40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#72: Athletic and Swim Club

pool from far end

Image by Club Corp

Location: Midtown Manhattan

Configuration: 4 x 25 yards

Fee: Free as guest of member during membership promo

A New York Times article a couple months back noted that there are “only” 150 indoor pools in Manhattan. Considering this in light of my expired Reebok Sports Club membership, which I am mourning inconsolably, served as a good reminder that I still have a lot of water to test locally. After all, I’ve notched “only” 72 pools since 2012, many of them off-island.

To give myself a sense of possibility, I set my sights on one of the few facilities that I thought might stand a chance against the luxe Reebok Club, where I had grown very fond of the hot tub, the café, the spacious lockers, the hot tub, the roof deck, the nap-friendly spaces, and did I mention the hot tub? Yup, I miss it there.

The Athletic and Swim Club at Equitable Center caters to a similarly upscale demographic, but whereas I would feel tempted to stay all day at the Reebok Club, this one seemed geared to getting me in and out as efficiently as possible without a visible trace of the workout. How so? For one, the location in the belly of the Midtown beast, with direct underground access to the Rockefeller Center concourse, means that you can get here from all over Midtown without setting a foot outdoors. (I recommend entering from street level on Seventh Avenue so you can admire the Roy Lichtenstein mural on the way in. Do not try to take a picture, though.) You don’t need to bring workout clothes, since those are provided, and you can even have your business attire pressed while you’re not in it! (Swimmers do need to bring their own swimsuit.) There’s a full array of toiletries and styling devices, and you can grab a complimentary apple on the way out to chomp on your way back to the office.

This is not to say that the club isn’t very, very nice. It is.The hot tub jets were perhaps not quite as strong as those I’d grown accustomed to, and you could argue that the locker area would benefit from some refreshing, but this was still at the far end of the fanciness spectrum and leaps beyond my usual swim spots.

My visit took place on a weekday afternoon after a work event in Midtown, and I enjoyed the swim. I had one of the pool’s four lanes to myself the whole time, the water was pleasantly cool, and it felt light and spacious despite being far underground. Not so light and spacious that I’d want to relax in the lounge chairs, but they were a nice touch. My biggest gripe against the pool, which is really quite minor, is that the metal rim around the edge is not quite flush with the tiling and therefore proved annoying at the turns.

In a way I suppose I’m glad that I wasn’t as taken with this as I was with the Reebok Club, because its location is even less convenient, and it’s easier to have just one true love. If I worked in Midtown and wanted a secret hideaway, I would definitely keep this in mind.

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Mohonk Mountain House Pool: Nephew’s First Swim

O. gets ready to get wet

The Mohonk Mountain House‘s beautiful 20-yard pool may fall short of the length needed for my consideration, but it scores big as the site of my nephew’s first swim. We were up there last week in celebration of his grandma’s big birthday, and little O. liked his first dip so much that he went back for more the next day. His aunt is very proud!

He likes it!We did two laps, me using a diagonal egg-beater kick to hold O. up on my chest, taking in the natural light and snowy views at either end. Look at his impressive concentration as he absorbs this amazing experience. We also enjoyed blowing bubbles with suitable sound effects, splashing the gutter, and finding the sunny spot. I feel certain that this won’t be his last pool as a zero-year-old.

Pool viewI also have to commend him on his venue selection. Aside from lacking five yards, this is a very tasteful, mid-2000s addition to the historic New Paltz resort, which previously had lake swimming only. Timber framing and muted tiles and lounge chairs give it a natural feel, and you can’t beat the views toward the Catskills from the large window banks on three sides. Plus, swim diapers are available free of charge. We scared the other patrons away had both pool and locker rooms to ourselves for this special occasion.

In case you swim so much that you lose your mental faculties, a helpful sign reminds you how to open the door to exit the pool deck. With our guest stay expiring, we made our exit, eager for more shared pool time.Instructions for opening a door


Pool Play

“OK, so the play was called ‘The Unicorn’ and she was the unicorn so that means that the star was my babysitter.”
–Dar Williams, “The Babysitter’s Here

Pool Play set

Last night I supported the arts and attended a drama performance in a pool! I’d heard about the production from my friend Jen, whose daughter’s babysitter was in the cast. I felt like the little girl in the Dar Williams song when said babysitter stole the show with a beautiful solo rendition of “Nightswimming,” lights dimmed and all.

