Sydney's best ocean and harbour swimming pools

Dump the damp changing rooms for the sunny ocean tang of Sydney’s outdoor natural pools. Sarah Prestwood from I’d Swim That nominates her top 5

6 mins

Sydney is blessed with a stunning harbour and a spectacular coast. While its beaches are justly famous around the world, it also boasts a number of stunning swimming pools that make the most of the city's natural assets. Sarah Prestwood, from I'd Swim That, nominates her favourite five.

Mahon Ocean Pool (Sarah Prestwood)

1. Mahon Pool, Maroubra

This pool is not always for the faint-hearted. The day I visited the surf was smashing the pool to the point where it was impossible to distinguish where the pool stopped and the great wide ocean began. However, if exhilaration is your bag then Mahon’s is your ticket.

Highpoints: This place is pretty drop dead gorgeous if you’re a fan of big bold waves. It absolutely blows away the cobwebs without sweeping you out to sea.

Lowpoints: Change facilities are limited as the toilets are in need of an upgrade. You are also at the mercy of the mood of the ocean. Tranquil one morning, moody bastard the next.

Attire: Wetsuits, zinc for the face and floatation devices for the kids

Cost: It’s all free, people

Best for: Old sea dogs and strong swimmers

Bronte Ocean Pool (Sarah Prestwood)

2. Ocean Pool, Bronte

This little pool has a certain character about it that for some reason makes it my top ocean pool in the east. Yes, it is often green with seaweed, overpopulated and there is likely to be a high toddler urine count, but there’s something about the overhanging cliffs and being eyeline with breaking waves that makes it a little bit magical.

High points: The seawall around the edge of the pool that allows you to stand on the ledge, grip the railing and feel the ocean spray of breaking waves from below. Amazing for hangovers. Occasional whales can also be spotted.

Low points: It can get extremely busy so ‘real’ swimmers beware. For those who enjoy the ‘swim talk’ this is a great place for an aquatic catch up or paddle.

Attire: Your best kaftan and matching bikini are welcomed at this pool

Entry cost: Did I mention it’s also free? Winner.

Best for: Hangovers and people watching

Red Leaf pool (Sarah Prestwood)

3. Redleaf Pool, Doube Bay

Redleaf Pool, also known as the Murray Rose Pool, is a lovely little oasis of shark proof safe in the bosom of Sydney Harbour. Less of a conventional swimming pool and more like an enclosed harbour beach, it’s a secret hangout that cashed-up locals have been enjoying for decades.

Nestled in the crook between Double Bay and Point Piper the pool is framed by a wooden boardwalk, separating the superyachts from the swimmers.

Highpoints: It really is a winning spot, with plenty of room for picnics or the kids to play. The day I visited it was especially popular with the super senior, including one 75-year-old who was rocking a red hot string bikini. She was clearly living the Red Leaf dream.

Lowpoints: The kiosk could really up its game with the food. Amazing spot but the meals are pretty substandard.

Attire: Visors, Country Road towels and linen pants are welcomed by this Woollahra crowd. I did also spot a sunbather sporting plastic surgery tape.

Cost: Best things in life are free

Best for: Woollahra mums, small kids and seniors who still heart bikinis

Dawn Fraser Baths (Sarah Prestwood)

4. Dawn Fraser Baths, Balmain

Officially Australia’s oldest public pool and swimming club, the Dawn Fraser Baths is a harbour pool. A sandy shore is surrounded by extensive wooden decking that offers ample space for sunbathing. The position is pretty: Cockatoo Island lies directly behind while the baths offers views of the city, Balmain, and some tidy-looking yachts. 

This is an authentic harbour pool, so the clarity levels are not great, but hey, this is the inner-west. It’s hotter here and it does not have the advantage of coastline like the East. But on the plus side the vibe is much more real. Local families chat about heading to the Sydney fish market for a Saturday night barbeque, next to a heavily tattooed solo mum who splashes about with her kids.

High Points: The size of the pool is great and allows for proper swimming (lanes are in place) plus room for the teens to go nuts.

Low points: The water is a little murky and you do need to avoid jellyfish although most seemed harmless.

Attire: Tattoos, Goa beach bags, body boards and large sticks for poking jellyfish

Entry fee: $4.90

Best for: Children who need discipline, and cooling off in Sydney’s inner west

Malabar (Sarah Prestwood)

5. Rockpool, Malabar

The almost circular shaped pool is surrounded by a concrete wall regularly washed by breaking surf. My guess is that Malabar is definitely on the up. Once maligned due to water pollution issues, a recent $3 million project to clean up the Malabar Waste water treatment has seen the water quality drastically improve and is now as healthy as the rest of them. Good for you, Malabar.

High points: The lack of crowds, fresh air and the good-looking English boy wearing unfortunate shoes and socks who gave me good local advice.

Low points: There’s a lack of facilities near the rockpool, however if you’re willing to walk a further 10 minutes down the road there are changing facilities and a café.

Attire: No need for fashion fuss at Malabar. Let it all hang out, plus if you’ve got a Daily Telegraph under your arm even better.

Best for: Peace, quiet and no pretensions

Cost: This is the ocean’s doorstep, no cost

For more on Sarah's quest to find the perfect swimming pool, and up-to-date information on unique swimming experiences both in Australia and around the world, visit her blog, I'd Swim That.

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