Forster is named after a 19th century NSW Premier.
My experience in the pool
Forster Ocean Baths are an absolute delight. If you’re heading north, as I am on this quest to swim in all the NSW outdoor swimming enclosures, make the most of Forster because there aren’t many more genuine ocean pools between here and the Queensland border.
Forster Baths must have been all the more amazing when they were first built, when they had tea gardens, a dance hall and, of all things, a casino, attached to the site. You also had to pay to swim in those days, but honestly, if I could take tea, have a dance and have a little flutter too, I’d be willing to pay to swim in Forster Baths. What idiot decided it was time to pull down the buildings themselves that housed all that, so preventing idiots like me who would dream of reopening it all – maybe minus the casino – in 2017…
Anyway, on this bright mid-May morning the baths looked impeccable as I wandered over to them from the car park. There was nobody in the water, though I did spot another gent getting changed ready to take the plunge, and when I got in I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the water temperature was (though I have finally taken others’ advice and got myself a swim cap as most of my heat was escaping out of my exposed scalp).
The pool has a 50m section that runs east-west, though most people seemed to prefer swimming north-south with the waves crashing into the wall beside you as you swim.
I tried both and the water was really fine depth-wise whichever way you choose to swim. Now here’s a warning about Forster Ocean Baths, though. If you do choose to swim north-south – or more precisely south-north – beware of the slight dog leg in the pool wall. I had noticed it vaguely but not thought any more about it until I found myself admiring the tall gum trees to the south of the pool as I swam my backstroke, and then ploughed straight into the barnacle-covered wall exactly where it changes angle.
I didn’t know quite how scratched and bloodied I was until I got out and dried off, with big red patches on my towel. I think in the open ocean here at Forster, I’d have been a beaming headlight drawing the sharks in on my trail of blood, but thankfully this is a proper rock pool with fully functional walls to keep those beasts out.
So no sharks in Forster Ocean Baths, but there are lots of little fish darting about, especially in the shallow waters nearer the sand, and of course around the sea weed that collects right by the ocean wall, presumably because the ocean at high tide dumps a load of it into the pool (I noted that the local council cleans the pool even in winter so the next clean was written up as 2 June).
I loved Forster Baths and if I hadn’t had that incident with my wayward backstroke I’d have stayed in longer and enjoyed the water, the wildlife and the thoughts of swimming carnivals here in years gone by, not to mention the dancing, tea drinking and gambling going on round here. There must be quite a story to tell about Forster and I’d love to speak to anyone who has done any of the three non-swimming activities associated with the place.
Getting there, getting in, getting changed
Some of the buses from Newcastle to Taree take the coastal route and stop in Forster. But I drove up, and midweek in May there was plenty of parking available near the ocean baths.
There are lots of options for getting into the water at Forster Ocean Baths. Paddle in via the sandy beach; take the excellent disabled access via the wide and shallow ramp; clamber in via the many vertical steps dotted around the walls of the pool; or just jump in. I would not recommend diving in these days; it’s just not deep enough I don’t think.
There are showers by the poolside outside and also in the changing rooms just by the baths. It’s such a shame they got rid of the old buildings that housed the tea rooms, dance hall and casino here at Forster. And no hint that they ever existed, so check out the links in the History section here for more on that.
It’s possible to swim in Forster Ocean Baths on any tide. I imagine on a king tide in a storm, this calm place will become a washing machine, though.
History and stories about the pool
On 20 December 1935 Forster Ocean Baths were opened to the public. The official opening was in January 1936, when 1,500 people came. The Wingham Chronicle reported on the speeches at the opening, in which it was claimed the baths ‘excelled anything in Australia’. They gave the opportunity for ‘healthy open-air sport for manly men and womanly women…’ said one speaker!
The baths were built by emergency relief workers. But on opening day they only managed 4’6” depth due to neap tides…And depth proved to be an issue for many years too. The ‘sand menace’ seemed to need frequent clearing, leading to repeated letters to the local papers about ‘mud hole’ baths and water ankle deep even in the 1950s (thanks again to the fantastic Trove website for these gems).
The Northern Champion newspaper from Taree of 25 December 1937 called Forster Baths ‘The Pearl of the Pacific’ We have everything to keep you cool. A swimming pool of unrivalled beauty, shady trees and beautiful lawns. The Modern Café and Milk Bar can supply all your requirements in the way of cool drinks, ice cream etc.’ – I sometimes wonder if I was born in the wrong era, but then I’m not sure how good the coffee would have been back in 1937 before the Italian immigrants arrived to transform Aussie taste buds…
In 1950 admission to the baths was 6d – 2d for kids.
Check this history of the NSW Great Lakes area for some history and pics of the Baths in those early days, including the casino building! And there were adverts in the local paper in 1954 for tenders to operate the Forster Baths and Casino!
I haven’t managed to find any more recent stories about Forster Ocean Baths. Even the sign with information by the pool only talks of its opening, and in particular omits to say when they pulled down the dance hall and casino… Does anyone know??
People I met at the pool
By the time I left the water in Forster there were a few people in the baths, but I needed to rush off and get some medical help for my bloodied back so didn’t get a chance to chat. The lone guy swimming when I got there was as surprised as me that the pool was empty, but we were both too busy swimming to keep warm and didn’t really engage in conversation.
What’s your story? Any memories of swimming here? Any stories to tell? Or did you just have swimming lessons in days gone by?
Whatever you have to say, however brief, I’d love to hear from you and will add any stories to this section of the site as and when I receive them. Add your comment or story under ‘Leave a Reply’ below.
Links to other articles on this pool
I didn’t see any of the usual swim bloggers writing about Forster Ocean Baths.
This Sydney blogger had a weekend away up the mid-north coast of NSW and came to Forster in 2016.
And in 2015 the Travel at the Speed of Life blogger came to Forster and visited the ocean baths.
Coffee, tea or milkshake after the swim?
It’s only a five minute walk from the Baths back into the main street of Forster, where there is a great spot for that post swim coffee or tea.
Tartt Forster – 12 Wharf Street, Forster, NSW 2428
Open Daily 7am; Closes 4pm, with evening opening on Friday and Saturday.
I never thought I’d find a coffee shop as good as this in a little town like Forster. They roast their own coffee beans, so that’s a bit special for a small town, too. And they’re really friendly, too.
I have been here now both on a quiet midweek morning and on a busy holiday weekend, but managed to get a seat out on the terrace even at peak time on a Sunday. Seats inside too, or take a stool and look out to people walking past and beyond to the coast.