With apologies to San Diego and Miami, and not having been to Rio or Cape Town, I am wondering — is it possible that any city in the world is a better swimming city than Sydney?
Here’s my list of my swims during my week in the city at the end of October, with pictures from most of the spots —
Sunday afternoon: Prince Alfred Park Pool. I swam in two of the three 50m outdoor public pools in the heart of the city, missing only the pool located in the Royal Botanic Gardens near Circular Quay. These pools were large and sunny, in use but not overcrowded, the water cool but not cold. My hotel was a 10 min walk to Prince Albert Pool and maybe 5 min to Victoria Park Pool. It’s the sort of local convenience I could get used to! I swam first in Victoria Park around 3 pm on Sunday, after flying down from Armidale at noon.
Monday morning: Victoria Park Pool. My first morning in Sydney I leveraged residual jet lag to get to the pool by 7 am and churn out 1500m under early morning slant light. The pool was a bit crowded, but inviting. Like my fellow swimmers, I got through my morning workout pretty fast to get on with the day.
Monday afternoon: Clovelly Inlet. After a lovely and wine-filled lunch with my hosts at the Sydney Environment Instittue, I took off in the afternoon for the Eastern suburbs, the Bondi-to-Coogee cliff walk, and a ghostly encounter with my twenty-two year old self, who had lived up the hill from Coogee for three-plus months at the end of 1989 and into 1990. The cliff walk is stunning, with glittering rock pools, and subtle gradations of brown in the sandstone. During the first half of the walk, we snaked through the public art displayed by the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. But I was there to see and to swim, and on Killian’s advice we spent a while in Clovelly Inlet, a narrow, almost pool-shaped ocean inlet, bounded by the roar of surf at one end and a narrow beach on the other. We saw a wide assortment of fish in the calm waters. Highlights included a very not-shy blue groper, named “Bluey” in the Wild Swimming guidebook, and a sting ray with sand on its back. I also enjoyed swimming right up into the edge of the surf, into washing-machine-like conditions, and then letting the swell ease my back to the calm center.
Monday afternoon: Coogee Beach. At the end of the cliff walk was the crescent-shaped bay of Coogee Beach, where I’d last swum on Christmas Day 1989, drinking green and red cans of Victoria Bitter. I remember the surf being a little bigger back then, but the water felt just the same.
Tuesday morning: In advance of my big talk at 4 pm, I made sure to get a good 7 am swim at the Victoria Park Pool.
Tuesday mid-day: Killing some time before my public lecture, I wandered around the Circular Quay and gawked at the Opera House in the morning. Then I took a ferry to Watson’s Bay, near the South Headland. There I ate fish & chips and swam at The Baths, a netted swimming area in the oldest fishing village in Sydney.
Wed morning: It was a full day of Workshopping on Wednesday, so no time but 7 am for swimming. I did get my 1500m in at my now-habitual Victoria Park Pool.
Th morning: I had expected to go back to Victoria Park on my last day in town, but Astrida Neimanis helped gather together a group excursion to Karloo Pool, in the Royal National Park. (The second-oldest National Park in the world, after Yellowstone, I was told.) We met up on the 6 am train from downtwon and made it out to Heathcote Station a little after 7. We tramped down a steep trail through gum tree forest to the pool, where we took a refreshing 20 min dip in clear, cool water. Then we busted back up by way of a sweaty hike that was just in time to get everyone to their academic jobs that morning. And also time to get me on time to go catch the ferry across the harbor to Manly, for the swimming trifecta that ended my week.
Th mid-day: We had planned to snorkel in the ocean marine reserve in Manly, on the northeast corner of the Harbor, but the guy who I rented my mask and gear from said with the wind the way it was, the visibility would be better in the harbor at Fairlight Beach. We took his advice. The kelp beds were full of fish, tiny bits of iridescent coral, and more sea urchins than I’ve ever seen anywhere. The highlight of the swim — which I describe in detail in my Oceanic Sydney post — was an encounter with a giant Australian cuttlefish, one of the strangest and most intriguing critters I’ve seen in the sea. I won’t soon forget him!
Th mid-afternoon: Josh had to catch a ferry back to teach in the afternoon, so I tramped around to the ocean side and the Shelly Beach Marine Reserve on my own. The north wind had churned up the sand a bit, but I did see lots of fish above the kelp bed.
Th late afternoon: My last dip of the trip was in the surf of Manly Beach, where, tired as I was, I frolicked a bit with the kids on floatie toys and tried to keep my distance from the board surfers. It’s a gorgeous beach, and reminds of an outsized version of my home waters down at the Jersey Shore. Manly has become more touristic over the decades since I’ve last been there — it sported the only Starbucks I saw on my entire trip, though Sydney is full of fantastic coffee bars — but it’s a place I’d love to bring my family.
That’s eleven swims in five days, which is pretty good considering that I also fit in two professional events, meals with many of my hosts, drinks and coffee with others, and an excursion to the Sydney Fish Market. No museums, alas. Next time?
I’m not yet halfway back across the Pacific as I draft this post, and I’m already starting to scheme about future trips.