We based ourselves at The Dive Hotel, a quaint small hotel right on Coogee Beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and we immediately sensed why its ocean and harbour waterways are such an intricate part of Sydney’s culture. It is more than beautiful and more than exciting; it is spiritual: ‘Rome has the Vatican, Mecca has the Kaaba, but for Sydney it is the water which is holy; the ritual place we go to meditate’.
Before breakfast each day, we swam across Coogee Bay, a distance of about 350 metres, and back. Then, on our first full day, we embarked on the famous cliff top walk, a distance of about 7km from Coogee to Bondi. Along the way, we passed picturesque Gordon’s Bay and Clovelly, both popular snorkelling venues; historic Waverley Cemetery (with the best grave views in the world!); corrected a couple of American tourists’ pronunciation of local place names and stopped for lunch at Bronte, the spiritual home of freestyle swimming (aka ‘Australian Crawl’ – it was developed here in 1896) and lifesaving in Australia (both still water and surf). Formed in 1903, Bronte SLSC is the oldest surf lifesaving club in the world.
We then continued on through, at times, driving rain and strong winds past Tamorama (‘Glamorama’) to swim at the famous Bondi Icebergs, the first winter swimming club in the world, before going on to the more-than-famous Bondi Beach.
The next day, we visited Dawn Fraser Baths, an open-water harbour baths in the once working-class, now gentrified suburb of Balmain. Although ‘Dawnie’s’ was closed due to storm water runoff - and we were not able to meet the famous swimmer and one-time independent MP - we did manage to feel the vibes of the place where she learned to swim and trained. Along the way we met an old ‘Balmain Boy’, who didn’t cry but did tell us a tale that Dawn’s pub once lost much of its custom when she put up the price of beer! Then Noel (Mr Coffee) took the opportunity to genuflect at our lunch spot, ‘The Religion of Coffee’.
We caught a Sydney harbour ferry to Circular Quay where, using its formal name of Sydney Cove, the first British settlement of Australia was made in 1788. We checked out where the first governor, Arthur Philip, planted the British union flag and we dipped our fingers in a water fountain from the still existing (but now underground) Tank Stream, the water supply for the first settlement. Then we caught another ferry to Double Bay, avoiding the shops of ‘Double Pay’, and walked to the Murray Rose Pool in nearby Woollahra, picking up a man who had collapsed in the street on the way – a practical first aid experience! Then, in what was once known as Redleaf Baths prior to the great man’s death in 2012, we swam while meditating on Mark’s childhood hero’s swimming efficiency tips of ‘gliding through a worm hole’ and his zen-like ‘effortless effort’.
The following day, we were joined by cousin Peter for our trip to Manly. We caught a ferry across the harbour, past the world-famous Sydney icons of the Harbour Bridge (‘the çoathanger’) and the Opera House, that unique juxtaposition of art and architecture. At Manly, we did the ‘Bold and Beautiful’ swim though amazingly clear water, with lots of fish and other critters to see underneath, from Shelly Beach to Manly’s main beach and return, a distance of about 1.5 km – a first for all of us and Tracey’s first ever long(ish) open water swim. That really was a woohoo moment!
On the morning of our last day, Noel, Peter and Mark did their normal cross-Coogee Bay swim while Tracey visited the Lady’s Baths (aka the Nuns’ Baths or McIver’s Baths, where blokes are verboten). It was quite foggy that morning which might explain why we thought we saw a square rigger on the horizon only to have it disappear on us back into the mist. It was probably the navy’s sail training ship but it just may have been the Mary Celeste, yes?
We then visited and swam at Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, built by Henry Wylie in 1907, and the oldest surviving communal sea baths in Australia. Wylie coached his daughter, Wilhelmina (Mina) Wylie, to become the silver medal place-getter in the 100 metres freestyle event at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. She was second to Australia’s Fanny Durack – both of them performing the new Australian Crawl.
And we have only just touched on Sydney’s great swimming places. If we had time, we could have visited the Fanny Durack pool, the Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton pool, the Ian Thorpe pool and many others. They will have to wait till next time, when we will have the opportunity to collect even more togs and caps than we already did from more iconic and historic swimming places of Sydney.
‘Next time’ is likely to be from 14th to 18th November 2016. Let me know if you’d like to come along.