Of course what we really care about is the host pool, Waterside Plaza Swim & Health Club, in the 40-year-old mini city of skyscrapers. Were it not for this play, you would not be reading about the pool here, because it is stunted in length at about 14 meters. With 8 lanes, its overall square footage is respectable, but the dimensions are wrong for lap swimming–a serious miscalculation on the part of the designers. Otherwise, it’s got a lot going for it, with East River views, poolside plants and lounge chairs, and a retractable roof. We donned ponchos and dangled our feet in the water for the 70-minute show.

A collection of skits examining people’s connections to the water, the play had both serious and lighthearted moments. My favorite scenes included water aerobics chit-chat about the foolishness of building a pool in a middle school (pay no attention, Poughkeepsie), a first-person account of segregation at public pools (true to this book reviewed here previously), and a waddle of penguins trying to muster the courage to jump in. (Having just seen the real thing in Australia, I was impressed by how realistically the actors portrayed penguins.)

Pool Play was the brainchild of a theater company that works outside traditional performance venues, and I’m glad to see this genre taking off beyond the Pink Flamingo competitions that my team often dominates. Thanks to Jen and Trudy for going with me to the show, which continues through March 8.

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Thoughts About Swimming in Australia

me with the Aussie flag towel by the fast laneI’ve been back in the New York winter for more than a month now and wanted to get down some final observations before they completely escape me. Overall, my simple advice to anyone contemplating a swim trip to Australia is go. You’ll pick up the lingo, adapt to swimming on the left, and fall in love with the swim culture in no time.

Their pools are made for swimming. Wide lanes, taught lane lines, clear markings on the bottom, built-in start blocks, backstroke flags, pace clocks, clean water . . . the pools I visited were all wonderfully suited for lap swimmers. Many even had wave-reducing gutters and competition walls. If only the lane designations (for example, “fast, no breaststroke”) were heeded by swimmers or enforced by lifeguards, it would have been just about perfect, but that breach of etiquette proved a minor nuisance given the lack of crowding.

As locals tell it, the pool movement dates to Melbourne’s winning bid to host the 1956 Olympic Games–not only Australia’s first Olympics, but the first time the Games graced the entire Southern Hemisphere. Towns across the continent embraced the spirit by building their own competition-ready pools, and when they say “Olympic-sized,” they do in fact mean 50 meters. I could have racked up many more blog-worthy pools given the time.

Sydney pool signGood design extends beyond the pool. In Sydney especially, I was impressed by the design in and around the pools. The signage and literature were consistent in look and feel and utility not only from pool to pool but throughout the whole city. I was rarely confused about where to go or how to get there (MSAC being the glaring exception), rules, or use of facilities. It was lovely. Meanwhile, water conservation is an important consideration, with pool covers, recirculation systems, cogeneration plants, and timed showers all helping to reduce energy water usage.

Which came first, the pool or the café? There is still a visible enthusiasm for building and maintaining community pools, but they sometimes seem to be just an excuse for a café. Aussies take their coffee seriously–and frequently. At beaches and pools alike, they don’t like to be far from the next cuppa joe.

Bring your own toys, and leave your lock at home. Accessories such as kickboards and pull buoys were not commonly available, so people toted their own. For a suit spinner, you’re out of luck. Meanwhile, the one thing I did bring to every pool–my combination lock–never saw use. Almost everywhere, lockers were a revenue stream that required renting a key or purchasing time via a machine. Plus, they were usually on or near the pool deck rather than in the locker change rooms. I prefer the US system on both counts.

find the lifeguardIt’s all good. People were remarkably relaxed about pool entry and use. No full-body scrubdowns as in Iceland, no full-body searches for contraband as at NYC outdoor pools, no restrictions on food, photos, or other fun activities.

The lifeguards lack chairs (and therefore weren’t sleeping and texting) and were fully attired in shorts, polo shirts, hats, shoes, and walkie-talkies–seemingly more ready to go deliver a package than dive in for a rescue. Amazingly, the beaches were staffed with volunteer lifeguard corps only, except for the pros in Bondi, and there seemed to be a lot of local fundraising for these surf rescue squads’ equipment and clubhouses.

