It’s a beautiful sunny morning, light breeze, low tide, perfect conditions for 1km of beach walking to our first rock pool. We have a clear view to the north of Sydney’s longest continuous beach – 5km from Cronulla to Boat Harbour. There is something missing. Where are the huge sand hills of the 1960s – so imprinted in my childhood memory – a playground for kids with cardboard, a training ground for aspiring athletes, as well as the location for many a film shoot such as 40,000 Horsemen.
#27 North and South Cronulla rock pools
We turn right and head south, dodging nippers, life-savers and surf skis, pass Eleoura and North Cronulla SLSCs and onto a pathway to reach our first rock pools. There are two pools side by side – imaginatively named “North” and “South” Cronulla Rock Pool.
“North” is the smaller one and with a low tide we could wade to the end and back – perfect for young ones and non-swimmers. “South” is a much larger and deeper pool where we could stretch out and swim a few laps with the locals. Access is very slippery and we were grateful for the ramps and railings.
#28 Nuns Pool
We continue on past South Cronulla SLSC and onto The Esplanade – a very popular walkway with an interesting mix of old and new houses ranging from the 1920s beach shack, red brick blocks of units to the modern mega mansions. We pass a building that was once a convent and spy a track leading down an embankment that takes us to a gorgeous natural rock pool, referred to by the locals as The Nuns’ Pool.
#29 Shelly Beach and #30 Oak Park rock pools
There are many similarities to these two gems. Both pools front a grassy park area complete with pine trees and palms, the perfect place for a picnic. And both have change rooms that are beautiful examples of Art Deco style pavilions, apparently built in the 1930s between the war years as part of the unemployment relief schemes which enabled new and less affluent suburbs to acquire previously unaffordable ocean pools.
It is worth noting Shelly Beach has a wheelchair ramp from the path to the pool. These pools have a very friendly and relaxed vibe. Of course, Oak Park is also famous as the pool where Shark Wrangler Mel Hatheier casually returned a shark from pool to ocean. No sharks today.
#31 Gunamatta Bay Baths
The walkway now continues on to Bass and Flinders Point overlooking the Port Hacking River – stunning views of ocean, river and The Royal NP where a recent bush fire is still smouldering. Soon we come to Darook Park, a lovely little beach on the shores of Gunamatta Bay. The incoming tide means we can’t continue along the shoreline as this is only possible at a low tide. We detour slightly onto Nicholson Pde to arrive a few minutes later at the Gunamatta Baths. Not an ocean rock pool but a significant pool none the less.
The Gunamatta Baths complex is so huge there is a 50m pool tucked into one corner. The vast netted area provided a safe enclosure where the council ran free learn to swim lessons during the 50s and 60s – a time when learning to swim was an essential, non-negotiable part of childhood.
The Cronulla Swimming Club, started in the 1920s is still going today and was in progress at the time of our visit. The climb down the steep ladder to the pontoon style starting blocks looked just as scary as back in my childhood days. I so wanted to ask for a lane and to swim just one length of this pool.
Instead we swam out to the net and I recalled a story from my learn to swim days – where an older sister told me (as I reached the net and was in need of a rest) the reason they are called shark nets is because the sharks are waiting for you so don’t touch the nets. And don’t touch the bottom or a sting ray will get you. Learning to swim in the 60s!
Next was a well-earned coffee and muffin at Primal Joes Café before the walk back along the beach to our cars at Wanda Beach.
Palm Beach to Cronulla, and beyond?
We have so enjoyed our Summer Ocean Pool Challenge from Palm Beach to Cronulla. Evocative of a bygone era where taking the train or tram to the seaside was a leisurely pursuit enjoyed by many. These simple rock pools, open to the elements, provided safe and affordable facilities for swimming and relaxing all year round.
Do we have to stop? Illawarra anyone?
Leg 6 in a nutshell
Transport: park Wanda Beach SLSC
Start of walk: Wanda Beach
Finish: Wanda Beach
No of pools: 5
Thank you, Mary for leading the group on this leg to your childhood pools!