The sun is out and we are thirsting for adventure. And swimming. It’s hot – we want both!

Well, get ready to dive in because here at What’s On in Wollongong we have put together the best hiking trails around Wollongong & the Illawarra with natural swimming holes. These are some of the loveliest bushland and coastal walks for all ages and fitness levels – its just a bonus that there is a swim waiting for you at the end!

Even if you’re not a big swimmer, I always find that being near running water brings so much peace, (especially during the chaotic summer months around Christmas!) So, I’ve made sure to include some of the best waterfall walks in the Illawarra.

Many of the best natural swimming holes around are actually quite close to Wollongong, so I promise you won’t have to travel too far. And if you have little ones, or even fur babies – never fear! Here in the Illawarra we’re blessed with a good selection of easy bushwalks where kids can swim too.

Read on and discover Wollongong’s best bushwalks with swimming holes…

Kelly’s Falls – Waterfall, Lookout & Natural Swimming Hole

Beautiful cascading waters of Kelly’s Falls in Stanwell Tops. Image courtesy of Visit NSW

600m return, Lookout, walk to the bottom is a scramble suited to experienced hikers.

The beautiful local favourite Kelly’s Falls is located in Stanwell Tops, just off Lawrence Hargrave Drive. The bushland carpark area has a few little picnic tables. The trailheads for the walking tracks are just at the end. To the left you’ll find a few stairs leading down to the lookout. This lovely old lookout takes in the falls and the stunning bushland all the way to the sea.

For the adventurous: This is one of the best natural swimming holes in the Illawarra. The trail to the right will eventually take you down to the bottom of the falls. Nothing is marked, but if you take your first left on this track and start heading downhill, you’ll begin the scramble to the swimming hole. Please note there are a few places that can be very rough going, and the rope/rope ladder for the vertical rock section is not always there! But once at the bottom, this water is some of the coldest around on a scorching summer day!

Thirroul to Bulli Bike Track – Walking, Biking & Swimming

Paved and smooth, the bike and walking track between Thirroul and Bulli is perfect for any fitness level

5km return, Dog Friendly, Family Friendly

This is such a perfect walk for prams, pups, little ones on their scooters and anyone in between. The coastal track runs alongside the beach, and is actually part of the NSW Coastline Cycleway Walk that leads all the way to Wollongong. Doggies can swim and play on the sand in designated areas, so keep and eye on the signage.

You can do this walk in either direction, but we like to start at Thirroul and head south. There is always parking in the residential streets on weekdays. The start of the track is at the end of Hamilton road, next to Bark at the Beach. McCauley’s Beach is good for a swim, and Sandon Point is always stunning. The Bulli Beach Cafe makes wonderful coffee and hot chips that make for a lovely treat at the end of a walk. And don’t forget the always inviting Bulli Ocean Pool nestled below, a real favourite place to cool off.

Kiama Coastal Walk – Coastal Walking & Beach Swimming

Stunning scenery and hidden beaches along the Kiama Coastal Walk. Image courtesy of Visit NSW

22kms, Half-day walk, Dog friendly

Okay, so 22kms from Kiama to Gerringong sounds like a long walk. But its so breathtakingly beautiful and easy-going I swear you won’t even notice the distance! The walk is actually in three sections, so you don’t have to do the whole thing. There are so many hidden beaches and tiny rocky bays along the untouched coastline. And you get to walk on soft grass for a lot of the way! It’s wild and welcoming and just so beautiful.

The first section begins in Kiama Downs at the mouth of the Minnamurra River. This section takes you past Jones’s Beach, around Bombo Quarry, across Bombo Beach and up to Kiama Blowhole via the harbour. (Allow about 3 hours for this walk)

The next section takes you past all of Kiama’s famous beaches, including Surf Beach, Kendalls Beach, (past the little blowhole), Easts Beach, and finishing up at Loves Bay. Absolutely spoiled for swimming choice! (Allow about 2 hours for this walk.)

The third section starts at Loves Bay, and if you choose to start here, there is good parking in Elanora Rd. Head south along the beautiful clifftops for 6kms all the way to Werri Beach Lagoon in Gerringong. (Allow about 2 hours for this section.) From here you can either walk back (!) or head into Gerringong to find a cafe. It’s another 1.5kms from Werri Beach to Gerringong train station, then you can train back to Kiama.

Maddens Falls – Bushwalking, Waterfall & Creek Swimming

The incredible view from the lookout over Maddens Falls. Image courtesy of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

1.5km return, Lookout, Big Kid Friendly

Maddens Falls is an easy and restorative little bushwalk in the Dharawal national park. Parking is opposite the Glenbernie Orchard on Darkes Forest Rd. The walk starts on a fire trail that heads down hill. This is only tricky terrain, since the crushed sandstone can be a bit slippery. Luckily it’s only about 200m. Then on the right you will see the beginning of the boardwalk, this is the start of the walk to the falls.

The raised boardwalk takes you through lovely bushland and runs parallel to the creek. It’s especially pretty in spring with native wildflowers. The trail leads to a lookout to the right of the waterfall and over the bushland looking to the western horizon. Truly a treat to see the sunset here.

Now, for the adventurous: You can duck under the fence and walk up the creek bed from here to find a place to lay in the water far away from the edge. (Trying to swim here with little ones can be a bit stressful.) You can also cross the creek at the top of the falls and gently ‘bush-bash’ your way down to the bottom. There are rock ledges to scramble over and you kind of pick your way down, so respect and caution are required, since there is a lot of wildlife in the park.

