On a blisteringly hot Australia Day, we thought an early morning swim at Bronte would be the perfect way to greet the day….and so apparently did the rest of Sydney. Even at 6.30am the beach was packed, the car park-parked out and the cafes heaving with eager beavers. So rather than tootle around looking for that elusive parking spot we gave up and headed towards home, but then just when all hope was lost, we thought about Watsons Bay and what a friend of ours had told us earlier in the week – ‘when the beaches are packed, head for Watsons Bay and the netted harbour pool’. So we did and wow, what a revelation!
Watsons Bay is just seven miles from Sydney but, as the saying goes, a thousand miles from care. It’s a gorgeous little hamlet (Australia’s oldest fishing village) on the towering south head peninsula with its back to the Pacific – a lovely sheltered bay with perfect yellow sand beaches that look directly across the harbour to the distant city, all surrounded by lush harbourside parklands. It has world-famous waterfront restaurants, a dinky-cheeky nude-bathing beach, an iconic lighthouse and amazingly, extensive World War II defences in a labyrinth of deep sandstone-cut channels. Still to this day there are intact artillery batteries and imposing gun turrets with drop-dead views across the harbour and out towards the endless blue Pacific.
On the dark clear night of the 31st May 1942, three Japanese midget submarines attempted to enter Sydney Harbour, just off Watsons Bay when one of the submarines became entangled in the anti-submarine boom net that spanned the entire width of the harbour. After several unsuccessful attempts to free the submarine, the crew detonated charges, killing all onboard. The third submarine had the USS Chicago in its sights, anchored in the inner harbour at the time, but instead tragically hit the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors. Amazingly, the fate of this third submarine wasn’t known until 2006, when amateur divers discovered the wreck off the northern beaches.
Anyway, back to Australia Day….Watsons Bay Baths has to be one of the harbours greatest treasures and surely one of its best kept secrets. Away from the crowded madness of Bronte, we discovered a totally empty large netted harbour pool. Crystal clear deep water with shoals of iridescent fish and one humungous Araucaria heterophylla, one of my all-time favourite native trees, leaning outwards over the water and reaching for the sun.
Swimming here in the early morning light has to be one of the greatest experiences in Sydney – certainly, one of our new favourite spots, and at just seven miles from Sydney, it’s certainly a thousand miles from care.