The swim spot made for winter:  Prince Alfred Park Pool

The swim spot made for winter: Prince Alfred Park Pool

Brace against the cold with warmer water temperatures at this reborn inner-city landmark, writes Caroline Clements. Images by Dillon Seitchik-Reardon.

It’s just after 7am on a crisp Wednesday and it's peak hour at Prince Alfred Park Pool. Regulars set the pace with strokes up and down the 50-metre blue and white roped lanes. On the sidelines, lifeguards put out signage for fast, medium and slow swimmers. Steam rises up over the pool as patrons undress on the sidelines. Warm feet hit cold, cold concrete; cold air hits bare chests. There’s a similar thing happening at pools around the country at the exact same time today. 

While many take a break from the water at this time of year — opting instead for warmer, indoor pursuits — a committed group of swimmers pull on an extra cap and dive in. 

This celebrated public facility is at the edge of central Sydney, on the border of the city and Surry Hills. At peak hour it’s an ode the Australian psyche — a meeting point, a melting pot, a place to exercise and socialise. It’s hard to imagine it wasn’t ever here; it feels so much a part of the green urban landscape of its surrounding park.

In 2013 a major overhaul was completed, reinvigorating the park and upgrading the tired public pool, with a mission to prioritise landscape over built form. The building previously at the centre of the park was removed and the landscape opened up for the reinvigorated pool, a monumental engineering and design feat realised by Neeson Murcutt Architects and Sue Barnsley Design. 

The park was given a completely new sensibility, thanks to a piece of folded landscape with a green roof covering the main building. The people were given a glorious new pool (with skylit change rooms and a poolside cafe beneath two sweeping mounds of grass), while the blue striped concourse, yellow umbrellas and coloured chimneys add a touch of playfulness to this facility from the City of Sydney. It’s a far cry from the original pool at Prince Alfred Park built in 1954, with an ice skating rink that was added in 1959 (fun fact), then demolished in 1996. 

Nowadays, when ocean water gets too cold (for some), and other public pools close for the winter months, Sydney swimmers relocate to this inner-city landmark near Sydney’s Central Station. The water at Prince Albert Park Pool is heated through winter, maintaining a balmy temperature of 25.C — it’s warmer inside the pool than out. 

Regulars here revel in the hours when crowds subside and you get a lane (almost) to yourself on an unexpectedly warm afternoon, an icy winter’s morning, or about 10am on a weekday (the golden hour). But a busy, early morning swim is, without a doubt, one of the best and most pleasurable starts to the day you can get — no matter the season. 

Prince Alfred Park Pool

105 Chalmers St, Surry Hills

Opening hours: 6am-7pm

Nearby

Morning swim: Haven Speciality Coffee 

A good coffee after a morning swimming is par for the course. If you’re moving through on your way to work, a stone’s throw from the pool is Haven Speciality Coffee. These guys are serious about coffee. Their food menu is highly crafted too, with an Asian twist. 

34 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills

Midday swim: Brickfields

A short stroll through Prince Alfred Park past the basketball and tennis courts, and over into Chippendale is Brickfields. This small corner cafe and bakery has a regularly changing menu of hearty salads, sandwiches, and pastries, and a famous seeded sourdough ciabatta. The bacon sandwich hasn’t left the menu since it opened in 2012, which is a telling sign. 

206 Cleveland Street, Chippendale

Late arvo/evening swim: Norfolk Hotel

The Norfolk pub is a go-to for almost any situation. This transformed Redfern boozer is a good spot for a drink after your swim. It’s fun, friendly, a little rowdy, and there’s a beer garden out back. It ticks all the right boxes for a Sydney pub.

305 Cleveland Street, Redfern

Dillon Seitchik-Reardon and Caroline Clements are Places We Swim. Follow them @placesweswim

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