There are multiple deep sections of the pools at the bottom where you can cool off. We always finish an adventure here with a visit to the Apple Shack at Glenbernie Orchard.

Minnamurra Rainforest – Bushwalk & Waterfall, No Swimming

Find peace listening to the gentle Minnamurra Falls. Image courtesy of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

1.6km loop track, Kid Friendly, Swimming is prohibited.

So you can’t actually swim under these glorious waterfalls, but don’t let that dissuade you! Minnamurra Rainforest is a shady paradise full of bush magic! There are two walks that take in the waterfalls, both of which start from the Minnamurra Rainforest information centre, located in Jamberoo Valley. There is plenty of parking, but note that there is a National Park fee of $12 per vehicle to enter, (worth it). The park is open from 9am until 3am, but they don’t lock the gates until 5pm so don’t worry if you’re late getting back!

The Lyrebird Loop Walk is only about 1.6kms of easy grade and takes about an hour. My kids love this one in particular. It’s so shady in the rainforest on a hot day and they love listening to the cheeky lyrebirds mimicking strange sounds and birdcalls. The suspension bridges that stretch over the waterways are always a big hit with kids of all ages! (Its me, I’m the kid.)

For a longer walk, you can join the Minnamurra Falls walk from halfway along the Lyrebird Loop. This 4.2km return walk takes you along elevated walkways and paved tracks through some seriously stunning rainforest, with lots of viewing platforms to stop and enjoy the waterfalls and butterflies and birds. There are some steep sections, but the views are so worth it. And when you come back the cafe will be waiting for you!

Minerva Pool, Dharawal National Park – Sacred Women’s Pool

Iluka Creek feeds the sacred Minerva Pool in Dharawal National Park. Image courtesy of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

2.4km return, Swimming in the sacred waters is for women and children only.

Out in Wedderburn, near Campbelltown, there is a very special spot in Dharwal National Park. Minerva Pool is a sacred place of enormous cultural importance to the Dharawal people. The short Minerva Pool walking track leads you down through the bush to the water. It’s especially nice to visit when the wattle is out!

The Tharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council asks that visitors respect the cultural importance of the site, and only women and children are permitted enter the pristine waters which fall from the waterfall above. Menfolk are allowed to visit the site, but asked not to enter the water. I often come out here with my girlfriends and our little kids. We pack a big picnic and spend the day playing along the creek and waterfall and swimming. There is a big sandstone island in the middle of the pool that my kids love. We tell our kids to listen carefully to the rocks and trees as they play, because we don’t know the full lore of this place – and we want to be as respectful as possible.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of bush medicines and foods that grow here, and lots of black cockies too. A very special place indeed.

The Sea Cliff Bridge Walk & Cool off in Coalcliff Ocean Pool

Cool off at the end of your Sea Cliff Bridge walk in the beautiful Coalcliff Ocean Pool

1km one way, Kid Friendly

The iconic Sea Cliff Bridge is a favourite of locals and visitors alike. And we know why. The views are incredible, the sea breezes are salty and fresh, the sea eagles and dolphins are always around to brighten your day!

Though the bridge is only about 1km to walk one way, you’ll definitely still work up a sweat on a hot day. Why not pop down to the perfect Coalcliff Ocean pool under the bridge for a dip? This local gem is located at the bottom of Leeder Park on Paterson Rd, at the south end of the bridge. (Leeder Park has toilets, outdoor showers and a little playground.)
There is an ocean fed 25m pool and a toddler’s pool to explore, as well as a patrolled beach – and about a million little rock pools too. Perfect to cool off on a hot day and the perfect additional to your Sea Cliff Bridge adventure.
Check out my detailed insider’s guide to walking the Sea Cliff Bridge for more inspiration.

Nellie’s Glen, Budderoo National Park – Perfect day trip

Beautiful natural swimming hole at Nellie’s Glen in Budderoo National Park.

Multiple short walks, picnic facilities, natural swimming hole, Kid Friendly

It’s a bit of a drive for those of us down on the coast, but a visit to Budderoo National Park makes for the perfect day trip. Located near Robertson on the the Illawarra escarpment plateau, Nellie’s Glen picnic area offers short walks, a waterfall and swimming hole. Plus lots of opportunities to birdwatch!

The eucalyptus forest is full of beautiful orchids and weird mushrooms (always good time to teach your kids not to touch fungi!) And the Satin Bower Birds who call this forest home are always busy too, so keep your eyes peeled for bits of blue – you’ll find their bowers! You can ever walk to the stunning Carrington Falls from here!

Parking is off Cloonty Rd and the road is unsealed. It can get rather busy on sunny weekends, so best to come when it’s quieter. There are non-flushing toilets in the picnic area too.

Unfortunately, since Nellie’s Glen is part of the National Park, no doggies are allowed.

Looking for more ways get into nature? Or cool down in Wollongong? Check out these insider’s guides…

After more events and businesses near you? Never suffer FOMO again with our Weekly Newsletter sent straight to your in-box! Sign up HERE

You might also like:

These lands, waters and skies are a true paradise, and a gift to experience. We offer deep respect and gratitude to the traditional custodians, the Dharawal nation, whose sovereignty was never ceded. We pay our respect to elders past and present.