Please note the beach is not patrolled. Proceed with caution and check in here before you visit. There are many warning signs advising that the cliff jump is illegal; it's important to follow all signs and to not jump fences.
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 called Places We Swim.
This place must be human-built. Nothing else can explain the absurd combination of so many epic swimming elements in one location. A 10-metre waterfall doubles as a cliff-jump into a deep lagoon. In one direction, that lagoon stretches into tranquil native bush; in the other, it dead-ends at a white-sand beach.
Follow the sand to a calm bay where the water is impossibly clear. If we hadn’t seen it for ourselves, we wouldn’t believe it was real.
Wattamolla is the golden child of Royal National Park (35 kilometres south of the CBD), a family-friendly hotspot within easy striking distance of Sydney. For better or worse, it’s on most people’s radar and crowds swell on hot summer days and weekends – nothing like the scale of Bondi or Cronulla, but you’re guaranteed to make a few friends while swimming. We are of the opinion that not every experience needs to be solitary. Not every beautiful place has to be a secret. Wattamolla is vast and diverse enough to accommodate the needs of every visitor. Each section offers a different experience.
The cliff-jump is the first thing that most people encounter, and it's almost exclusively the territory of males aged 12 to 32 (though everyone is warmly welcomed and strongly encouraged). This is where we find our friend James teaching the younger generations his reckless swan dive. Down below is a mixed-use area.
Partners and family members of jumpers stand transfixed and slightly horrified. Children fill a natural wading pool, floating among a thriving ecosystem of inflatable animals. Groups laze about in the forest, pumping music from their mobile phones and analysing their hangovers – past, future and present.
Upstream we join the explorers – knots of couples, families and friends leaving behind the crowds to colonise pristine beaches and flat rocks. This is where we take a visiting parent who wants to enjoy the national park but isn’t up for a long bushwalk. A quick meander or swim and you can be fully immersed in nature, out of ear- and eyeshot of the masses.
The beach has its own culture, and even without the rest of the landscape it would be a top destination. A group of weekenders bypass the freshwater crowds, taking the stairs directly to the soft sand. With gazes fixed firmly on the horizon they move back and forth from the water to their towels; umbrellas mark the time as their shadows trace a slow ellipse.
Our favourite swims are along the fringing reefs and boulder-filled edges of the bay. Clear, deep water offers prime fishing and snorkelling, and even on the hottest, busiest day you feel like the only person here.
Best time to visit
The weekend summer scene has to be witnessed. Winter is great if you are crowd-averse.
How to get there
Royal National Park is between Sydney and Wollongong. Turn off the A1 at Farnell Avenue, following signs to Royal National Park. Follow the road for 13 kilometres as it changes name from Farnell Avenue to Audley Road and then to Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. A well-signed turn-off leads to Wattamolla Beach; follow Wattamolla Road about four kilometres until the car park.
Easy. Very well signed. Abundant parking.
Cost of entry
Entry to the park is $12 per vehicle; cash only.
Balmy in the lagoon, cool at the beach.
Toilets, showers, barbeques, picnic tables.
Snags for the barbeque, or kofte if you’re feeling classy.
Wattamolla is derived from a Dharawal word meaning “place near running water”.
This is an edited extract from Places We Swim by Caroline Clements and Dillion Seitchick-Reardon, published by Hardie Grant Travel. RRP $39.99, available in stores nationally and online.
For more, follow Caroline and Dillon on Instagram @placesweswim.