Places We Swim was borne out of a desire to better know Australia. Like so many of us, we had largely taken our home for granted. The allure of inexpensive, exotic destinations in Asia and Latin America is hard to resist while the indulgence of basking in European summers is undeniable. And yet, it has become clear to us that it is not where you travel, but how you travel. Particularly if you are seeking outdoor adventures.
For people that like to swim, surf, dive, camp, climb, and hike, there is hardly a better place to be than Australia. Over the past few years, we’ve slowed down our trips to focus more on spending time here at home. In a country so defined by water, swimming is the natural access point to best explore and understand our Australian experience. Through Places We Swim, we’ve tried to channel that very same curiosity and enthusiasm that was once reserved for overseas travel into discovering what’s in our backyard.
Australia offers some of the most varied wilderness on the planet. Our travels have taken us to remote and isolated destinations that are thousands of kilometres from any human settlement, and also to the many hidden pockets of wilderness surrounding our capital cities. We are such a thoroughly urbanised population that it takes very little travel to have a piece of nature all to ourselves.
These are our favourite Australian swimming holes that are a short drive from a capital city.
TANGALOOMA WRECKS, MORETON ISLAND
Distance from Brisbane – (30 minutes to Moreton Island ferry terminal + 75-minute ferry)
In the 1980s the Queensland government decommissioned and sunk 15 vessels off the western beach at Moreton Island. The intention was to create a breakwater and safe harbour for boats, but the inadvertent result was to create a thriving reef ecosystem and some of the best snorkeling you will ever see. A deep, narrow trench of water (about 20m) is all that separates the beach from 600 metres of continuous shipwreck. Coral has thoroughly colonized these vessels, creating a building block for all manner of tropical fish, turtles, wobbegong sharks (the friendly kind), and stingrays.
Local tip: depending on the tide, the current will sweep you along the channel like a conveyer belt past the ships at a steady pace. Observe which direction people are drifting before jumping in. If you don’t see enough of the view on your first pass, simply walk back to the start and jump in again for another lap.
Sydney, New South Wales
RESOLUTE BEACH, KU-RING-GAI- CHASE NATIONAL PARK
Distance from Sydney CBD – 29kms (about an hour drive to Palm Beach Ferry + 15 minutes ferry time)
If you look at a map, you will notice that Sydney is full of national parks and also surrounded by them on all sides, making it an ideal city for water lovers and the number one destination for some of the best swimming holes in Australia. For our purposes, Ku-ring-gai-Chase National Park is the complete package – less than an hour from the CBD, abundant swims, great bushwalking, and access to aboriginal art sites. The national park is a narrow peninsula that extends into the Hawkesbury River, parallel to Palm Beach, but seemingly worlds apart. We take the ferry from Palm Beach to Great Mackerel Beach and then walk the 1.2km track north to Resolute Beach. Swimming and hiking here give you a taste of the landscape before colonisation. We like to do a loop past West Head and the Red Hands Cave for a little extra walk. Just be sure to get back to Great Mackerel in time for the return ferry.
Local tip: grab a few pastries from La Banette in Avalon to compliment your usual picnic fare.
BUSHRANGERS BAY, CAPE SCHANCK
Distance from Melbourne CBD – 105kms (about an hour's drive)
The Mornington Peninsula is probably most famous for its blue-chip towns, Portsea and Sorrento, yet a closer look reveals no shortage of wild places and some of the best swimming holes near Melbourne. Bushrangers Bay is a series of private tidal rock pools hidden amid a surreal volcanic landscape. The six-kilometre return walk is easy, but enough to reduce any would-be crowds. We park at the Cape Schanck lighthouse and time our walk with a dropping tide. Skip the beach, which has bad rips, and look for the pools at the base of the prominent black rock outcrop. The natural baths come in every size, from personal to Olympic and it is easy to spend the day discovering new spots and scrambling around the rocky headlands.
