This is the ultimate guide to visiting the Mermaid Pools and Tahmoor Gorge. There is a lot of confusion about what body of water is referred to as the Mermaid Pools. It’s actually the main waterhole within Tahmoor Gorge. So by visiting the Mermaid Pools, you’ll also be visiting the incredible Tahmoor Gorge.
This guide will talk about two walking trails leading to these natural wonders. We’ll start by talking about the popular trail to the Mermaid Pools which offers outstanding views of Tahmoor Gorge. We’ll then detail the more challenging trail that you can do around the gorge itself. But mind you, that one’s not for the faint hearted!
SIDE NOTE: This day trip had additional meaning for Beck and I. It was one of the first trips we could do after the COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted. Being able to get back to hiking and exploring together was such a relief. I had been here before, but Beck hadn’t. I was stoked to show her more of Sydney’s natural beauty that she had previously gotten a little taste of. Where was the first place you explored after the restrictions eased? Let us know in the comments.
Mermaid Pools/Tahmoor Gorge | Day Trip Guide
The Mermaid Pools are located in Tahmoor (Southern Highlands, NSW) with its water source coming from the Bargo River. This place was once a locals only hidden gem! However, the Mermaid Pools and the Tahmoor Gorge are becoming increasingly well known. Certainly in the last five-ten years, they have gained more awareness. But that’s not to say it’s not off the beaten track. Few people actually visit this lovely spot. In fact, it’s an easy day trip from Sydney.
This guide will detail how to get the most out of your day trip to the underrated Mermaid Pools and Tahmoor Gorge. It’s located very close to Sydney, so there’s no excuse for not checking it out. Admittedly, the main set of cascades at the Mermaid Pools narrowly missed out on a spot in our Top 10 Waterfalls in Sydney list.
But there’s more to this place than the numerous falls and cascades. Tranquil bushwalking and a surprisingly grand gorge await you. So let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of the two main walking tracks here. One for casual walkers and another for experienced bushwalkers.
Are the Mermaid Pools and Tahmoor Gorge Safe to Visit?
Yes. The Mermaid Pools and Tahmoor Gorge are certainly safe to visit. Unfortunately though, there have been numerous injuries and sadly even fatalities here. That’s from people unsafely rock jumping into the Mermaid Pools of the Tahmoor Gorge. Simply put, if you avoid this type of activity, it’s more than safe to visit.
That’s why we highly discourage people from rock jumping here. So that means we also discourage swimming in the Mermaid Pools. That’s because rock jumping into the pools is essentially the quickest and easiest way to access them. Thankfully, there are alternate places to swim here such as the Potholes and See Thru Pools which are much safer.
Interestingly, the Illawarra Mercury reported that the Wollondilly Council accepted a grant from the NSW state government in 2018 to improve safety here. So as part of that funding, you will see numerous signs here discouraging rock jumping. We are all for exploring and having fun. But putting yourself in potential danger doesn’t sound like a good idea to us.
As explained before, there are two main hiking trails involving the Mermaid Pools. The shortest and easiest is the Mermaid Pools return hike on its own. This walk is easy and safe to do. However, the Tahmoor Gorge Bushwalk, which is an extended loop from the Mermaid Pools, is extremely difficult and challenging. So for inexperienced hikers, this trail would be deemed as potentially unsafe. But if you have the adequate safety equipment, are an experienced hiker and respect the terrain and surroundings, it’s safe to do. See below for more details.
1. The Mermaid Pools Trail
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 4km
- Time: 1-2 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 25m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Pothole Reserve Car Park
Travel Made Me Do It have personally rated the trails in this guide
Upon arriving at the car park, you’ll be surrounded by eucalyptus trees. Without too much of a drive out of the suburbs, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of classic Aussie bushland far away from any city. Closeby are the gentle and rhythmic streams of Bargo River. It’s this river that you’ll have to thank for the amazing serenity on display throughout Tahmoor Gorge. You can’t quite hear them as you get out of the car. But you’ll be able to hear and see them soon enough. When you’re ready, follow the dirt road and continue underneath the bridge.
From the bridge, you’ll almost immediately reach a point just prior to the Potholes with directions towards them or the Mermaid Pools. If you simply would like to see or swim at the Potholes, then you will essentially head left and follow alongside the stream. Quite soon, you will arrive at streaks of deeper river stream. Admittedly, they’re a bit too small for a full body soak. But you could very easily visit on your way back from the Mermaid Pools. Feel free to whip off your hiking boots to cool your feet off in the mild streams on the way back.
Of course, most people visit Tahmoor Gorge to just see the Mermaid Pools as it’s the main attraction. So many will just bypass the Potholes. To head straight to the Mermaid Pools, follow the yellow painted sign heading straight. This will take you away from the Potholes and therefore away from the river.
The Upper Track
As a result, you’ll be redirected inland onto a bushwalking trail called the Upper Track. This track appears to be also known as the Matilda Track. The dusty trail winds throughout the bushland and is very flat. Even with some speed hiking, it’s not too physically demanding or exhausting. The trail essentially runs adjacent to the river as it heads in the direction of Tahmoor Gorge. But for the majority of this track, you won’t be able to see or hear the river flowing. Cicadas and birdlife will fill the air with harmonic sounds.
WHAT IS SPEED HIKING? As a recreational activity, speed hiking can be completed for an entire trail or just in sections. This might be necessary if part of a trail becomes more technical and requires you to move slower to take care. You may also choose to slow down at particular parts of a trail to soak in more of the ambience and nature. Maybe you want to dabble in some photography. Basically, there are no hard and fast rules. Speed hike as you please!
