Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon travelled around Australia in search of the country’s most distinctive, remarkable swimming spots. It’s all documented in a new book that’s part travel guide, part photo essay, and part cultural study.
In the early days of our trip, on a bumpy road in the South Australian desert, we happened upon two dusty architects riding across the country – Owen and Bobbie. Like a few of the lovely people we’ve met on our travels, these guys invited us to stay with them when we passed through Owen’s hometown in the Blue Mountains, where his parents still live. They probably didn’t think we’d take them up on their offer, but eight months later we arrived on their doorstep and they handed us the keys to their kingdom.
Owen and his father, Wayne, the ultimate one-two punch father-son team, were eager to show us a few of their favourite swimming spots – one of which was Clarence Dam. At first we were reluctant at the idea of an artificial swimming hole in such a natural setting, but this magnificent location soon impressed itself upon us as we pulled into the rugged track. Signs pointed us in the direction of the big dam: “The small one is for the kids,” Owen said from the driver’s seat like a tour guide.
From the car park we made our way on foot into the reserve, alongside a P-plated camo-coloured Landcruiser, which was slowly manoeuvring over huge rocks into the dry, shrubby, bushland. Dressed in native gumtrees, the landscape here feels like true-blue Australiana.
Around Christmas time, the tea-tree near the waterline turns white, like it’s somehow snow-covered in the middle of summer. The reserve is home to two disused railway dams (that feel like lakes) built to supply water for steam engines, and is still bordered at the north side by a functioning western railway corridor. But the crown land area is now used mostly for public recreation such as bushwalking, rock climbing, canyoning and swimming.
Swimmers are in for a treat. Huge pieces of ironstone protrude out of the water in soft shapes of all sizes, like artful, abstract sculptures. It’s not the water that makes this swimming hole great, it’s the rock. Some have an architectural quality, which starts to make a lot of sense when we remember we were brought here by an architect. The water is cool and deep, and we swim from a low entry point over to a large 10-metre-high wall. The drop is sheer; it’s also a rite of passage for local teenagers.
We’re about 20 years older than most, but we take the deep plunge into the cool, fresh water below, slapping the water with our feet first. In other sections there are rope swings tied to tree branches at different heights, but this is no amateur set-up. There are various jumps that range from your standard rope swing to full-on carnival trapeze, none of which should be taken lightly. If jumping isn’t your thing, floating down the river in an inflatable ring might be. Soak up this stunning landscape before you get whisked off to the next location by some local tour guides.
Best time to visit
Late summer and autumn – it takes a few months for the winter chill to leave the water.
How to get there
Located just off Bells Line of Road near Clarence. Turn off Chifley Road just before a bridge over the railway line. Drive alongside the train tracks for 1.7 kilometres before turning left to the dam. The one-kilometre dirt track is suitable for 2WD (provided you drive with caution) and leads to a large clearing where you can park. Walk 200 metres down to the water.
Moderate. Can be a bit tricky to find. It’s a bumpy dirt road in, but fine for 2WD. Take it slow.
Cost of entry
Yes, for tweens and above. This isn’t somewhere you learn to swim and there are some exposed cliff lines.
Cold enough to cool your beers in.
A tinnie to crack open after (or during) your swim.
The rock-climbing community calls this reserve the “Cosmic County Area” and it has some of the best climbing, abseiling and canyoneering in the Blue Mountains. Climbers can be found in the valley beneath the pool.
Please note the dam and surrounding area are not patrolled. Proceed with caution and take a buddy for safety.
Images and copy from Places We Swim by Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon, Hardie Grant Travel, RRP AUD $39.99. Available in stores nationally and online. For more follow Caroline and Dillon on Instagram via @placesweswim.