I’ve seen a lot of superfast Aussie swimmers in my day, and I was worried about being left in the wake of the whole country, but the breadth of abilities I encountered was more or less like what I see in New York. Jo told me that swimming is no longer compulsory in the schools, so Australia’s aquatic edge may slowly start to fade.

Bondi Icebergs club and beach viewWaterfront privatization OK if it’s been going on long enough. Much as I loved the sea baths, I’m not comfortable with the practice of turning over a stretch of waterfront to a private operation that restricts access and charges admission. Shark protection may have something to do with this, but history was the stronger force. Many sea baths were built on sites used for bathing and fishing by Aborigines, and those that survived to the present became beloved landmarks for the newer settlers–excluding Aborigines until relatively recently.

Pools should be free. If I could change one thing about Australia’s outdoor pools, it would be to make them free. We are spoiled in that regard here in New York, and I’ve come to regard outdoor pool entry fees as an unfair shakedown. At the very least, I would suggest that a municipality’s pools have a standard rate and a multi-pass, sort of like mass transit, the perfect ticket for this pool-rich, tourist-heavy country.


Other Australian Beaches and Swim Spots

Balmoral Beach Bondi Icebergs Club | Wylies Baths |
Tathra | Torquay Loch Ard Gorge | Brighton Baths

Having reported on all of the “real” swims I did in Australia, it’s now time to share some of the baths (pronounced baaths) and beaches. Although I just took leisurely dips or did quick swims at these lovely places, they would work well for training purposes and thus merit reports here. Plus, writing these up gives me a chance to claim a whole “new” ocean!

Balmoral Beach, NSW

side view of Balmoral

En route from downtown Sydney to Manly Beach by road, you pass the turnoff for this beach on Hunters Bay. I’d heard that it was very pretty, so we stopped here after our Bold and Beautiful Swim. The rumors were true; it’s a stunning crescent of fine sand spilling out into calm harbor water. From the beach, you can look out to the Sydney “Heads,” the peninsulas that mark the dramatic opening from the Pacific into Sydney Harbor.

Buoys keep boats out of the swim area, and there’s a classically designed beachfront pavilion with food and changing facilities. Walking out the aptly named Rocky Point, you can see where the beach’s shark net used to be anchored. Ahem, used to be anchored? That’s right, there is no longer a shark net here, and I’m not sure what to make of that fact.

Bondi Icebergs Club, Bondi Beach, NSW

Icebergs pools

Bondi (rhymes with fond pie) is probably Australia’s most famous beach. It’s got a factually based reality show, a professional lifeguard staff (more in a future post on how rare this is), good surfing breaks, and a hipstery vibe. Among swimmers, its claim to fame–and worldwide envy–is the Bondi Icebergs Club.

Founded in 1929 by a group of cold-water-loving swimmers, the club has grown to offer two seawater lap pools–one of them 50 meters with lane lines, both with lines on the bottom–along with change rooms, gym facilities, a sauna with an amazing view, and dining facilities. (Entry: AUD5.50) When the surf is up, as it was during our visit, the waves crash into the pool, jostling the swimmers around among lanes and creating waterfalls in the gutters.

To say it makes for a memorable swim experience is an understatement. The beachside end of the 50-meter pool was closed due to the rough conditions while we were there, so we contented ourselves with partial laps. It being the height of summer, we could not fully enjoy Icebergs traditions, but my understanding is that people relish in the joys of swim here year-round. No matter what the time of year, a swim trip to Australia simply would not be complete without a visit to Bondi.

Wylies Baths, Coogee, NSW

Wylies Baths

If you can tear yourself out of the water, I highly recommend the waterfront cliff walk from Bondi 6 kilometers south to Coogee. You’ll weave in among bays and beaches, up and down from sea level to hilltop, with each unfolding view more stunning than the last. I’m not just talking about the water views either. Flora, rock formations, and manmade structures all merit attention. There’s even a snorkel trail with underwater informational signs.

Coogee Beach, at the end of this walk, looked to me like a kinder, gentler Bondi, a comparison that extended up the hill to Wylies Baths. Open 365 days a year just like Bondi Icebergs, it has a large concrete deck, an unfinished bottom, and impressive stilt-supported boardwalks and facilities including cafe and change rooms.

Swimming here was like being in an aquarium. Fishies, fishies, more little fishies, and colorful sea urchins everywhere. I haven’t come across many of these in my travels, but their spiky appearance is sufficiently threatening that I tried to avoid putting my feet on the bottom.