Local tip: these pools are only accessible and safe when the tide is low and can still be risky if there is a bit of swell. For the best conditions, pick a summer day with a small swell and northerly winds to tame the Southern Ocean.
CHINAMANS BAY, MARIA ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Distance from Hobart – 86km (about 75 minutes to Triabunna + half-hour ferry)
Maria Island features the same granite mountains, white sandy beaches, and photogenic isthmus as the nearby Freycinet Peninsula (home of Wineglass Bay), but with a fraction of the crowds. Contrary to public perception, Tassie’s east coast is reliably sunny and dry year-round, so the main element you have to contend with is cold water. For a swim, we love the calm, secluded, and impossibly clear water of Chinamans Bay, which is easily accessed from campsites at French’s Farm or Encampment Cove. There is something quite surreal about sharing the coast with defunct convict era buildings, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. We think of it as The Princess Bride meets ecotourism.
Local tip: National Parks Pass required. All campsites on Maria Island are free of charge, other than Darlington (which is $7pp).
Adelaide, South Australia
SECOND VALLEY, FLEURIEU PENINSULA
Image: Jackson Groves
Distance from Adelaide – 90kms (about a 75-minute drive)
Adelaide is a great base for all manner of swimming missions, as the city quickly gives way to heritage towns and wineries. Second Valley could easily be mistaken for southern Portugal or Spain, where rocky cliffs fall into clear, calm water. Kangaroo Island protects this stretch of coast from most swells, so it’s just a matter of picking a sunny day. Park at the Second Valley caravan park and walk downhill to the jetty. The main swimming hole is to the left of the jetty, following a well-worn path up and into the next rocky bay. This is a popular rock jumping spot. Be careful and don’t do anything silly.
Local tip: this is a beloved local spot, so weekends can get busy. Nevertheless, this area can handle a crowd and you can always swim a little further for more privacy.
Perth, Western Australia
CASTLE ROCK, CAPE NATURALISTE NATIONAL PARK
Distance from Perth – 255kms (about 3 hours drive)
We simply can’t get enough of Castle Rock. The landscape around here is gentle and hospitable, even the sun seems to have a little less bite than usual. Just two kilometres west of Dunsborough, Castle Rock is a pristine wilderness of blue water and burnt orange boulders. It’s the first and our favourite of a series of calm bays and beaches that extend from Meelup Regional Park to Cape Naturaliste. The water here still carries all of the warmth of the Indian Ocean and makes for good swimming year around.
Local tip: Castle Rock in the springtime is one of the best places on the west coast to see migrating humpback whales and their calves.
Darwin, Northern Territory
TJAYNERA (SANDY CREEK) FALLS, LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
Distance from Darwin – 145kms (about a two-hour drive)
Tjaynera Falls is a miraculously under-visited waterfall nestled within the top end’s busiest national park. Almost everyone that goes to Darwin will make a trip to Litchfield, and rightfully so. The tiny park is home to some of the most picturesque freshwater swimming holes in Australia. Despite being only minutes from the popular Wangi Falls and Buley Rockhole, Tjaynera benefits from a short stretch of 4WD road to thin out traffic. Park at the Tjaynera campground and take the 1.4-kilometre track to the waterfall. It’s an awe-inspiring pool, with all of the magic and discovery of finding a lost city clad in ferns and jungle vines. Water tumbles some fifty metres from the overhanging sandstone cliff into a seemingly bottomless pool.
Local tip: because we know that you are going to ask. Park rangers survey this pool for saltwater crocs each season before opening the pool. Observe the signs at the campground for the most current information. Only swim in established locations in the Top End.
If you don’t have a 4WD, wait for someone to pass at the creek crossing and hitch a ride in. Territorians love an opportunity to show off their wheels.
Images: Dillon Seitchik-Reardon
Dillon Seitchik-Reardon and Caroline Clements are the authors of Places We Swim. Follow them @placesweswim / buy the book placesweswim.com