Bondi's Icebergs ocean baths may be Australia's most famous seaside pool, but we reckon Newcastle has three of the finest - one of them also thought to be Australia's oldest.
Newcastle Ocean Baths - 1922
Officially opened in 1922, people have been enjoying the cool depths of Newcastle Ocean Baths since 1912.
The beautiful art deco facade of the baths has been preserved, and generations of Novocastrians have learned to swim in the main pool or paddled in the adjacent children's pool - once commonly known as the Map Pool or Canoe Pool - although it wasn't constructed until the 1930s.
The Newcastle and Merewether ocean baths are both remarkable for their huge size: Merewether often claiming to be the largest in the southern hemisphere. Newcastle Ocean Baths two pools consist of one that is popular with lap swimmers at 50m x 12m with six lanes, and the adjacent larger pool a huge 75m x 45m.
The baths were hammered out of the rock shelf with the spoil carted away by horse and dray along a small rail line.
Newcastle Oceans Baths hosts facilities and changerooms, as well as lifeguard service during summer, and a small cafe.
Limited on-site parking, some street parking. Disabled access.
Merewether Ocean Baths - 1935
Constructed as a depression relief labour project and completed in 1935, Merewether Ocean Baths are thought to be the largest in the southern hemisphere.
With an overall dimension of 100m x 90m, Merewether also consists of two large pools (100m x 50m, and 100m x 27m). The two pools are divided by a wide walkway with lots of seating.
A multi-million dollar upgrade of the baths in 2014 has seen huge improvements to the baths and facilities, with new pumping equipment also meaning that cleaning and refilling the pool each week is faster.
The wider, outer pool lies against the sea, and the smaller pool is used by young children for shallow swimming.
Merewether Baths are located close to Merewether Surfhouse - a recent development featuring spectacular views, a bar and grill, cafe and pizza shop, cocktail bar and function centre.
On-site and street parking, disabled access.
The Bogey Hole
Major James Thomas Morisset has been treated historically as a bit of a tyrant and somewhere along the line gained the nickname of 'King Lash', but research by his descendants is finally starting to paint a different picture of the man who was Newcastle's longest-serving Commandant.
Appointed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, Morisset was in charge of the small colony from December 1818 until November 1823 with the instruction to develop the coal industry and open the colony for business and development.
One thing we do know about James Morisset was that he liked a bath and ordered a gang of convicts to create a bathing area for his personal use. The Commandant's Baths were hewn from a rock platform at the foot of Shepherds Hill and enlarged in the 1880s after being opened for public use.
Newcastle's Greek Orthodox community has used the Bogey Hole for its blessing of the water ceremony each January for nearly 60 years. Each year, the rector of the church throws a metal crucifix from the top of the cliff into the baths where young members of the Greek community plunge into the water after it to compete for the honour of being the one who surfaces holding the treasured crucifix aloft.
The Bogey Hole has been closed several times over the last decade or so due to the risk of rock falls and the precarious nature of the steps carved into the cliff face. The NSW government built a new stairway and platform in 2012 but, again, the Bogey Hole was closed after these new facilities were damaged by one of the notorious east coast lows that hammer the coast.
Now repaired with significant cliff stabilisation work, the beautiful jewel that is the Bogey Hole is once again open for all to enjoy.
No on-site parking. Access via the walkway on Shortland Esplanade from South Newcastle Beach, or from the York Drive carpark above the baths in King Edward Park. Not a fun walk if your knees are rubbish.
There is no disabled access nor other facilities. Nearest coffee - Estabar on Shortland Esplanade, also: gelato.
The Map Pool - Fact or Fiction?
The Mysterious Map Pool
The 'Map Pool', as it is commonly known, is the stuff of myth and legend. Many believe that the pool featured a mosaic map of the world which is still buried under the sand. Sadly, that part of the story just isn't true.
But there was, indeed, a pool with a map!
In 1937 the Mariners' Pool was constructed. This circular pool was 20 metres across, boasting a pigmented cement map of the world on the bottom. Countries, red-dyed for the Commonwealth and the rest green, were about 60cm thick, with 20cm jutting above the water line.
Shortly after construction of the Mariners' Pool, a larger pool - referred to as the Canoe Pool - was built alongside the Mariners' Pool. However, the years eventually caught up with the map, and it was removed after being damaged during the 1974 'Sygna' storm.
One thing is certain: generations of Novocastrians will still argue into the future over the legend of the Map Pool!
Images & video: Shane Williams - Five Spice Creative
Sources in this article:
- Newcastle City Council
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