As many signs and memorials point out, Wylies dates to 1907 and was built to enable the first female Olympic swimmers train. These days, the lap swimmers do their thing in the “deep” (far) end, sans markings or lane lines, going back and forth the 50-yard length. Meanwhile, the shallow side of the pool had a lot of young kids wading and playing. I’ve read that waves sometimes crash here just like we’d seen in the morning at Icebergs, but the water was flat at the time of our visit.

There’s a modest entrance fee and also a fee for the showers.

Tathra, NSW

Tathra beachThis relaxed beach town was our swim stop during the two-day drive along the coast from Sydney to Melbourne. Jo’s parents used to take her and her siblings here on summer vacations, and I could see how easy it would have been for them to rack up fun memories.

Tourist publications bill this area as the Sapphire Coast, and that’s no hyperbole. The water is an ever-so-nice, deep shade of blue with just a hint of green.

The Old Tathra Wharf, dating to the 1800s, sits several hundred meters off the beach and makes for a good swim destination. Stay close to the rocks for the best sea life views. After the swim, you’ll naturally want to fuel up at the beachside cafe.

Torquay Front Beach, Torquay, VIC

TorquayThis outdoorsy paradise sits on the Bass Strait, southwest of Melbourne, marking the start of the Great Ocean Road. If the Wednesday morning activity is any guide, Torquay (rhymes with porky) is also ground zero for triathletes in training. Everyone and their Baby Jogger seemed to be out for an early ride, run, or swim.

The really popular activity, though, is surfing. Multiple surf company headquarters, a surf museum, and plenty of waves at the back beaches are key to the local culture.

Since my visit here coincided with my birthday Eastern Standard Time, I pulled out my flowery cap for a birthday swim at the front, or bay, beach. Buoys a ways out section off the swim-only area, providing a ready-made swim course. Back on shore was a pretty stand of Norfolk pines, which used to be planted along beaches for ship masts.

As at all of these spots, it would have been nice to spend more time here, but that would have meant missing other attractions and my chance to swim in a whole new ocean.

Loch Ard Gorge, Port Campbell National Park, VIC

Loch Ard Gorge from the topAt some point during our Great Ocean Road journey, it dawned on me that we’d come to an ocean I’d never seen or swum in before. How better to round out this swim adventure than with a WHOLE NEW OCEAN?! I was scarcely able to give proper attention to the wonders we passed en route–roadway engineering miracles, beaches and more beaches, rainforest, and resort towns, to name a few.

My first glimpse of the Southern Ocean came at Johanna Beach, soon past Cape Otway, where the Pacific goes one way and the Southern the other. We then stopped at the Twelve Apostles–massive, striated limestone pillars standing in the surf that carved them. Everyone agrees that twelve is an overstatement, but the exact number is debatable, and even with fewer than a dozen this is still a very popular tourist attraction and probably the highlight of most Great Ocean Road Trips.

We saluted the apostles and then continued a short distance west to Loch Ard Gorge, where you can walk out on cliffs or take stairs down to the beach to admire the limestone cutouts from all angles. Its beach looks like it’s being embraced by giant rock arms that aren’t quite touching, leaving a narrow opening where the water flows in. Frankie and Jo had seen giant waves crashing in here before, but today’s late-afternoon surf only sent in ripples that rode up the side of the rocks all the way in. It was fun to watch, since from the beach you could barely tell when a wave was coming until it broke into the gorge.

Loch Ard monster

So, at last, my chance to swim in the Southern Ocean. (Here is where I admit that most of the world does not consider this location to be the Southern Ocean, instead designating it the eastern end of the Indian Ocean, with the Southern kicking in more to the, um, south. Australia begs to differ and deems this the northernmost flow of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean. Since I was in Australia and referring to Aussie maps, that’s what I’ll go with. Either way, it’s still a new ocean for me.)

I got right in, enjoyed some waves, and even did some butterfly for good measure. Nevermind that the namesake Loch Ard is a famous shipwreck. I wish I could say that I felt the chill of polar waters, or noticed different kinds of sea creatures, but in truth the ocean pays no mind to the boundaries we assign, and it seemed pretty much the same to me. This did not in any way diminish my excitement, and I hope to someday return to the Southern Ocean for more swimming and also to make it to the Indian. (Perth, do you read me?)

