While villas and resorts around the world are decked out with chlorinated lidos and infinity pools, Australians are blessed with rustic ocean pools cleverly tucked in secret nooks under headlands or at the edges of public beaches.
Scattered along the South Coast of NSW with front-row views of the sea, multiple rock pools fall within the Wollongong LGA. Regardless of age or background, anyone can bathe in this saltwater luxury for free.
Is it the sensation of swimming within a space made safe in the often unforgiving ocean, or is it the challenge of finding some of these pools that make them so alluring?
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A good ocean pool offers a day of delight – from threading over molluscs to stepping down slimy steps into a salty rock pool and re-emerging rejuvenated by its waters, then making our way to the local milk bar for a serve of fried food and a smoothie.
Here’s an itinerary for a daytrip from Sydney, rock pool-hopping from Coalcliff to Wollongong city in some of the finest coastal pools in the region. Knock them off all at once, or slowly make your way through one pool at a time.
Pick a good day, pack your swimmers, and leave early to head south along the Princes Highway. The first stop is Coalcliff Rock Pool.
Coalcliff Rock Pool
Begin your morning with a dip in this charming neighbourhood rock pool frequented by local families. The pool is situated against dramatic cliffs and rocks, next to a secluded beach. Park your car at the side of the road and it’s an easy stroll down to the water. Changing rooms are 200 metres from the pool. Dip in the sea water and soak in the views from just below the Sea Cliff Bridge.
Wombarra Rock Pool
Drive across the enchanting Sea Cliff Bridge to your next stop, the Wombarra Rock Pool. If size matters, this pool takes the cake. Swim laps or float on your back – there’s plenty of space to cover in this ocean pool.
The picnic tables are perfectly lined up to face the sea under the shade of large Norfolk pine trees, ideal for a breakfast sitting. Enter the pool via a slope with a handrail on the south end. Further south is a large flat bed of rocks great for exploring at low tide. Toilets and changing rooms are available and showers are situated outside the sea wall. Parking is quite limited, but you can park on the top of the hill and stroll down.
Coledale Rock Pool
A five-minute drive further south will take you to Coledale Rock Pool, a long and narrow pool with a sandy bottom. Set against a wide bed of rocks on the south of Coledale beach, think of this rock pool as a giant in-ground bathtub by the sea.
Calm and quiet most days, this pool is an easy walk down from the road. You can enter the pool from a slightly slippery slope on the north end or two sets of steps with handrails on the south end. There is a bench to leave your things, and the change room and showers are 200 metres above the rocks on the south side of the pool.
If a boozy refreshment is on the cards, nearby Coledale Fine Wines (746 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Coledale) offers a great selection of craft beers and wines.
Austinmer Rock Pool
Make your way to Austinmer Beach, five minutes’ drive from Coledale, and you will find this gorgeous double pool at the south end of the beach. The twin pools sit next to each other, divided by a wall. The southern-most pool is longer than the other and naturally shallow, making it perfect for toddlers – this place is popular with families. The rock pool is adjacent to a historical pavilion where toilets and showers are located.
Across the road is popular Shells Diner (106 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Austinmer) for your classic milk bar supply of chips, burgers and shakes. If you’re looking for cafe-style refreshments, pick up a sandwich and a cup of fresh coffee from Bread, Espresso & (190 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul) or The Fitz Cafe & Bar (251 Princes Highway, Bulli) during the drive towards Bulli Rockpool.
135 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Austinmer
Bulli Rock Pool
No visit to the ’Gong is complete without a stop at the grand headland rock pool of Bulli. This area is a busy place for swimming, gatherings of families and friends, and couples on day dates. With magnificent views, plenty of grass to spread out on, and thriving beachside cafes, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with locals and visitors alike. It’s a large 50-metre pool with changing and shower facilities a few metres away.
You can avoid the queues at the Bulli cafes and opt for a classic battered fish ‘n’ chips order from Fishnets Takeaway (114 Pioneer Road, East Corrimal) in East Corrimal, just 10 minutes away, on your journey to the next rock pool.
Towradgi Rock Pool
With hot food in tow, head down to Towradgi Rock Pool, another popular spot for people-watching and picnics on the grassy patch, which faces the 50-metre rock pool and the sea.
Locals will be sunbaking on the concrete slabs beneath the grass. The cycleway runs past the area so expect to see cyclists pedalling by here. You’ll catch a sweeping view of Wollongong CBD in the distance, with the Illawarra escarpment directly behind it. Changing rooms, toilets and showers are a few metres away from the pool.
Lot 113 Towradgi Road, Towradgi
The final stop of your rock pool-hop is the Gentlemen’s Pool. Who would have guessed that the most rustic-looking rock pool is located in Wollongong city? This is one of the region’s earliest rock pools, and is situated on a rock-based platform. Formerly a men’s-only bath, it is now a public pool next to Wollongong harbour with an uneven and rocky bottom. The pool is more visible during low tide and is popular with CBD locals cooling off after a long day. Park at the end of Stuart Park and it’s an easy walk to the pool. There are no facilities here so you’ll have to walk to the nearby Continental Pool for changing and shower facilities.
End your day with a sweeping sunset. Walk towards Flagstaff Point Lighthouse in Wollongong and join the locals for a sunset viewing while surfers ride back into the city’s sandy beach.
Now that you’ve bathed in the finest waters of the region’s rock pools, it’s time for dinner in town. Feast on juicy burgers by His Boy Elroy (Keira Street, Wollongong) or enjoy a rustic woodfired pizza at Kneading Ruby (5 Crown Lane, Wollongong) before you drive home to Sydney, body and soul rejuvenated.