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
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
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
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.
This 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
This 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
At 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.
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
My 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).
I 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.
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.