Ask any board shorts-clad south coast local when the best time of year to swim is and you will almost always be told March and April. With sunny days and the southward-moving East Australia Current washing warmer waters over south coast beaches, the next two months are the perfect time to dip your big toe (or more) into the briny.
While this column recently revealed our coast's best beaches (Hidden beaches, December 5, 2014), not everyone likes being dumped by an unexpected wave. Some prefer the relative safety provided by an ocean pool, so, in anticipation of the long weekend and another invasion of Y number plates at our favourite coastal haunts, I set out on a quest to discover the south coast's best ocean pool.
Unlike my search for the best beach, which took months to decide (yes, I know, what a tough job), it didn't take me long to pick a clear winner in the ocean pool stakes, mainly because our coast has a disappointing dearth of them. While the coast north of Wollongong is dotted with dozens of ocean pools (there are about 50 in total in NSW), south of Nowra there are only a handful.
Sure, there's Huskisson (end of Owen Street) and Ulladulla (end of Wason Street) both of which are unimaginative concrete rectangular pools slapped on land above the high-tide mark. Apart from the water tasting a bit salty, a splash in their waters is not that different to a dip in Dickson pool. Heck, they even have black lines painted along the bottom of each lane - fine if you want to host a medley relay, but not if you are after a traditional ocean pool experience.
At the other end of the scale is Mollymook's Bogey Hole, which is more of a rock pool than an ocean pool and, without any walls to contain the water, is high and dry at low tide.
Further south, and apparently many years ago, Batemans Bay used to have an ocean pool (does anyone remember it?), and if you search on Google maps you can make out the location of Aslings Beach rock pool in Eden (at the northern end of Bass Street), which, unfortunately, is no longer maintained and has silted up.
That leaves Bermagui's Blue Pool as the only genuine ocean pool on the south coast, and what a gem it is.
Tucked away at the bottom of 88 steps and hacked into a rugged rocky coastline, there are no lines to mark the pool lanes here. It's jump in, and go for it. The only catch here is that
Be careful with your tumble turn at the northern end of the pool, which narrows into a small cleft in the rocks, allowing only room for one swimmer at a time. Oh, and on the way back up, be sure to breathe on your left (or coastal side) to keep an eye on the breakers, which, even at mid-tide, might start splashing over the wall, offering you that extra challenge.
Early morning is popular with regulars, some of whom brave it all year round (it was a delightful 23 degrees in the water the day I swam, but drops to a teeth-chattering 15 degrees in late winter/spring). However, once the sun is overhead, snorkellers flock to the pool for the opportunity to eyeball the marine life and families frolic in the shallower kids' wading pool adjacent.
Overlooking the Blue Pool and perched atop the cliff like an eagle's eyrie is a cantilevered lookout where you can check the conditions before traipsing down the stairs. Colourful tiles depicting shoals of fish and whale tails decorate the pavement, hinting that this is also a whale-watching spot when the wonders of the deep are migrating.
The pool might not be what it is today had philanthropist Bill Dickinson not moved to Bermagui in the mid-1930s. Local legend states that Mr Dickinson, then in his 60s, decided to move to the village after he noticed that most of those buried in the Bermagui cemetery were over 80 years of age. Soon after arriving in the town, Mr Dickinson initiated a project to develop what was then called the Blue Hole into a much more user-friendly saltwater pool.
After a plunge in the pool, make a beeline for Bermagui Gelati Clinic (adopting the "Clinic" name from the overpainted sign from the previous Bermagui Veterinary Clinic) for what is widely regarded among connoisseurs of the Italian ice-cream as the best in Australia (really!). The coffee is also top notch here, brewed in a traditional Italian espresso machine and served with a smile.
Even if tumble-turning among nudibranchs and scooping gelato into your mouth aren't your bent, without the crowds of peak season, early autumn is the best time to visit this pretty seaside village. In fact, next Saturday, Bermagui hosts its annual seaside fair, with market stalls, entertainment, exhibitions and even a sandcastle competition. It'll be fun for the whole family. I might even make the pilgrimage down Brown Mountain with the Yowie clan, but while the kids and Mrs Yowie are carefully crafting sandcastles, I might slink off to the Blue Pool, for it appears as if there might be something magical in its waters after all - I have just discovered that after moving to Bermagui, Mr Dickinson lived a healthy life well into his 80s.
Bermagui: A three-hour drive via either Cooma (Brown Mountain) or Braidwood (Clyde Mountain).
