, making it an ideal refuge when the summer winds whip across the coast. Cabbage tree palms shade the shoreline and the calm, clear water of Port Hacking stretches across to Bundeena and Royal National Park like a sheet of glass. The only disturbance in the water comes from swimmers below, or else the wake of a passing dinghy in the distance.
The beach slopes gently from the shore like a sandy ramp. It’s perfect for wading and easy to calibrate the ideal depth to any person. Only once you are standing in the water and looking back to shore can you fully appreciate the grandeur of the Apollo Gate. This iconic 1970s home looms large over Salmon Haul and is a useful landmark. Its organic form sprawls across the point, like an overgrown chambered nautilus.
At high tide, the water comes right up to the footpath, covering the mix of rock and sand with just enough depth for snorkelling. We haven’t seen the namesake fish but there are plenty of brightly coloured reef species and the odd octopus. As the tide drops, beaches and rocky perches emerge. Like a 19th-century land grab, people are quick to stake their claim as they spread towels and goggles in anticipation of friends that are yet to arrive. It’s the kind of place where you will want to stay all day, yet even at the peak of summer it is quiet and respectful. A cross-section of ages and people enjoy this little haven, engrossed in unbroken conversation as they cycle from towel to water and back again. We join this easy rhythm and time quickly slips away. Were it not for the steady march of the incoming tide, we might never leave.
Shelly Beach Park Shop
117 Ewos Pde, Cronulla
If you’re making the walk back around the Esplanade to Cronulla Beach from Salmon Haul Bay, this sweet little corner kiosk is on the park corner near Shelly Beach. Stop for battered fish, iced donuts and milkshakes.
4/15 Surf Rd, Cronulla
This funky, retro cafe and beloved local is known far and wide for having the best coffee in Cronulla. The food menu is short and simple, but it’s the kind of place where you can hunker down for a while or whip past for a coffee and a croissant.
8/138 Cronulla St, Cronulla
Yalla Sawa means ‘coming together’ in Arabic, and this rustic Lebanese diner invites you to do just that. Larger tables hold groups, while two-seater tables are packed tightly along a banquette. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with your neighbours as you reach for plates of saj bread and hummus, grilled haloumi, baked eggplant, kofte and lamb tagine.
Visit our Reclaim Summer hub for more ways to experience the best of summer.