Continental Baths, Wollongong
The name Wollongong comes from the local Aboriginal word for ‘seas of the south’
My experience in the pool
This is a pool where people work hard. The main pool is organised into four wide lanes, allowing everyone to swim clockwise with a passing channel down the middle.
On a cloudy morning in early February, there were about 10 people in the water, all doing freestyle at a fair lick. I joined two others in one ‘lane’ for my 600m swim – a really good work out for a new arrival still unused to doing 50m laps in salt water.
The pool is a fairly consistent depth, starting at about 1.5m in the shallow end and heading up to 1.8m at the deep end. If you want to wade or to lounge around, best use the pool next door, which is almost as wide as the main pool but still 50m long.
The only downside to the workmanlike approach to swimming here is that I didn’t feel comfortable switching to backstroke for part of my swim, though I may give it a try in a future swim once I’m more used to the local etiquette.
It’s a fantastic resource, though, and totally free entry, so don’t be put off if you’re a first-timer in the area and imagine – as I did – that there would be an entrance fee to pay because it looks at first like a formal swimming baths complex rather than a rock pool.
Getting there, getting in, getting changed
The Continental Baths are a five minute walk from Wollongong’s main harbour. If you’re driving, you won’t at first see the pool, even if you are lucky enough to find a parking spot directly above it in Cliff Road (I parked further north, towards the North Pavilion).
At the shallow end there are shallow steps to get you in the water gradually, but don’t forget this pool is 1.5m even here. At the deep end, there are vertical steps.
There is a disabled ramp directly into the water from the pavilion entrance for the smaller wading pool.
Excellent changing facilities with hot showers (3 minutes maximum).
These baths are no longer tidal. Peer over the edge of the baths to the seaward side and you’ll see the original wall of the baths, but this is well below the height of the present day baths.
Other practical points
Lifeguards on watch throughout pool opening times.
Times vary slightly through different seasons but for the current winter timetable (till 18 September 2015) – 6am – 2pm Tuesday – Sunday (closed Mondays)
History and stories of the pool
The Continental Baths have been on this site since the 1920s (see the plaque at the entrance to the pavilion marking the official opening by Wollongong’s mayor). There are also photos on the wall of the pavilion showing the changing shape and popularity of the baths through the decades.
Of course, they were called ‘Continental’ because at the time they were built, gender segregation was the norm for public swimming. Mixed swimming was seen as a very modern habit following the ‘European’ (hence ‘Continental’, but not British) approach.
The now defunct website nswoceanbaths.info revealed that the baths were built by volunteer men, with lady volunteers serving the workers afternoon tea!
The same website spoke of a storm blowing a ship onto the rocks by the pool in 1955; and of a blue-ringer octopus being found in the pool by cleaners one morning in 2000.
People I met here included:
No chance so far to meet anybody for a chat here; far too workmanlike for idle things such as chit-chat; or maybe it was the cool morning making everyone rush off after their swim.
What’s your story? Any memories of swimming here? Any stories to tell? Or did you just have swimming lessons in the cold of winter in the 1960s?
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
This is the Wollongong Swimming Club’s background piece on the baths: WollongongSwimming Club website
In 2010 the NSW Ocean Baths blogger visited
In 2012 the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about the pool
In 2014 Swimming blogger Sally visited
Coffee, tea or milkshake after the swim?
Directly above the pool on Cliff Road are two coffee shops side by side. I liked them both.
Blu Orange – is the new kid on the block, having only opened in 2014. They use a coffee roasted by Chachis, a smaller local roaster. I like the colour scheme here. Open daily from 7am.
Aqua: they use the better known Toby’s Estate and they bake their own cakes, muffins and other nibbles to have after your swim. Aqua is open daily from 6am to 3pm (but open also for evening meals)
Both have fantastic views looking out to sea (though over the road).
Aqua seems more popular with groups of cyclists, so if you like the lycra this is for you; if you like it a bit quieter, go for BluOrange.
For the best coffee in the area (in my view, anyway), I say it’s worth going the extra mile to:
For coffee: Swell Coffee
Behind 135 Crown Street (down the alleyway to the left of number 135).
Otherwise open from till 3pm (1pm on Saturdays)
Some say this is the best coffee in Illawarra; others have compared it to Sydney’s best. It is certainly worth the mile or so walk from the baths, because these guys really care about the quality in their coffee and love to talk about it. Also great toasted banana bread (and pear and raspberry worth a try too).
There’s seating inside but also a terrace out the back, and lots of coffee paraphernalia for sale if you want to try this at home!