Brighton Baths, Middle Brighton, VIC

backstroke in the BaaaathsMy epic swimcation wrapped up in Melbourne. We hopped from pool to pool on this last day, at the end of which Jo had one last treat in store: Brighton Baths (AUD5).

Bath houseI haven’t resolved the ethics of boxing in a rectangle of seawater and calling it your own, but this seems to be an acceptable practice in Australia (examples above)–or at least it was in 1881 when these baths were established–so I did my best to enjoy without passing judgment. It wasn’t hard, as there was a lot to enjoy here. Think landmark 1936 building (what’s up with that year and swim facilities?) remodeled to include a swank health club and gourmet restaurant overlooking a private beach and seawater pool bordered by sun decks and filled with fishies.

Jo was startled to come across a ray, and in the course of looking for it I found another; we later were told that they are trapped here. Narrower fish would have no problem swimming in and out of the bars propping up the decks, but the rays would have to be pretty clever to make their way out of what’s essentially an underwater prison.

the view toward shore

Close in to shore, I fluttered through sea grass and relived the Wylies Baths swimming-in-an-aquarium experience, minus the sea urchins. The biggest novelty here were starfish, with far more points or legs on their stars than those I’ve come across previously. The water–Port Phillip Bay–had a slightly sweet taste to it.

From the deck, you could admire the bath house, a nearby marina, and the city skyline in the distance. Meanwhile, at the far end of the enclosure, there are three backboard-type wood panels on each side, allowing for 50-meter laps with flip turns. Clever, right? Check out this image for the full dimensions. Yes, I did go under the boardwalk to check out the bars and stilts, but it didn’t strike me as a place I’d want to do laps.

Accomplished local swimmers train here regularly, and there’s an Icebergers squad taking to the water sans wetsuit year-round, surely enjoying the sauna and showers after their chilly dips. The fitness club here had by far the nicest change rooms of any I’d visited in my travels, the only hitch being that they closed at 7:00 when really it would have been nice to swim and lounge a bit longer.

Just as in New York I spend a lot of time at Brighton Beach, so could I imagine life as a Melburnian including frequent visits here. Brighton Beach: good for the soul.

sunset over the baths

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#71: Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre

indoor 50m pool

Can you find the 14 diving boards?

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Configuration: 10 lanes x 50 meters in both indoor and outdoor pools

Fee: Normally AUD7.40, but we got charged a higher rate for family fun day

MSAC, as it is known, offers just about every kind of aquatic opportunity imaginable: indoor 75-meter pool that can be configured as a 50-meter competition pool and a 25-meter diving pool with 14 diving boards, outdoor 50-meter competition pool, wave pool, water slide, a “flow rider” for practicing surfing, hydrotherapy pools, and hot tubs. Are we missing anything?

Outdoor pool

Outdoor pool with adjustable floor.

It sounds like swim paradise, but trying to get from one area to another was an exercise in frustration. Of the 71 pools I’ve visited in the past two years, none was so confounding: Locked doors, roped-off walkways, turnstiles, gates, and signs prevented you from taking a logical route from one pool to another. Making matters worse, I left my bathers  in the car (this was a day of many swims; please forgive me) so I had to make extra exit and reentry trips through this maddening morass, and it wasn’t any easier the second time. I was also disappointed that the outdoor pool’s adjustable bottom was raised to make it a wading pool for family fun, meaning we’d have to swim indoors.


Don’t let this well-delineated entrance fool you. It’s a maze inside.

Some of the navigational challenges may stem from the construction history. The indoor pools opened with the rest of this massive sports facility in 1997. Turns out they weren’t enough, and in 2006 the outdoor pool and grandstand appendage was added so Melbourne could host the Commonwealth Games. That’s only part of the problem, though, as even the connections in the original structure just don’t flow right.

Once I got over my wayfinding issues and was properly attired, I enjoyed my swim. Compared to the screaming masses everywhere else, the indoor pool was blissfully free of family fun. The water was pleasantly cool and chlorinated (no salt), and the natural light much more abundant than at the similarly ginormous Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre. Frankie settled in to knock off another set of 40 x 100s, but I swam less given my delayed start and previous laps under the hot sun at the Fitzroy Pool.

wave pool and waterslide

OK, I’ll admit it, this wave pool did look like a lot of fun.

