Northern Beaches Rock Pools: With Local Lisa Cram

By Jonathan Fletcher

Northern Beaches is home to some of the world’s most iconic rock pools. Having lived locally for so long in Avalon and also living overseas, I can assure you there is something incredibly unique about where we call home. 

I caught up with Avalon Beach local Lisa Cram to learn more about the rock pools of the Northern Beaches and was left inspired by her positivity. Her love for Avalon Beach and the ocean has literally made me want to jump in and swim!

Lisa Cram is a well-loved in Avalon – a wife, a mother to four boys, grandmother of two grandsons, a cancer survivor, and a ‘Rock Pool Expert’. In 2018, a year after her life-changing diagnosis, she swam all the rock pools of the Northern Beaches in just 12 hours.

Tell us about your history with the ocean…

I’ve always been a beach girl. I grew up in Coogee, met my husband Richard at 15 and then when he went on to be a pro-surfer we toured internationally on the Professional Surfing Circuit until we chose to settle down and have a family. Surfing, swimming and the ocean has been an integral part of our family life and central to our living in Avalon. It’s also been a huge part of my healing journey… In 2017 I was diagnosed with ‘Genetic Primary Lung Cancer’ and secondary brain cancer. Swimming in the ocean rock pools has helped greatly with my healing and recovery.

When is the best time to swim in the rock pools?

Now! It’s the perfect time for people to hit the ocean as the water is at its warmest this time of year.

A lot of people think Spring is the best time, but actually, the water is still quite cold then. October through to December is when the water is the coldest… and then after Summer the water is at its warmest. So the best time to swim in the ocean is at the end of Summer through Autumn, however, I swim all year round, my body is used to it. When the water is colder I wear a wetsuit to keep me warm. 

Give us a little history of the Northern Beaches rock pools…

Most of the pools were built back in the 1800s by wealthy people or the convicts so many have been around a couple of hundred years! Majority of them are built into the cliff at the southern end of the beach, as it is protected from the southerly wind. Most beaches around Australia don’t have an ocean pool so we are lucky on the Northern Beaches that we have them.

How many rock pools are there on the Northern Beaches?

There are 14 ocean pools – From North to South; Palm Beach, Whale Beach, Avalon Beach, Bilgola Beach, Newport Beach, Mona Vale Beach, North Narrabeen, Collaroy, Dee Why Beach, North Curl Curl, South Curl Curl, Freshwater, Queenscliff and Ferry Bower (Manly).

I heard you swam the 14 rock pools in one day…

Yes… In 2018 with my friend Peggy, we swam all the rock pools of the Northern Beaches in one day. It was the funnest day! It was a big day, starting at Palm Beach and finishing at Ferry Bower in Manly. I had come across a book in Bookoccino called “Sydney Rock Pools” and that’s what gave us the idea. 

We started 10 am at Palm Beach doing 6 laps in each pool, but by the time we did our 6 laps at Avalon I realised we weren’t going to make it so we ended up doing 2 laps in the next 12 pools.

Peggy is a marine biologist so she was even more fascinated than me about the pools as they are like baby fish nurseries. It was amazing to see how the pools differed from one beach to the next each with unique characteristics. You have different tribes of people who frequent each location and the varieties of fish and kelp along the coast.

Being on the move the whole time was so fun! At the end of the day, we had a boot full of wet towels and finished up sitting down at Manly for a beautiful fish meal.

Do you have some favourite spots?

Palm Beach pool is unbelievable. It is a big pool you can stretch out and do your laps and it’s great at high tide. The lights are on at night which creates a beautiful ambience to swim in.

Mona Vale pool has lots of beautiful fish.

A little hidden gem is the North Curl Curl swimming pool as it is tucked away. You need to walk around the rocks to get to it, it’s a bit secluded.

And of course my local, Avalon Beach Rock Pool is known to be one of the cleanest pools; it gets flushed out easily by the ocean everyday.

How long have you lived in North Avalon?

We’ve been here for 18 years as we were lucky to buy a house in North Avalon in 2002. We love it here, it was always where we were meant to be… I enjoy the ocean rock pool and its tribe at the south end of the beach. When I am at the pool I can look up to the North end of the beach and see our surfing-fraternity up there.

How has the ocean swimming affected your health?

A big part of my healing process has been swimming in the ocean pools. When I was diagnosed with cancer I read a book about environmental psychology and it made me realise how powerful the environment can be for our health. It’s been scientifically proven that being close to nature, particularly water and the ocean is very healing. 

Swimming in an ocean pool can be challenging as you’re dealing with tides and waves, but you get more of a workout. At times it feels like you’re swimming in champagne! When the pool gets rough I get in there with my fins on and fight the waves.

I have a tribe at the pool and they know my story. Every morning when I come down they welcome me with smiles. It’s pretty special. I’ve got the best of both worlds. Even if I don’t swim in the pool every day, I know the pool is there and I can swim in it when I need it. That’s one of the reasons I won’t move out of Avalon… because of its ocean pool.

I’m not exactly sure how many years I’ve got ahead of me but I plan on being here celebrating my 80th birthday with my kids and grandkids who need me! 

If you’re looking to make Avalon Beach home, or need any advice on buying or selling across the Upper Northern Beaches, contact me today.

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