Chilled times at MacCallum Pool. Image: Tourism NSW
When the going gets hot, the hot get wet. Forget about battling for towel space with the holiday hordes at Bondi during summer. We've got 10 of Sydney's top spots to cool off covered, from the uncrowded and unknown beaches to harbour pools with knockout views.
Frenchmans Bay Reserve, La Perouse
On the shores of Botany Bay, where then Lieutenant James Cook first stepped ashore on the continent in 1770 and claimed the land for Britain, is a beach named for one of the great could-have-been moments in history. French explorer Comte de Laperouse landed here just days after the First Fleet in January 1788 (they had moved on to Camp Cove and Port Jackson, otherwise known as Sydney Harbour), narrowly missing out on the chance to claim the country for France. Electric barbecues are free.
Shelly Beach, Manly
From the southern end of Manly Beach walk down Marine Parade to tiny Shelly Beach, a sheltered north-facing pocket of sand overlooked by most visitors but a favourite with locals, especially those with kids. It's also a terrific snorkelling spot with lots of fish and there are six free gas barbecues and picnic facilities.
Parsley Bay and Nielsen Park, Vaucluse
Parsley Bay and Nielsen Park
I've put these two sheltered harbour beaches together as one because they are only a few minutes' walk apart. Both are flanked by shady parklands and seem to be the secret playground of the lucky locals that live nearby. Go and spoil their fun by rolling out a picnic blanket and staking some of their territory as your own. Don't let the fact that the beach in Nielsen Park is called Shark Beach; both beaches have shark-proof swimming areas and are great for small kids.
Not exactly a pool, but not really a beach either, this deep bay is a great place to do some serious lap swimming. Wear a snorkel and mask for a free wildlife show while working out. You won't see sharks but you will see plenty of fish and maybe even an octopus or two. The star attraction is Bluey, a friendly male groper. If you prefer a more traditional pool there's a 25m pool with marked lanes alongside the bay. Bundock Park is located directly adjacent to and behind the beach and has free BBQs at either end.
Image: J Bar
McIvers Baths, Coogee
Also known as Ladies or Womens Baths, this 20m ocean pool perched on a cliff face at Coogee is reserved for women and children only - and has been since 1876. It's the last remaining women's only seawater pool in Australia and has an exemption under the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act. The track to the pool is steep, but the pool is well screened so it's great for those that like their privacy.
MacCallum Pool, Milson Road, Cremorne
This 1920s lap pool is long and only two lanes wide but it has knockout views of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and city skyline. No wonder sidestroke's so popular here. The timber deck is the place to soak up the sun. It's open daily (closed for cleaning once a week for approximately six hours, usually on a Thursday or Friday).
Image: Wiebke Grauel.
North Head, Manly
Sydney's northern harbour, near Manly, is home to the only breeding colony of Little Penguins (sometimes called 'fairy penguins') on mainland NSW. They're highly endangered, and the population of the colony is currently only around 50-60 pairs. Best place to see them is at Collins Beach on North Head and around the old Quarantine Station (now called Q Station). You can also see them at neighbouring Store Beach but the only way in is by boat. If you don't have a yacht or dingy handy, hire a kayak at Manly Wharf (www.manlykayakcentre.com.au) and paddle - it'll take you around 20 minutes.
Jibbon Beach, Bundeena
On Sydney's southern outskirts near the sleepy little village of Bundeena is Jibbon Beach. It's part of the Royal National Park, and really only visited by locals and those in the know, so seldom gets really crowded. What makes it really special are the Aboriginal rock engravings on the headlands. If you don't feel like driving through the national park to get there, take a 20-minute ferry ride from Cronulla.
Headland Park and Chowder Bay, via Middle Head Road, Mosman
This former military site on Middle Head has great views, as well as walking tacks, a sculpture trail, spectacular lookouts (many of which were off limits to the public until a couple of years ago), and some interesting historic fortifications. The beach at Chowder Bay at the bottom of Headland Park is lovely and has a netted swimming enclosure.
Splasher's Water Playground and Waterslide
Cool the kids down at the water playground at Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre (www.aquaticcentre.com.au), where they can get wet and wild on the rapid river ride, bubbling beach fountains and spurting volcanoes. There's even a gigantic bucket that fills with water and splashes into the pool below and water slides. The Aquatic Centre is open Mon-Fri 5am-9pm, weekends 6am-8pm, and Splasher's is open 10am-7pm. The waterslide opens at 3pm on weekdays, 10am on weekends and during school holidays. Entry to the Waterslide and Splasher's Playground is $7 for adults ($3.40 if you don't want to get wet) and $5.70 for kids.
What's your top Sydney spot for a cool-off? Tell us below.
Related video: NSW's best beaches