As we were finishing up, the Vicentre Aquatics squad hit the water. They were marvelous to watch, with such perfect form that they seemed to need just a few strokes per length. I especially enjoyed seeing them do starts from the blocks, for which their coach used a remote-controlled megaphone-light starter that I’ve never seen before. Theirs is another massive squad, surely rivaling Nanawading, with distance superstar Grant Hackett as one of the headliners.

If there isn’t enough in MSAC to keep you busy, simply step outside. Albert Park’s lake, cinder running paths, and grand prix racetrack are right outside and offer more respite from family fun.


#70: Fitzroy Pool

deep end - profondaLocation: Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia

Configuration: 10 lanes of 50 meters

Fee: AUD5.20

Melbourne’s first suburb is home to one of its best pools. The Fitzroy Baths, with separate men’s and women’s pools, opened here more than 100 years ago. Today, the former women’s pool is now the kiddie pool and the men’s is a beautiful lap pool. There are wide stands and a nice grassy area for lounging, a gym, and a sauna to help fill your day.

historic sign

Reproduction broadsheet describing festivities for the 1909 opening for the summer season.

The Fitzroy Pool was the first stop on my final day in Melbourne, last Friday, a properly warm summer day that we made the most of with three different swims. This pool’s community appeal was immediately apparent. From the street-front mural to the bikes parked on deck to the people of all ages swimming, playing, and relaxing,it has legions of devoted followers. Come February, Sunday afternoons featuring free DJ music and barbecue will surely draw even more.

A couple stories give a sense of how beloved this pool is. First, the sign on the deck wall at the deep end:


According to legend, it was painted in the 1950s by a well-intentioned but Italian-language-challenged pool manager to warn English and Italian speakers alike of the perils of the deep end. Alas, he left out the in acqua, making for a memorable typo that has since been replicated on the bottom of the pool (see top photo) and brought landmark status for the wall. As the Heritage Victoria website gushes, “The sign has historical significance for its associations with the post-war migration program which had such a profound impact on the Victorian community. The sign is indicative of the changing demographics of post-World War Two inner Melbourne when migrants replaced a segment of the population who moved to the outer suburbs. The sign demonstrates one way in which migrants were becoming accepted as part of the community and as such is a rare tangible example of a public acknowledgement of the cultural impact of the mass migration program. The sign is symbolic of the pool as a place where the diverse population of inner Melbourne could mingle on equal terms.” That’s quite an accomplishment for a misspelling!

aqua profonda signToday, the lettering is partly obscured by temporary buttresses propping up the wall, which was found to be in danger of collapse in a survey following a fatal collapse of another aged, Melburnian brick wall.

The second story also has to do with wrong-turned-right. In fall 1994, the pool faced sudden closure due to budgetary concerns. After a six-week occupation by community members who literally halted bulldozers, it was triumphantly reopened that December. It’s worth reading the anniversary report of the inspirational Save Our Pool campaign. (Read to the end to see a great photo of  the protester-filled pool.) Other communities have since followed suit and mobilized to save their own pools.

That’s all well and good, you’re thinking by now, but what is it like to swim here? Lovely! Clear, lightly salted water. Shimmery tiles in the deep end, matte in the shallow. With two play lanes on either side of the pool, there were still six lanes left for lap swimming, and there were never more than four people in my lane. I basked in the warmth of the midday sun knowing that it would be months before I had another outdoor pool day.

Funnily enough for such a community mainstay, the one thing lacking is a café–the only pool I came across during my entire trip that was deficient in this regard. I guess that when you have strong enough popular support, you don’t need coffee to entice people to come on in.


Sustainable Transport, the pool building’s new mural, is its latest community agitation, taking a not-so-subtle stand in favor of mass transit and against a toll tunnel project.

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#69: Aqualink Nunawading

50m pool view

Location: Forest Hill, Victoria, Australia

Configuration: 8 lanes x 50 meters

Fee: AUD6

Aqualink Nunawading (pronounced NUNN-a-wadd-ing) is my Aussie hosts Jo and Frankie’s neighborhood pool. It is also where the Nunawading Swimming Club, one of Australia’s largest and most successful squads, trains.

Naturally, we checked it out the first morning we were at their house, just outside Melbourne. This was Monday, January 6, and the place was packed with kids on summer vacation. I was not sorry to be swimming indoors, as it was a cold* day, and I hadn’t packed for that kind of weather.

