Sydney places to swim besides the beach: Six of the best freshwater swimming spots

Ready to cool off? Sydney's beaches may be world famous but they are not the only place to take the plunge. Try one of these inland swims and experience a fresh way to get wet. From sandy river beaches to bush-shaded waterholes and soaring sandstone gorges, these freshwater favourites offer a deliciously different way to get in the swim.

LAP IT UP: KARLOO POOLS

From Wattamolla to Burning Palms, the Royal National Park is known for its beaches, but those aren't its only inviting swim spots. We love the pretty Karloo Pools for several reasons, not least the fact that you don't need a car to get here. Take the train to Heathcote Station where you can join the Karloo Walking Track– the turn-off to the pools is about halfway along the track, four kilometres or so from the station. Surrounded by rock ledges and fed by a gently-trickling stream, the clear green water is amazingly inviting. The largest pool is big enough to do a few laps in.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: SIMMOS BEACH

Two people sit in the sand at Simmo’s Beach in Sydney. 9th Oct 2020. Photo: Steven Saphore / SMH
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Photo: Steven Saphore

There are several popular places to swim on the Georges River - Oatley Bay Baths and Como Baths come to mind - but if you're looking for a spot that's off the beaten track, Simmos Beach at Macquarie Fields is a great pick. Adjoining the sandy beach – named after a local sand miner – you will find plenty of family-friendly facilities including picnic tables, playgrounds and toilets. If lazing around isn't your style, you can alternate between swimming and strolling – there are several walking trails that wend their way through the surrounding bushland reserve.

NORTH STAR: UPPER GLEDHILL FALLS

Upper Gledhill Falls on McCarrs Creek in the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, Sydney. For a story on Sydney’s hidden waterholes. Photographed Thursday 21st January 2021. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 210121

Photo: James Brickwood

Most visitors to the Northern Beaches head straight for the shore, unaware that the area has waterholes as well as beaches. This lovely waterhole on McCarrs Creek is particularly easy to miss – you need to know where you're going in order to find it. About four and a half kilometres down McCarrs Creek Road there is a small, easy-to-miss bridge over the creek. Park here and head towards the river; turn right to reach the falls or left to reach the pool, which sits in a serene bush setting. There is even a small sandy beach. It's a remarkably tranquil spot given its proximity to the road.

ROCK HOPPING: GLENBROOK CREEK

NEWS: Lydia Anderson cools off in Glenbrook Gorge as temperatures are expected to reach 40 degrees in Sydney's west this weekend. 22nd January 2021, Photo: Wolter Peeters, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Photo: Wolter Peeters

Fair warning: you are going to need a swim by the time you reach this Lower Blue Mountains swim spot. The Glenbrook Gorge track, which starts outside the Glenbrook Information Centre and takes you down to Glenbrook Creek, is only three kilometres long but it's a challenging hike, including some rock hopping along the way. The creek itself, sheltered within the soaring walls of the gorge, is a lovely place to cool down. Keep an eye out for the 110-year-old railway tunnel; the rubble from its construction still sits on the sandbar where Glenbrook Creek meets the Nepean River. And a word of warning: the gorge is dangerous after rain, so steer clear.

INTO THE WOODS: BENTS BASIN

NEWS: People cool off in Bents Basin as temperatures are expected to reach 40 degrees in Sydney's west this weekend. 22nd January 2021, Photo: Wolter Peeters, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Photo: Wolter Peeters

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Head 15 kilometres south from Wallacia to reach Bents Basin, a state conservation area with a wonderfully wild feel thanks to the wooded escarpments that rise above the water. There is no beach as such, but you can enter the river from several spots. At Bents Basin you can choose your own adventure, floating in the calm waters or riding the rapids that are slightly further upstream. There are also rock pools past the rapids, but to reach them you have to be an experienced rock scrambler.

PLUNGE IN: NELLIE'S GLEN

The Illawarra remains one of our most underrated day trip destinations and Budderoo National Park, southwest of Wollongong, is one of its hidden gems. If you've never seen the aquamarine glow of the Blue Pool or the gorgeous Carrington Falls, which plunges dramatically to the valley floor 50 metres below, you're in for a treat. Best of all, however, is Nellie's Glen, sitting just 100 metres from the falls, which provide a soothing soundtrack. The pool has its own small cascade at one end; position yourself beneath it for a natural shoulder massage.

See also: Beyond the beach: Six of the best freshwater swims around Melbourne

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