We must get up early to get to The Bogey Hole – probably one of the best, and the oldest ocean pool on the NSW coast. It’s a natural pool that’s been cut into rock, so we cannot go at a time of our own choosing and instead have to bow to nature and go at low tide. You can’t see the pool from the road, you walk down 50-plus steps, then keep going down a path and more steps before the view opens up to a divine space. Imagine a flat rock slightly raised at the edge of the ocean, and then some supernatural being – a Poseidon perhaps – reaches down and scoops out a handful of the rock to create a bathing pool for mortals.
The Bogey Hole was the vision of Lieutenant-Colonel James Morisset, the Commandant of Newcastle (1818-23) who in 1819 ordered convicts to cut the hole out by hand to create a pool for his personal use. I think it must have been a natural pool used by Aboriginal people and Morisset must have seen them using it and decided to enlarge it. I found an early image here and the pool has been significantly enlarged since Morisset first built it.
I think about those early settlers like Morisset realizing how beautiful and bountiful this country was – built of course on the falsehood of terra nullius. But still, to realise you could create your own private paradise on these shores is maybe somewhat akin to being a god creating your own Eden. What must Morisset have thought when he entered into his private, hand-hewn pool for the first time, just separated from the immense ocean by only a few meters of rock. I imagine him standing there naked and perhaps, at the moment, feeling like a god. A lord of convicts and indigenous people in a far land. As though to highlight this there is a cross inlaid into the wall overlooking the pool.
This is a stunning pool and a beautiful space. If you get a chance to visit, then do. Because we go early there are only a few other people there and we have the place mostly to ourselves. Access is not brilliant – the stairsteps into the water don’t do down far enough for my liking. But nothing can detract from just how incredible this pool is.
It seems like visiting another pool on the same day as The Bogey Hole would put the second pool in the shade, but Merewether Ocean Baths holds its own for totally different reasons. You aren’t coming here for the transcendent experience of a natural pool, you are coming here to swim in the largest pool in the southern hemisphere and enjoy the great facilities. I thought Forster and Newcastle Baths were big, but Merewether with its 100m by 50m main pool wins the prize. Fantastic facilities – good parking, good showers, good benches to put your clothes on before you dive in, and a very fancy-looking café at the Merewether Surfhouse mean I can see how you could spend the entire day here with family and friends. Those are the best days at an ocean pool – when the facilities mean you can be like a seal, in and out of the water, showering, drying off, having a coffee, and then getting back in again to repeat the cycle. What bliss.