The Most Idyllic Swimming Holes to Visit Around Sydney This Summer
Don't stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.
Of all the watery cities in the world, Sydney has one of the longest coastlines. By the time you count up all the beaches, the entire harbour and the scattering of islands, you've got a serious stack of kilometres behind you.
A quick dip above a waterfall, with sweeping national park views? Check. An adrenaline-pumping frenzy in a wild, exposed ocean pool? Check. A deep plunge into a limestone gorge, bordered by steep marble cliffs? Check. Whether you want rapids, waves, rock scrambles, views, art, secrecy or nudity with your swim, we've got them all. Right here.
FOR SECRETIVENESS: GLEDHILL FALLS, KU-RING-GAI CHASE NATIONAL PARK
For a long time, the Gledhills were like ghosts. A few people said they'd seen them, but finding proof was difficult. These days, there's more information floating about, but the forest-encircled falls — and the ten-metre-wide pool into which they tumble — are still tricky to find. Set in the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, you'll need to do your research before you head out. First, pack your rock climbing shoes. Then, drive your car from Mona Vale Road, onto McCarrs Creek Road, until, after about 4.5 kilometres, you reach the teeny-tiny, easy-to-miss bridge that crosses McCarrs Creek. Initially, the track is clear, but, nearing the water, prepare to scramble.
FOR WAVES: MAHON POOL, MAROUBRA BEACH
Of all the rock pools wedged between the city and the mighty Pacific, Mahon Pool is the most adrenaline conducive. It's set at the base of the Jack Vanny Reserve along Maroubra Beach. From Maroubra's northern clifftops it's hard to spot, but make your way down the staircase from the Marine Parade carpark and you'll soon spy it among the exposed rocky outcrops. An inter-tidal position often means fierce invasions from the ocean, so adventure seekers should visit when the water's high and the wind's a-blowing for the biggest waves and the most fun. It goes without saying, though, to be careful.
FOR SECLUSION: RESOLUTE BEACH, KU-RING-GAI CHASE NATIONAL PARK
Despite its five million-strong population, Sydney is home to a number of secluded beaches. But Resolute Beach takes isolation and wildness to the next level. That's because the only way to reach it is by taking on the six-kilometre Resolute Loop Track, which turns off many a lazy beach-goer. Those with the stamina to handle it are, however, amply rewarded with an unspoiled, empty stretch of sand that's surrounded by Ku-Ring-Gai National Park and affords uninterrupted views over Pittwater. The hike, which begins at Resolute Picnic Ground, also takes in a few other remote beaches, as well as the Red Hands Cave.
FOR FRESHWATER: BAYVIEW PARK, CONCORD
In November 2022 swimming was reintroduced to Bayview Park for the first time in 53 years. The Inner West beach first became a popular swim spot in the 1930s, but was closed and has remained unswimmable since 1969. However, thanks to work from $700,000 revitalisation project from the City of Canada Bay, Sydney Water and the Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG), this patch of freshwater is once again a hotspot for community swims. Accompanying the reopening is a range of new facilities which include a netted enclosure, picnic facilities and outdoor showers.
FOR NUDITY: LADY BAY BEACH, SYDNEY HARBOUR NATIONAL PARK
Thanks to Lady Bay's existence, you can be completely suited up in the middle of a work meeting at Circular Quay at 5pm, yet utterly naked amid all kinds of wildness by 5.30pm. Tucked into a calm cove near Watsons Bay, it's one of Australia's oldest nudist beaches — which first became legal in 1976, thanks to Neville Wran's blessing. Located within the Sydney Harbour National Park between South Head and Camp Cove, Lady Bay Beach offers views across to Manly and Middle Head, as well as top-notch vistas of the city skyline. Be sure to pack a picnic to enjoy pre- or post-swim, and keep an eye out for whales (seasonally).
FOR RAPIDS: BENTS BASIN, BENTS BASIN STATE CONSERVATION AREA
Pack your lilo — Bents Basin has rapids. Spend your day throwing yourself down them if you're the type that likes a slightly out of control swim. Otherwise, keep to the still water — it's one of the deepest swimming holes in New South Wales. A dramatic, wooded escarpment provides the backdrop, which means there's ample views for picnickers, too. Bents Basin is part of a Nepean River gorge and lies between Penrith and Camden, about 70 kilometres from the Sydney CBD. If you don't want to limit yourself to just one afternoon by the basin, opt to camp overnight in the State Conservation Area.
Update Tuesday, November 29: Bents Basin is currently closed due to localised flooding. Check the NSW Parks and Wildlife Services website for current information.
FOR INDIGENOUS ROCK ART: REEF BEACH, BALGOWLAH HEIGHTS
You'll pass heaps of beaches along the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, but one of the most secluded is Reef Beach in Balgowlah Heights. It's best to make your way here after the tide has gone out, because that's when Indigenous Australian carvings become visible in the rocks. This beach is also just an incredibly tranquil section of Middle Harbour, offering excellent views of Manly and Sydney Harbour's northern section. If you don't feel like trekking the ten-kilometre track just for a swim, you can alternatively drive to Beatty Street — Reef Beach is just a short walk from the car park.
FOR THE BUSHWALKER: KARLOO POOL, HEATHCOTE
On the western end of the Royal National Park (a brilliant spot for kayaking, by the way), a tributary runs into the Hacking River. Known as Kangaroo Creek, it begins in the park. To reach the best swimming spots, take the Karloo Walking Track, a five-kilometre walk starting at Heathcote Station. Karloo Pool is the most popular — the round swimming hole offers pristine, turquoise waters fed by the cascading waterfall above. If it's busy, make tracks downstream, where you'll find more pools to explore. You can enjoy a picnic here, or mosey onward to Uloola Falls. If you have the time, continue on through the Uloola Walking Track, which finishes at Waterfall Station.
FOR THE LAGOON LOVERS: WATTAMOLLA BEACH, ROYAL NATIONAL PARK
Wattamolla Beach is like something from your most picturesque lagoon-swimming, bushwalking, beach-picnicking dreams. If the emerald-clear water isn't enough to get you jumping in the car and driving an hour south of Sydney, then the Royal National Park it lies in is sure to be. There's also a picnic area — so bring some snacks and plonk yourself down under one of the cabbage tree palms for an entire day of eat, swim, repeat. The beach has some serious fishing spots too, with water so incredibly calm it's a family favourite for snorkelling and liloing. If you fancy yourself a hiker, check out the Royal Coast Track, which links up to a camping spot if you're keen on an overnight stay.
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