Bathing beauties: Ten of Australia's best sea baths

They are an intrinsic part of the Australia psyche and as iconic as the Opera House and Uluru. Strung along the NSW coastline like emerald and turquoise gems, Australia's sea baths were first built in the nineteenth century to protect bathers from surf, sharks and dangerous rips. Many were built during the Great Depression as competition swimming grew in popularity.

Sydney architect Nicole Larkin, who advocates for the conservation and revival of ocean pools, says they are a much-loved part of Australia's coastline. Roughly 100 of these bathing beauties exist from Eden in the south to Yamba in the north, with only a handful found outside of NSW. Here's where to find  10 of Australia's best sea baths – other than Bondi Icebergs, our most famous and Instagrammed ocean pool, that is.

Bermagui's Blue Pool

Aerial overlooking Blue Pool ocean pool in Bermagui.

Photo: Destination NSW

No trip to the Sapphire Coast is complete without a dip in this stunning naturally formed pool that was fashioned into proper rectangular baths in the 1930s. Waves wash over the edge delivering a variety of sea life and making it a great place to snorkel while dolphins and seals are often seen playing in the ocean beyond.

Freshwater Pool, Northern Beaches

Aerial overlooking Freshwater Rockpool, Freshwater.

Photo: Destination NSW

With a prime position on the northern promontory of Freshwater Beach, this 50 metre pool was the first for Sydney's Northern Beaches. Lap swimmers love its Olympic size and rare lane markings visible on the pool's floor. Hemmed by sandstone cliffs it offers views back across Freshwater Beach to Manly.

The Bogey Hole, Newcastle

Bogey Hole tra4oneandonlynew

Photo: City of Newcastle

Lying spectacularly beneath a rugged cliff face lies the little-known Bogey Hole (from the Aboriginal word to bathe). Convicts risked life and limb in 1819 to chisel out the private swimming hole from the exposed rock shelf for the then Commandant of Newcastle James Morisset. It's impressive when the sea is languid or when pounded by a big swell (although take care when conditions are rough). Newcastle has two other beautiful ocean pools including the southern hemisphere's largest at Merewether Beach.

Mona Vale Pool

Crowds celebrating Australia Day at Mona Vale Beach.

Photo: Destination NSW

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Sited on a rock platform that divides Mona Vale Beach from the languid Bongin Bongin Bay, Mona Vale pool offers a 30 metre pool for lap swimming and another small, shallow pool for paddling. Fishers and pelicans anticipating an easy meal are often seen on the surrounding rocks.

Yamba Pool

Aerial overlooking Yamba Ocean Pool.<br /><br />WEB USE ONLY.

Photo: My Clarence Valley/Destination NSW

The state's most northerly ocean baths are also its youngest, having been built in the 1960s.Yamba Pool sits at the southern end of the main beach alongside NSW's oldest surf club. The 33 metre pool offers vistas back across the sweeping curve of the bay and to the historic Pacific Hotel perched atop a cliff.

Coalcliff Ocean Pool

Coalcliff is a coastal community in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia, located south of Sydney.  It is primarily a residential suburb with road connection to both Sydney and Wollongong. One attraction is Sea Cliff Bridge built along the cliff just south of town.

Photo: iStock

Boasting superlative views up and down the Illawarra Coast to Sea Cliff Bridge is this much-loved ocean pool. "It's a stunning spot," says Nicole Larkin whose website nicolelarkin.com is a public data base of NSW's ocean pools. "The rock platform is mottled with erosion which makes it super interesting to explore".

Fairy Bower Pool, Manly

Crowds enjoying a swim in the Fairy Bower Ocean Pool, Manly.

Photo: Destination NSW

This magic pool adorned with Helen Leete's Oceanides sculptures sits just off the Shelley Beach coastal promenade surrounded by some of Sydney's most expensive real estate. The triangle shaped pool is possibly the smallest of Sydney's sea baths at just 20 metre in length and was cut and blast out of the rock shelf in 1929 by locals. The surrounding waters of Cabbage Tree Bay are great for snorkelling. Have a coffee afterwards at the Bower Manly.

Wylie's Baths, Coogee

Aerial view of Wylie's Baths, Coogee.

Photo: Destination NSW

South of Bondi's famous Icebergs Pool beneath the Maroubra to Bondi coastal walk you'll find the captivating Wylie's Bath. Champion long distance swimmer Henry Alexander Wylie established the first mixed gender bathing pool in 1907. With sweeping 180-degree Pacific Ocean vistas and overlooking Wedding Cake Island, the sheltered baths are well worth the $5.50 (adult) entry fee. Afterwards waft over to the Crowne Plaza Sydney Coogee Beach with its pastel coastal hues for a margarita. See wylies.com.au

Blowhole Point Rock Pool, Kiama

Aerial overlooking Blowhole Point Rock Pool, Kiama.

Photo: Destination NSW

Home to the Kiama Ice Cubes swimming club this irregular shaped pool is perched at the ocean edge to the north of Kiama Blowhole. It offers a natural rock floor, 180-degree ocean views and waves often break over the edge at high tide.

Mahon Pool, Maroubra

Swimmers enjoying Mahon Pool, Maroubra.

Photo: Anna Kucera/Destination NSW

To the north of Maroubra Beach at the base of Jack Vanny Reserve is one of Sydney's best kept secrets. Wedged between exposed rocky outcrops and the sea, the 30 metre rectangular pool is a favourite with sun lovers who bake like amphibians on the surrounding sandstone platforms.

Things to note before taking the plunge

Sunrise over Wylies Baths, Coogee.

Photo: Destination NSW

Each ocean bath has its own swimming etiquette. Some have an area dedicated to lap swimmers indicated by lane numbers or diving blocks. Other times it's everyone all in together.This is an important one: most ocean baths have a weekly cleaning schedule which typically can be found online (usually on the local council's website). Cleaning normally takes place on a low tide and can mean the pool is not open for swimming that day. Check ahead to avoid disappointment.

Just on that, the best day to take a dip is the day after a pool has been cleaned. In ocean baths where there are no clear lanes the prized spot is alongside a wall. Don't make the mistake of jumping in and swimming there if a lap swimmer has already claimed that spot. Some ocean baths, especially popular ones like Newcastle Ocean Baths and Bondi Icebergs offer a lifeguard service but most don't.

See also: The spectacular sea baths carved by convicts

See also: Beyond the beach: The 11 best places to take a dip in Australia

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