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Where do you go when you feel daunted? 

While rambles through the bush can do wonders for a busy mind, and conversations with friends have the power to bend time in the most joyous ways, few things calm me as much as the water. 

As I float, frolic and plunge, my body unwinds and my thoughts wander; the rest of the world drifting away as I get swept up in my watery realm. I love it. Always have, always will. 

What’s hard though, is finding the words to explain how and why the water leaves me so serene. Perhaps because there are multiple elements that make a swim sublime. There’s the weightlessness, the thrill that comes with diving beneath a wave on a scorching summer day, finding your sun-kissed body dusted with salt and sand, the coral and creatures that lie in wait, the sea breeze’s heady aroma. And then there’s the way the water makes you feel - that unique combination of playful and free. Take me to the sea and my inner child comes out. There will be handstands, somersaults and a parade of all those fabulously graceless things we did as kids when we desperately wanted our mums to watch on. And I’ll daydream, or focus on the soothing sameness of swimming up and down a lane, savouring the clarity that comes with something so repetitive. 

Taking a dip in the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool makes me feel like a true Sydney-sider. Inspired by literary icon Helen Garner, I head there when writing becomes difficult and find that after a few laps, tricky sentences have a way of unknotting themselves. If I need a new idea entirely, I seek something a little wilder - like time with the coral of Collins Flat Beach or a tryst with Bronte’s waves. When I want my soul to soar, I get out of town completely and travel along the New South Wales coast. I adore the chilled out vibes of Sawtell. I get lost in the moment at Brunswick Heads. I soak up the Deco lavishness of the Newcastle Ocean Baths, and keep an eye out for dolphins at Hyams Beach. Because that’s another fabulous thing about water - you don’t need to be in it to be transformed. Meandering beside it can be more than enough. 

Rambling along the paths that snake through Sydney Harbour National Park, gazing out across a teal expanse at Camp Cove, watching the jacarandas bloom at Murray Rose Pool. Sydney is defined by her watery crown; a dazzling backdrop that few cities can rival. The light musk of salt air, the crash of the waves, the twinkling light, the coastal rainforest and the swathes of sand - these things help you slow down, breathe deeper, and leave you with a lingering sense of contentment. Because ultimately the water - and all it offers - is a reminder that we're just one small, ever-moving part of this big, brilliant world. We are merely passing through - but isn’t it divine?

I’m starting to believe that it will be the Bondi breeze, or the seascape at Bundeena, or Freshwater’s surfing pedigree that finally brings me back.

I’m going to spend the rest of this year in London, my adopted home. I adore it - the city has a sparkle that’s all its own - but our relationship is a little complicated. After more than a decade abroad, I’ve never been more acutely aware that London lacks the sounds, smells and water of Sydney. While there are ways of finding solace in swimming here (I’m enamoured with the sense of community that defines Hampstead Heath’s Ladies Pond), I yearn more and more for the waves of ‘home’. I’m starting to believe that it will be the Bondi breeze, or the seascape at Bundeena, or Freshwater’s surfing pedigree that finally brings me back. Hard to describe and incomparably wondrous, Australian waters will always be my peaceful place. And that’s something worth returning for. 

Words by Liz Schaffer & Photographs by Angela Schaffer, Amy Lister, Matt Hardy

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