In summer, there are two Sydneys: the beach and harbourside neighbourhoods that benefit from cooler temperatures and proximity to water, and the baking, inland western suburbs. The west might not have beaches, but it offers plenty of nature's swimming pools: lakes, rivers, creeks and water holes. Go west for wild swimming at some of these spots.
Lake Parramatta – Lake Parramatta Reserve, North Parramatta
This shady swimming spot was reopened in 2015 to revitalise Lake Parramatta, so a lot of effort has gone into making it accessible; there is a lifeguard on duty every weekend between October 29 and March 25, lots of parking, toilets, picnic tables, a kiosk and a roped-off swimming area separating the kids from the canoeists. Less safety-conscious is the jumping from the rocks across from the riverbank, but that’s part of the experience. Pair a dip with a walk or ride on one of the reserve’s trails.
28 Bourke Street, North Parramatta. Entry via Lackey Street.
7 minutes from Parramatta. 36 minutes from Sydney
Jelly Bean Pool and Blue Pool – Glenbrook
Glenbrook offers a two-for-one deal on swimming holes. Jelly Bean Pool and Blue Pool are near the city-side entrance to the Blue Mountains National Park and are (approximately) 15 minutes’ walk from each other (you can also drive between them).
Jelly Bean Pool is surrounded by the walls of the Glenbrook Gorge and there are large rocks for perching, around its edges, with overhangs providing shade. There is also a substantial sand bank that gives this spot a bush-beach quality and space for lounging. The spot is popular with families, so hardly solitary, but still feels enclosed and private. There are also rocks to climb, but jumping from them into the blue-green is probably not safe. You can park in the main car park on Bruce Road and walk down the slope to the pool (15 minutes) or you can drive into the national park and find a spot at the Jelly Bean Pool car park, which is closer (10 minutes’ walk).
Blue Pool is down a set of steep stairs from a small, gravelly car park (if you choose not to walk down from the main car park on Bruce Road) and along a short and verdant track (10 minutes’ walk). Fewer people tend to visit this one and the rocks at the pool’s edge (while slippery) offer easy, natural access to the water.
Bruce Road, Blue Mountains National Park. Off Great Western Highway at Ross Street. $8 national-park entry fee per car.
40 minutes from Parramatta. 1 hour, 5 minutes from Sydney.
Kentlyn Basin, Keith Longhurst Reserve – Kentlyn
Not far east of Campbelltown, the Keith Longhurst Reserve is bisected by the Georges River (which flows through the southern and south-western suburbs of Sydney and into Botany Bay). The swimming spot there, known to locals as The Basin, is along The Basin Walking Track (two kilometres return, moderate difficulty). The swimming hole has stone banks and a small waterfall and is easy to access. Parking is available at the start of the walking track.
Georges River Nature Reserve, Georges River Road, Kentlyn
1 hour from Parramatta. 1 hour, 10 minutes from Sydney.
Bents Basin, Bents Basin State Conservation Area – Greendale
This spot is near Camden and Penrith. As well as a large area for swimming, Bents Basin offers a picnic area, nearby parking and a campground if you’re planning a longer visit. Also part of the conservation area is Caleys lookout track (1.2 kilometres return), which starts at the back of the picnic area and goes up to a view over the tops of the eucalypts to the basin.
There’s no beach around the pool but there are big rocks at the water’s edge. On the far side of the basin there’s a four-metre rock face for dive-bombing.
Bents Basin Camping, 525 Wolstenholme Avenue, Greendale. Access from Bents Basin Picnic Area or the Bents Basin Campground. $8 entry fee per car, per day.
50 minutes from Parramatta. 1 hour, 10 minutes from Sydney.
Minerva Pool – Dharawal National Park
The Dharawal National Park south of Campbelltown offers a number of walks, but the one leading to Minerva Pool is the 10T Management Trail (2.4 kilometres return) in the north-western corner of the national park. It is fed by a creek and has a small waterfall.
There is a viewing platform above the pool with a picnic table and chairs. And a rock island in the middle for your best mermaid/merman impersonations.
Access Minerva Pools from Dharawal National Park’s north-west entry off Victoria Road.
1 hour from Parramatta. 1 hour, 10 minutes from Sydney.
Mermaids Pools – Tahmoor Canyon
Speaking of, if you pick just one swimming spot from this list, choose Mermaids Pools. It’s set 40 metres down, at the bottom of a natural amphitheatre surrounded by sheer cliff walls. The walk in can take up to an hour (a moderately hard, not-very-well-signed, two-kilometre walk that involves some rock-hopping and scrambling), but it is more than worth it. Once you arrive what emerges in front of you is a quintessentially Australian scene: the ombre effect of the surrounding rock face sets off the colours of the deep, dark-green waters fed via waterfall. Take your first plunge via the rope swing. For safety, this one isn’t recommended for children, and there is very little mobile-phone reception (you’ll have to “latergram” this one).
Mermaids Pool, Rockford Road, Tahmoor
1 hour, 10 minutes from Parramatta. 1 hour, 40 minutes from Sydney.
Wet ‘n’ Wild – Prospect
The other kind of wild swimming offered in the west. One-day general admission is $80. Kids $70. Passes and packs are available, too.
427 Reservoir Road, Prospect
17 minutes from Parramatta. 45 minutes from Sydney.