In need of a pause from their working lives, Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon dreamed up a unique travel quest: to spend a year exploring and documenting the most remarkable swimming spots of their home country. After what they imagined was a far-fetched pitch was accepted by a book publisher, the duo quit their jobs and promptly hit Australia’s wide open roads.
Their mission was no small feat on a landmass roughly the same size as Europe, yet it was precisely this geographic spread that provided such abundant material for their travels. They traversed great distances, traded a surfboard to a mechanic in lieu of payment along the way, and cataloged their experiences in Places We Swim.
The vividly photographed book contains sixty-five standout waterfalls, hot springs, beaches and rockpools of Australia’s great outdoors, and man-made pools and ocean baths of its coastal cities. Moreover, it speaks to the identity of water-loving nation in which swimming is one of the great democratizing traditions.
Here, they share five of their favorite locations.
Merewether Ocean Baths
A two-hour drive north of Sydney, Newcastle is the discreet, under-appreciated and under-celebrated swimming capital of Australia. It possesses all the style and flair of Sydney’s coastal landscape with only a fraction of the population. But the crown jewel of the city and, in our opinion, the best ocean pool in the country, is Merewhether Baths.
The surrounding neighborhood wakes up at first light, and on any day of the week, rain or shine, you can find people running, swimming, pramming, surfing, training or latte-ing. Merewether Baths is the nucleus of it all, with beaches and cafes radiating outwards.
Like many ocean pools in the region, it was built as part of a Depression relief scheme and opened its lanes in 1935. The largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere, it was, and remains, a grand monument to Australia’s vision of itself as a water-loving culture.
Best time to visit: You cannot beat the morning vibes around here. Water is warmest from December to May.
Driving through parched savannah woodlands en route to Gunlom Falls—northern Australia’s most famous infinity pool and a major stop on any Kakadu pilgrimage—it is almost impossible to believe that you will be rewarded with anything but broken aircon and dusty roads. The landscape works you into a swimming frenzy, and just before you crack, a towering escarpment looms and tall trees announce the presence of water. You are suddenly spoiled for choice. It’s not a mirage: Gunlom Falls is a swimmers’ paradise.
The front pool offers the most famous view and the best people watching, but we had our fun exploring the swimming holes further back, where there is a mini gorge with smooth walls and a number of shallow, spa-sized baths. Tall gum trees cast enough shade for anyone who needs it.
Best time to visit: Dry season (May to October). The falls and plunge pool are closed during the Wet season, so be sure to check before going.
The most photographed pool in Australia, if not the world, Bondi Icebergs is like no other. An icon of Aussie swimming, no one leaves Bondi without snapping a pic of this ocean pool and, we hope, jumping in for a swim. On the south side of Sydney’s Bondi Beach is the famous white building, home to the Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, and the landmark 50-metre pool, fed by the ocean.
At any given time, the pool at Bondi Icebergs is abuzz with swimmers and bathers, here for a ritual dip and sauna, to catch up with friends or soak up rays on the tiered concrete steps (the best seats in the house).
Best time to visit: Summertime, because nothing beats a quintessential Aussie summer’s day in Bondi, as long as you don’t mind crowds.
There are several elements to Babinda Boulders, but the main swim here is a large natural pool at the intersection of three streams, where deep, cold water rushes through the lush, wet rainforest on the edge of on the edge of Wooroonooran National Park in the northeastern state of Queensland. Up- and downriver, the waterways are dotted with groups of giant granite boulders that create natural pools, many of them wildly unswimmable. The water wraps around these huge rocks, buffing them into large, soft creatures dotted along the river. At the meeting point of the rivers, warm and cool currents mingle under the canopy of the rainforest. It feels like a scene from The Jungle Book in here.
Best time to visit: Anytime it isn’t flooding. Most reliable from April to December, but can be great year-round. Be sure to heed any signage and stick to the safest spots.
On a real humdinger of a day, this scene at Sydney’s Clovelly Beach feels reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast—hundreds of people sprawled on colourful towels and banana loungers or jumping joyfully from the banks into the deep water below. While there’s something strangely post-apocalyptic about the concrete job at Clovelly—undertaken during the Great Depression to create jobs for local men and easier access to swimming—it provides welcome haven for those who simply don’t like sand.
The inlet is enclosed by a naturally occurring rock shelf that protects the bay from open sea, creating a long ocean pool. And if a giant bay between concrete esplanades wasn’t enough, at one end is a sandy beach and on the southern side of the inlet is a saltwater lap pool known as Geoff James. Like most pools in Sydney’s coastal suburbs, this one is home to a winter swim club, the Clovelly Eskimos.
Best time to visit: Summer. Locals often say they prefer winter when crowds subside and the water is crisp and clear; however, Clovelly is unpatrolled April to September.
This is an edited extract from Places We Swim by Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon, Hardie Grant Travel, available for purchase at placesweswim.com. Follow them on Instagram @placesweswim.