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Summer Ocean Pool Challenge – Illawarra

Can I swim one more ocean pool pleeease?  Our Sydney Summer Ocean pool jaunt had been such fun, we had to head south and do the Illawarra rock pools.  The first challenge was figuring out how to cover the distance between 10 pools in a day, a challenge solved by hiring bicycles from South Coast Bike Hire.  Then nature delivered another challenge: Cyclone Gita.

#32 Coalcliff rock pool

An early start got us to the most northern of the Illawarra rockpools, secluded in a corner of the peaceful Coalcliff beach, shortly after sunrise.  Some young men were flying drones while we had a lazy paddle.  No need to race, there are plenty more pools to come.

We drove by car from Coalcliff to Wombarra, and then on to Coledale and Austinmer, before picking up the bikes.  This section was all on the Lawrence Hargreaves Drive, and we didn’t want to compete on bicycles with traffic.  After Austinmer, once we had picked up our rented bikes, it was all cycleway, and mostly flat.

#33 Wombarra rock pool

Next up was Wombarra (down Reef Ave) with the tide beginning to rush in.

Things we’ve learnt about swimming rock pools:

  • Free is good!
  • Each pool is different and the access, surface, tides and swell all add an exciting element of randomness.
  • The locals doing their morning laps, the nipper families, and the visitors like us are all friendly and happy to share the pool and have a chat

#34 Coaldale rock pool

Coledale took a bit of finding, hidden away on a rockshelf behind a headland.  With the tide high, we had a nice wade across the rocks to reach the pool.  The water was racing through the narrow access at the shallow end, creating a fun drag effect.  A great spot to laze on your back and enjoy the escarpment views.  Loved this pool.

#35 Austinmer Ocean Pools

Austinmer was pumping!  It was 9am by now, and there was quite a crowd gathering, after the quiet seclusion of our first three pools. There are two ocean pools side by side. The larger pool was a relatively peaceful swim, while the long, deep narrow pool had an awesome Gita-powered swell rushing through and over the wall.  A great lap workout, and way more fun than a wave machine in a theme park!

We could have played here for much longer, but we had a date with Shane, the bicycle man, at a car park near the station, so off we went.  Shane couldn’t have been more helpful.  He was ready waiting for us, with a collection of bikes in excellent condition.  He checked the bikes were all set up at the right height, gave us some directions, and told us to lock the bikes and text him the location when we were done with our one-way hire.  Off we went on our 20km cycle with frequent swim-stops!

#36 Bulli rock pool and #37 Woonona rock pool

We zoomed past Thirroul pool (chlorine, who needs that?) heading for Bulli Beach Cafe (coffee, yes we need that!) and Bulli Rockpool.  It was nipper time by now, and the families and kiddies in their pink tops were everywhere.  Not much reason to hang around here, so after our lap, with a pause for a wave to splash over us at the ocean end, we cycled off to Woonona on the next headland.

Woonona is almost like a real pool, complete with faded lane markings and starter blocks. It was super busy with nippers and families, so we did our lap and moved on.

#38 Bellambi rock pool and #39 Towradgi rock pool

Bellambi was too much fun!  The swell and water was rushing over the pool wall, crashing through the pool and reflecting waves back onto itself, splashing out onto the concrete and steps.  With memories of the waves in Mahon’s pool, we were careful to take a middle line for our lap across this pool.

We cycled in our cosies all day, pulling on wet shorts and throwing on a wet shirt after each swim.  A nice ride through the park and across the creek and we were at Towradgi.  Once again, the waves were crashing in broadsides.,  Some girls were hanging on the rails, enjoying the force of the water, while others were playing with blow up swans.

#40 Ladies Baths and Nun’s Pool

We cycled on into Wollongong itself, past the harbour and up onto Flagstaff Hill, with a great view of the beaches north, where we’d been playing all morning.  From the hill we could look down on Nun’s Pool.  Quite different to the Nun’s Pool at Cronulla!  Also known as Chain Baths, this is the oldest and most dramatic of Wollongong’s ocean baths.

The water was wild!  Some teenagers were standing on a rock contemplating their options.

From Flagstaff Hill we could see another little pool. A dog was paddling in the shallower section, and two lovers were enjoying the deeper pool.  This pool isn’t named on my map, so we called it Lovers and Dog Pool.  However, later we found out it was called Ladies Baths, and like Nun’s Pool, is also very old.  The day had warmed up nicely by now, and we had a lovely wallow cooling off, surrounded by hippo shaped rocks and surfers enjoying the nearby break.  Pool bliss.

#41 Gentlemen’s Baths and Continental Pool

Back to Wollongong, we had some lunch.  Swimming makes you hungry.

The Gentlemen’s Baths were underwater with the high tide.  We swam a quick lap, showered and changed at Continental Pool.  Locked our bikes to a pole for collection by Shane, and caught an Uber back to our cars for the trip home.  A great day out.

What’s next?

Perhaps Shellharbour (Beverley Whitfield), two pools at Kiama, and two pools at Gerringong (Werri Beach and Boat Harbour) down south?  Or should we adventure north, there is Pearl Beach, Killcare (a ring of stones), Macmasters, Copacabana, Avoca, Terrigal, The Entrance, Norah Head, and three at Newcastle (Mereweather, Bogey Hole and Ocean Baths).  Next summer.

Leg 7 in a nutshell

Transport: Drive between the first three or four pools, then park at Thirroul Station and cycle the remainder from Thirroul to Flagstaff Hill. Public transport back to your cars.  Bicycle hire from very helpful Shane at Southcoastbikehire.
Start: Coalcliff
Finish: Flagstaff Hill Park
Distance: approx 15km driving Coalcliff to Thirroul, and approx 20km cycling to Flagstaff Hill
No of pools: 9 or 10 depending on how you count!


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