Blue Pool: Located off Scenic Drive at the base of a dramatic cliff face. This natural rock pool is flushed with ocean water and is a favourite among swimmers and snorkellers. There is a relatively new (and usually clean) toilet and shower block at the top of the stairs.
Pool critters: Although it is man-made, the pool is so well established that it has become a shelter and ecological nursery for many marine creatures, some of which, including crabs and marine snails, are known to live in the pool their whole lives, while others, such as fish and nudibranchs, are only present in the pool for part of their life cycle.
Tim's tip: If you are a lap swimmer, set the alarm early and churn out your laps before the crowds arrive. Topped off by a coffee or breakfast in town, it is the perfect way to start the day.
Bermagui Gelati Clinic: 1/6 Bunga St. Artisan gelato, dairy and sorbets using pure and fresh flavours and authentic Italian recipes. Open seven days, 10am to 6pm.
2015 Seaside Fair: This Saturday, March 14. See bermaguiseasidefair.com.
Canberra Day – I'll drink to that!
Peter Papathanasiou, formerly of Hackett and now living in London, was surprised to recently spot a beer "named after our fair city" at the aptly named Tap on the Line pub at Kew Gardens Station.
Laura Jones, deputy manager at the pub, says brewery Windsor & Eton "created the beer to celebrate links between Commonwealth countries".
The brewer's website (webrew.co.uk) describes the Canberra – New World Commonwealth Ale as a rich chestnut-coloured beer brewed with dark malts, inspired by the use of ingredients from areas of the Commonwealth, including maple syrup from Canada and hops from Australia and New Zealand.
On spotting the beer, Peter could not resist ordering a pint. However, despite its enticing name, the malty ale did not tickle the taste buds of my far-flung correspondent, who bemoans "it was warm, flat and average" – "not at all like its namesake".
Regardless of Peter's indifferent review, it is unlikely there will be a rush of Britons raising a glass of Canberra ale to mark our city's 102nd birthday this weekend, for Tap on the Line no longer stocks the beer. According to Laura, "our guests loved the beer but, sadly, it was a limited edition and we only had one barrel, which is now empty".
Besides, it seems the beer was not named after our city after all; rather, after the Canberra jet, a British bomber manufactured in large numbers in the 1950s.
Laura explains the ale is actually the brewer's third "Jubilee ale" and was inspired by the Canberra jet that flew BBC footage of the Queen's 1953 coronation "non-stop to Canada to achieve for the first time the ability of these members of the Commonwealth to see events in London on the same day that they had occurred".
I wonder if there are any other beers sporting the name Canberra?
What: Wombeyan Caves Festival.
When: Friday, March 13 to Sunday, March 15.
Where: A 2.5-hour drive to the north of Canberra via Goulburn and Taralga.
Expect: This much-loved caves reserve to be buzzing with festival activity to celebrate its 150th anniversary. There's a free concert on the Saturday from 11am to 7pm featuring food stalls with local produce, wildlife displays and, of course, live music.
Don't miss: A special choral performance by the Dividing Range Choir from the Goulburn Conservatorium of Music to be held in the Victoria Arch of the caves, which will showcase the dynamic acoustics of this cavernous space.
Did you know? The festival is part of Parks Week - an annual celebration that highlights the important role our parks play in our communities and the natural environment.
Tim's tip: Make a weekend of it – special camping and cave packages are available. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/parksweek.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: A "colourful" character in every sense.
Degree of difficulty: Medium.
Last week: Congratulations to Jeremy Hagan, of Fadden, who correctly identified last week's photo (inset) as the death mask of Sir James Simpson, which is on display in the foyer of the National Film and Sound Archive in Acton. Simpson's mask was one of 12 masks (only two of which are death masks) of prominent scientists installed during the building's life as the Institute of Anatomy (1931–1984).
Simpson was a famous Scottish obstetrician who invented the anaesthetic application of chloroform. Em Kelly, who was just beaten to the prize, reports that her favourite Simpson story involves his discovery of the effect of chloroform. "He and two medical colleagues experimentally inhaled the substance to see if it had an anaesthetic effect," explains Em, who adds, "after experiencing a cheerful mood (the laughing gas effect), they all collapsed and did not revive until the next morning ... their survival enabled them to understand that they were on to something."
Special note to both Matt Nagaiya, of Chisholm, and Brigitte Tabuteau, of Bruce, who have correctly identified almost every mystery photo so far in 2015. I wonder if one of them will be quick enough to nab today's prize?
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am today with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.
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