Aside from the good fortune of having a 50-meter pool plus play pool, gym, and café nearby, I was struck by all the geometry this pool had going on. Rectangular sound panels, swooping waves over the stands, and downward-facing red triangles for decor. In the play pool, meanwhile, a gray cloud mounted to the ceiling produced rain on demand.

entranceWith selected lanes designated for play, lessons, and aqua aerobics, just three were left for lap swimmers, so I had to share with a variety of people utilizing a variety of swim aids and styles. I’m afraid we did not see any of the elite swimmers who train here such as Leisel Jones and Brooke Hanson.

The pool was built in 1960, like many of the houses in this formerly orchard-covered area, and the facility has expanded significantly since that time. Jo remembers having to walk outdoors to get to the change rooms when she came here as a kid, but everything is under one roof now.

*Cold is relative and in this case means single-digit Celsius temperatures–unusual for this time of year. We did not experience the polar vortex that made things quite chilly in New York.


North Sydney Olympic Pool at Night

pool and Harbour Bridge after darkI don’t usually give repeat airtime to pools, but my after-dark visit the North Sydney Harbour Pool (#64) was notable both for the beauty of the pool and the discovery of an exhibit about the pool’s history.

Here are two pictures to give you a sense of what it was like. Happily, I even had my own lane. In fact, for most of my swim, there were only two other lap swimmers–perhaps because this was the day after the party-filled New Year’s Day–and for some reason they chose to share a lane. I especially enjoyed backstroking to admire the views of the illuminated Harbour Bridge and Luna Park.

Luna Park end of the pool, all lit upAs at the Olympic Park pool, the exhibit here was a bit hidden away, in this case in a corridor behind the change rooms, and is definitely worth seeking out. You’ll find historic photos of the pool including high divers and world-class competitions. I was intrigued to learn that this facility’s similarity to some of my favorite outdoor pools in New York is more than skin deep. Just like them, as previously noted, it was built in 1936. What I didn’t realize is that it was also a Depression-relief project, creating jobs and bringing happiness to the beleaguered population. Also of note is harbour swimmers at this site, prior to the pool being built, developed the “Australian crawl” freestyle technique that is now used in competition. Be sure to seek out the exhibit when you visit for this info and lots more.

exhibit hall

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#68: Boy Charlton Pool

Boy Charlton lap pool

Location: Woolloomooloo Bay, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Configuration: 8 lanes x 50 meters

Fee: AUD6

The Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool’s brochure says exactly what I would: “Set on the shores of Woolloomooloo Bay [I just like typing that] near the Royal Botanic Gardens, this beautiful outdoor pool offers breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour and provides a tranquil environment for swimming, relaxation and socialising at the cafe.”

view from locker room level

The location has been a swimming hole for millennia according to a sign at the entrance, so perhaps this is my oldest pool? The modern-day facility was built in place of baths in 1968 and reopened after renovations in 2002. Its name comes from an Australian swimmer from Manly who broke records at this location in the 1920s en route to Olympic gold.

My swim here was the longest to date in an Aussie pool, since the training schedule of my pool buddy Frankie called for 40 x 100s with :20 seconds rest. This gave me plenty of time to drink and look around and also kicked my swimming into a higher gear than I’ve mustered otherwise. Although it was a very hot morning, the water was refreshingly cool, and the hundreds ticked by quickly. I loved the views of the docks across the bay and the skyline behind the park; you are at once in the thick of things and at a pleasant remove. The views in the water were quite nice too–this pool has the best-looking swimmers of all those I’ve visited in Sydney.

My only complaint is that the water was terribly salty–“an unpleasant mix of sea water and chlorine” as a local contact described it. I sipped freshwater from my bottle throughout the swim, but it still took most of the day before my mouth returned to normal.


The change rooms were pleasantly breezy due to small gaps at the base and louvered walls. When on my way to the shower, I accidentally knocked my hairbrush out of my bag and before I knew it it had hit the gutter and bounced overboard into the harbor. Oops.

The salt could well have been a ploy to attract visitors to the Poolside Café for smoothies, not that it needed any tricks. Overlooking pool, bay, and gardens, and offering delicious food plus loaner sombreros, it was a lovely post-swim stop.

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