Sydney pools




David Whitley fights the jetlag in Sydney by surrendering to what the city does best – splashing around in the water.


It’s 6.30am, and I’ve already been awake for two-and-a-half hours. Such are the joys of jetlag. Eventually, I’ve given up trying to get back to sleep and figured that if I’m wide awake, I may as well use that awakeness. Hence I’m stood at the edge of the Andrew Boy Charlton pool – arguably the most beautifully-sited public swimming pool in the whole world. It sits on the cusp of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, looking out over the harbour and the warships at Woolloomooloo.


I’ve never been here this early. Previous visits have been at the weekend, when the Boy Charlton pool seems to turn into a gay social club. I’m not alone, though. Before me, people with sickeningly toned bodies are pounding up and down the lanes with a relentless ferocity. At home, I end up in the fast lane purely because it’s the only way I can avoid being stuck behind middle-aged women doing breaststroke extraordinarily slowly whilst trying to stop their hair getting wet. In Sydney, I’m a middle-laner at best.


For all the agreeable aspects of Sydney – and there are many – few hold a candle to the joys of being in the water. Swimming is part of the lifestyle here, and not just at the laned outdoor pools such as the Andrew Boy Charlton. Many of the beaches along Sydney’s coastline (and there’s a phenomenally greedy number of them) have walled off seawater pools alongside them. The spray of the surf still slops over the edge, but you can still go for a safe swim amongst the coastal rocks. 


Along the harbour are numerous safe swimming beaches, where the surf gives way to the placid harbour waters. Balmoral on the north shore is the most famous of the harbour beaches, but Lady Bay at the South Head is the braver choice. It’s Sydney’s most famous nude beach, and if you enjoy the sight of leathery testicles dangling from paunchy old men, you should be in heaven. Ignore your immediate surroundings, however, and there’s a liberated joy to be gained from skinny dipping in the world’s most famous harbour. Jumping out to give a ‘wave’ to passing ferries is always a marvellous form of entertainment, too.


But if it’s that’s what you’re after, there’s no finer free entertainment than heading to the beach for the day and taking on the surf. You don’t have to go anywhere near a surfboard to enjoy it. Jumping the waves as they crash into the shore takes you back to childhood, whilst trying to ride the breaks and bodysurf your way back to the beach is a gloriously simplistic way to pass the hours. Some beaches are better than others for this – Coogee puts you through something of a washing machine effect, Bondi can have hundreds of bodies in the way, Bronte tends to attract a fair bit of seaweed. But it’s a key part of why Sydney’s my favourite city in the world.


Disclosure: David was a guest of Tourism New South Wales ( and arguably the world’s coolest hostel, the Sydney Harbour YHA ( It hovers above an archaeological dig and has awesome harbour views from the rooftop terrace.