Where’s Wallis? Risking life and limb at the Figure 8 Pools, Royal National Park, Sydney
In the last couple of years the Figure 8 Pools in the Royal National Park, 50kms or so south of Sydney, have become somewhat of an ‘Instagram sensation’.
What are they? A perfectly formed natural pool that resembles a Figure of 8, set out on a rock shelf by the ocean. The setting for some rather marvellous photos which lure people there in the hope of the ‘perfect shot’. Check out #Figure8Pools on Instagram.
Google them and there are multiple articles warning of the risks of visiting the pools and videos showing swathes of people being dragged over the rock shelf by large waves.
I’ll be totally honest. I didn’t think it would happen to me. I consider myself sensible, smart and reasonably cautious. I presumed that the people who got caught out were foolish day-trippers who went down there in inappropriate footwear, and didn’t check the tides before their visit.
I’d read up on the pools, and saw that you can only visit at low tide as you have to walk across a beach and rocks at water level to get there. Guidance suggested you can only access the pools when the tide is lower than 1m.
We checked the tides at the nearby Burning Palms Beach beach before visiting, and saw that low tide was 9.54am. We arrived shortly after this, and I’d checked that the tide remained below 1m until nearly 1pm, seemingly plenty of time to explore the pools.
My failing was checking the swell. There were signs along the beautiful 3km walk from the carpark to the pools saying “If the waves are breaking over the rock shelf, do not access the pools”.
Once we got to the location of the pools, we spent some time watching the ocean to see how big the waves were. The biggest that we saw sent a small spray of white-wash over the edge of the rock shelf, which had turned to no more than a trickle by the time it got to the Figure 8 pool.
Ellen and I decided to go down for a swim, whilst Amanda and Michelle deemed it too cold (Sydney winter!) for a dip, so stayed up on the safety of the higher rocks.
I gave Amanda my camera and asked her to take a few snaps of us down there, hence how ‘the moment’ was captured.
The pool is set about 20m out across the rock shelf from the higher rocks. Ellen and I walked over there, and I hopped in. Ellen snapped a few photos on her GoPro (RIP GoPro).
We’d been down there 30 seconds (Ellen hadn’t even had time to get into the pool yet) when she turned to the ocean and then said to me “There’s a big wave coming”
What do you do in that situation? We were too far from the safety of the big rocks to run back to them, and we had a split second to do anything before it smashed into the edge of the rock shelf.
I made the snap decision to duck under the water into the pool. It is about 2m deep, so I went under about a metre and then braced against the wall of the pool, with my head on my forearm, back to the wave. I was hoping that it would wash over the surface of the pool.
Ellen didn’t have time to get into the pool so attempted to hold onto the rocks next to it, which left her bent over with her back to the wave.
Then the wave hit.
I felt it hit the surface of the pool, but the sheer force of the water flooded into the pool, displacing the water that was was already there and pushing me up and out across the rock shelf.
If you’ve ever been dumped by a wave then you know that feeling of a total loss of control and bearings, and just trying to hold your breath and hoping you’ll come out okay.
Normally that happens and there’s sand underneath you, which is scary enough, but for the couple of seconds I was being pushed across the rocks I just kept thinking about all the big sharp rocks we’d stepped across on our way out to the pool, and how easily one of them would crack my head open if I hit it with the force I was travelling at.
I couldn’t see anything, but just tried to cover my head with my hands as I shot forward. Based on my cuts I must have been pushed across horizontally, and my elbows and body took the brunt of the wounds as my hands covered my head.
It was all over in a couple of seconds. The water was suddenly ankle deep and I saw Ellen a few metres to my right, also struggling to her feet in shock.
The only blessing of it happening on rock, was that I never had a feeling I would be dragged out to sea again. The solid nature of the rock meant I felt grounded rather than that horrible feeling when your feet are in the sand and it’s slipping away from you.
Ellen and I were both pretty shaken up. Her cuts were more severe than mine because she’d been knocked over by the wave, taking deep hits on her knees.
We were both incredibly lucky not to have come off worse. People have been airlifted from the rocks due to spinal injuries. The worst we’ve had is having to miss a few activites due to injuries…I was devastated thinking I’d ruined my opportunity to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef this weekend due to my wounds (more on the diving in the next post).
Amanda and Michelle had been forced to look on helplessly as the wave struck, just hoping we would emerge again once the whitewash subsided.
They, and a passer by who was well equipped with a first aid kit, were excellent at patching us up well enough to hobble the 3km back up to the carpark.
It’s an absolutely stunning part of the world, and worth going for the views on the walk alone, but I hope this serves as a warning that no-one’s smarter than nature, and it’s not worth risking your life just to dip in a glorified bath!!