The Best Places To Swim – Swimwatch

It’s summer in New Zealand; time to abandon the four walls of a concrete pool and find an aquatic place to play. Many New Zealanders have favourite swimming spots. Eyad is having a three day holiday in Russell in the far north. I spent a week in Tauranga and a day at a beach on Waiheke Island. The beaches in Gisborne and the Coromandel are packed.

Finding a preferred place to swim is clearly a personal choice. I don’t like sea beaches; the water tastes disgusting and sand gets everywhere. I once did a fair amount of open water swimming in the sea. For example I was second twice in the annual Kapiti Island to Paraparaumu Beach sea swim. I was also second in the HBPB open water championships swum off the Waikanae Beach in Gisborne. But it was never a pleasant experience. Jelly fish, currents, waves, wind and clinging salt made the experience a personal misery.

Fresh water swimming was so much more fun. In the 1960s the annual Taupo open water events were not the “around some buoys” to arrive back to where you started events that Swimming New Zealand has turned Taupo into these days. Back then the main event was a straight swim across the lake from Waihora Bay to Waitahanui. For some reason I found swimming from point to point far more satisfying than swimming around in several circles. Unbelievably I was also second twice in the Taupo event. Both times, the New Zealand champion, Quentin Todd beat me.

My prejudice against the sea and sand means that none of New Zealand’s magnificent beaches would make the grade as my favourite place to swim. Palm Beach on Waiheke Island is beautiful. No one would be faulted for selecting it as a favourite. But with all that sand and salt it is not for me.

But I do have two special swimming spots. These are my best places to swim. They are 22 kilometres apart and are on the same East Coast, Hangaroa River.

The best is the pool at Donneraille Park, half way between Wairoa and Gisborne on the inland Tiniroto road. The picture at the top of this post gives you some idea of this tranquil and idyllic spot. I’ve camped there many times and played in the deep Hangaroa pool. Although the water is deep, in summer, it is also warm from traveling for miles across shallow rock shelves. Many Olympic titles have been won racing my mates across the Donneraille Park main pool. Many world speed records have been set sprinting down the rapids that flow away from the down-stream end of the main pool.

On one occasion I took New Zealand champions Toni Jeffs, Nichola Chellingworth and Jane Copland for a swim at the park. Toni was the 50 and 100 freestyle national champion. Nichola was the 50 butterfly champion. And Jane won the 100 and 200 breaststroke titles. But more important than all that each won their specialist event in the across Donneraille Park championship. I would imagine they still hold the record for the fastest swims across the pool in their specialist strokes and the speed records for freestyle, butterfly and breaststroke down the rapids.

I still fondly remember dinners cooked on an open fire in long summer evenings at Donneraille Park. Potatoes cooked in the piled up embers of an open fire take a lot of beating. Smooth leaved Puha, picked in the park, and boiled provided dinner’s green content and sausages grilled on the open fire satisfied our carnivore nature.

So Donneraille Park, that’s my choice of the best place in New Zealand to swim.

I know my second choice very well. It is also on the Hangaroa River. But this time at Te Reinga just above the impressive Te Reinga Falls. Here is a photograph of the stretch of river we called the Hapua, the Maori word for pond or lagoon.


I lived at Te Reinga for eight years, from the age of nine to seventeen. The water you see in the photograph is where I began swimming training and where I prepared to win medals at Hawke’s Bay – Poverty Bay, Wellington and Auckland Championships. Probably the Auckland 100 breaststroke championship is the only time an Auckland title has been won by a swimmer whose home pool was a river. In eight years I swam across the Hapua about 400,000 times. As you can see in the photograph the “walls” were not the best for practising racing turns. At provincial and New Zealand championships I always struggled to match the city kids’ turns.

Many world championship races were swum in the Hapua. Some of my mates were pretty fast in one width across the river. Kahui and Donald were not to be taken lightly. I always insisted our races were at least two widths where my training would be an unbeatable advantage.

Of course I didn’t have a coach at the Hapua. My training involved sitting at home pretending to do school homework but actually converting schedules from Lydiard’s book, “Run to the Top” from running into swimming. As you can imagine there were many training mistakes. It wasn’t until we asked Arch Jelley to help with Alison’s running training that Arthur’s ideas were explained in a way that led to the much better balanced Lydiard based program that we use today.

On occasions when the river flooded training became difficult. This was before goggles were standard swimming equipment. Silt from the muddy river water meant training with your eyes closed or head held high out of the water. Mind you, it was all worth it after training when you could lie on the hot, white rocks cultivating a deep brown suntan.

What you cannot see in the photograph is on the near side of the pool are two wooden diving boards and a long mud slide. Many city pools would die to reproduce the hours of fun spent at the Hapua leisure pool. At Te Reinga we had free entry for everyone long before the Auckland Council thought it was a good idea.

So there you are – my second best place to swim. Wherever your preference for a best spot to swim happens to be – have fun and stay safe.

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