The best way to enjoy Sydney's beaches safe from rips and sharks.
New South Wales's first human-made ocean pool was the work of convicts. In 1819, Newcastle's Commandant Morisset decided he wanted his own private swimming spot. So, he ordered a bunch of resident prisoners to start digging and, after several months of hard labour, the Bogey Hole was created.
These days, there are more than 100 rockpools in the state, many of which had much happier beginnings. And Sydney is home to several of the most dramatic and most fun. Here are ten places where you can swim between the coast and the mighty Pacific, without the risk of rips (or sharks).
NORTH CURL CURL ROCKPOOL
Curl Curl's exposed, east-southeast position makes it one of Sydney's most exciting but dangerous beaches. The southerly swell surges in, driving waves to heights of 1.5 metres or more and powering hazardous rips. Lap up all the action from the safety of the North Curl Curl Rock Pool. Carved out in the mid-1930s, it has a natural floor and rocky platforms for sunbaking (slip, slop, slap, please). At high tide, access is only available via coastal walkway.
Bilgola Beach forms the floor of a steep coastal valley. It's one of the Northern Beaches' most secluded spots. For an adventurous walk in, take the South Bilgola Headland Walk, which starts at Newport Beach, winding its way through tea trees, bottlebrushes, paperbarks, casuarinas and cabbage tree palms. Alternatively, park just off The Serpentine. You'll find the eight-lane, 50-metre rockpool at the beach's southern end, affording spectacular views of the 60-metre-high Bilgola North Headland.
FAIRY BOWER POOL, MANLY
The enchanting, triangular Fairy Bower Pool was built by locals, for locals, in 1929. It's located alongside Marine Parade, between Manly and Fairy Bower. Adding to the magic are sculptor Helen Leete's Oceanides (also known as the 'Manly Sea Nymphs'), two curving creatures on the pool's edge. When the surf's up, they look a bit like dancing aquatic spirits. Try taking a dip at sunrise, sunset or even after-dark.
Members of Sydney's toughest swimming club, The Icebergs, have been proving their mettle here since 1929. To stay in the gang, they must meet every Sunday throughout winter and swim at least one lap of the pool, regardless of icy temperatures or inclement weather. If that sounds too traumatic for you, stick to summer visits. One of the best equipped pools on the list, the Icebergs comes with a sauna, gym, masseuse, yoga lessons and cafe. Entry is $6.50.
Opened in 1887, Bronte Baths is one of Sydney's oldest and most photographed pools. Its best known regular was Evelyn Whillier, who at 18 competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and at 20 won gold in the 1938 British Empire Games. In the 1990s — in her late 70s — she'd head to Bronte at 5am every day to squeeze in a few kilometres. You'll meet all kinds of swimmers here — from similarly serious lappers to kids in floaties. There's ample room on the surrounding rocks for lazing about. Consider a night swim on balmy evenings.
MCIVER'S BATHS, COOGEE
Boys, butt out. McIver's is the only coastal pool in Australia for ladies only. It's been that way since 1922, when the Randwick and Coogee Ladies Swimming Club took over the lease from the McIver family. In 93 years, nothing much has changed. The ocean views are still extraordinary and the entry fee is still 20 cents — tossed in a bucket at the entrance. However, in 2010, a visit from a man undergoing a sex change raised some modern questions.
WYLIE'S BATHS, COOGEE
Found just south of McIver's Baths, Wylie's welcomes people of all genders. The 50-metre pool offers 180-degree panoramas of the ocean, including views of Wedding Cake Island (inspiration for Midnight Oil's instrumental rock hit of the same name). Like Bondi's Icebergs, Wylie's has all the facilities — from yoga lessons to massage sessions. Entry is five bucks. It's a great spot for a cool-off along the Bondi to Maroubra walk.
MAHON POOL, MAROUBRA
Mahon's intertidal position makes it subject to fierce doses of Pacific swell. Drop by when the water's high and the wind's a-blowing for the biggest waves and most adrenaline-fuelled fun. The pool lies at the northern end of Maroubra Beach. It's hard to spot from above, but make your way down the staircase from Marine Parade car park, and you'll soon spy it among exposed rocky outcrops.
MALABAR OCEAN POOL
For smaller crowds and a laidback, local feel, head to Malabar Ocean Pool. Created in the 1890s, it was closed down by the 1970s (as was surrounding Long Bay) due to pollution. But, in 1997, NSW Premier Bob Carr and the local MP pooled funds for a clean-up and re-vamp. These days, the water is crystal clear and the views dreamy, especially at dawn and dusk.
CRONULLA ROCK POOL
Cronulla's main ocean pool lies in the 300 metres of rocky platforms dividing South Cronulla Beach from North Cronulla. Opened in 1932, the pool first served as a training facility for local lifeguards. These days, it's still an optimum spot for lapping and/or casual dipping, offering vast, uninterrupted vistas over Bate Bay. The Council will be making some upgrades in April 2016, adding handrails and stairs and non-slip surfaces.