Don’t expect anything particularly extraordinary on your way to the Mermaid Pools. But if there aren’t too many people around, you’ll have a tranquil and soothing bushwalk. After two kilometres you will reach a turn off for the Mermaid Pools. In fact, you’ll find two tiny triangular shaped yellow makeshift signs to guide you. Kudos to whoever put those signs up. Reaching this point of the trail takes around 25 minutes.
The Mermaid Pools
To reach the Mermaid Pools you will turn left at the turnoff. This will take you off the Upper Track and towards the river stream. It only takes a minute to descend some rocks. Once you arrive by the water’s edge, turn right to head towards Tahmoor Gorge. You’ll then start to approach the large waterhole known as the Mermaid Pools. This is where people have historically rock jumped. But you will see signs discouraging this activity.
The Mermaid Pools are seriously stunning. Smack bang in the middle of the Aussie bush, you have this outrageously huge gorge! It was indeed much larger than Beck had expected. It’s pretty mindblowing. A big reward for such a small bushwalk. It’s here that the main stream runs into the gorge creating a small cascade waterfall. As long as you can safely wind around the rim of the gorge at a safe distance, you’ll be able to see it.
The See Thru Pools
After exploring the Mermaid Pools, visit the See Thru Pools. This is the best place to swim. To reach the See Thru Pools, you’ll need to head back just a minute to where you descended from the Upper Track. This area has many red ribbons tied around trees which is helpful as a reference point.
From here, continue to follow the stream in the opposite direction of the Mermaid Pools. Basically, you’re heading in the direction of the Potholes. There are some fairly unimpeded trails by the side of the stream that will lead you to the See Thru Pools. You will know you have arrived when you set eyes on a wider cascade. They’re not as large and forceful as the waterfall pouring into the gorge. But, the cascades are beautiful in their own delicate and gentle way.
This is also a nice spot for lunch. Be mindful that this area can be a hot spot for kids on the weekend, particularly in summer. Additionally, it can get more traffic during school holidays. We like to explore places when they’re quieter. So try timing your visit outside of these times for an improved experience.
2. The Tahmoor Gorge Bushwalk
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 9km
- Time: 4-5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 353m
- Difficulty: Very Difficult
- Trailhead: Pothole Reserve Car Park
The Mermaid Pools return trail is a fairly easy stroll through the bush. It’s well marked, maintained and without any technical hiking. It’s the actual Tahmoor Gorge bushwalk that’s quite technical and difficult to navigate. So it’s recommended only for experienced hikers with specialist equipment.
For inexperienced hikers, we only recommend the trails reaching the Potholes, Mermaid Pools and See Thru Pools. Besides, the main attraction are the Mermaid Pools anyway! But for experienced bushwalkers, there is a longer trail that actually loops around Tahmoor Gorge. It’s an approximate 9km return from the car park. In total, it’ll take roughly 4-5 hours to complete.
This trail encompasses the Mermaid Pools return walk. Because this is around 4km out and back, the remaining loop around Tahmoor Gorge is an additional 5km. But to put the difficulty of this hike into perspective, the 4km Mermaid Pools return track should only take an hour. So the actual 5km Tahmoor Gorge loop component takes around 3-4 hours! That’s because you’ll spend a lot of time rock scrambling, negotiating steep terrain and inevitably losing track.
Luckily, there are helpful blue, red and yellow ribbons tied to trees to help guide you. Plus white spraypaint tactically littered across several rocks and trees. However, there are quite steep sections ascending and descending the gorge. So don’t do this walk alone. There is no phone signal out here either. So you may even want to consider a beacon.
Before we explain the route any further, please have a gander at the Wollondilly Council’s cute handwritten map below. Our guide will make much more sense after quickly reading it. Please note that the map is essentially upside down. Don’t worry though, it’ll still make sense!
If you’re appropriately equipped, once you arrive at the turnoff for the Mermaid Pools, you will continue straight on the Upper Track. You will pass many stunning viewpoints of Tahmoor Gorge along the way. Seeing the gorge from an elevated position amplifies its grandeur. It also makes the Mermaid Pools seem even bigger!
You will then reach a point known as the Sugar Loaf Pass. This is a very steep rocky path descending to the Lower Track. Make sure to take care at this section. Once you reach the Lower Track, you will crossover the Bargo River back and off forth numerous times over the next few hours. This is where the Lower Track is quite difficult to follow. But essentially you’ll follow the river bending around.
If it is busy at the Mermaid Pools, this bushwalk can certainly provide an escape from those crowds. It’s very unlikely to endure much traffic at any one time. Submerged in the Tahmoor Gorge is quite the experience. There’s something additionally incredible with being surrounded by a canyon as opposed to merely bushland. Although, obviously there will still be plenty of that around during the trail. Eventually, you’ll reach Jack’s Pass which is an access track from the canyon floor back up to the Upper Track. That will then lead you back to the Mermaid Pools. From there, you can triumphantly make your way back to the car!
Mermaid Pools/Tahmoor Gorge Recap
So there you go, two different trails and experiences exploring the Mermaid Pools and Tahmoor Gorge. Both thrilling, fun and adventurous. Luckily, these natural wonders are so close to Sydney so they can be easily visited. Probably a half day trip if you just check out the Mermaid Pools and a full day trip for the Tahmoor Gorge bushwalk. This area is becoming more well known by the minute, so check it out before it’s a tourist hotspot.
Admittedly, finding the car park is a little tricky. So please find some details below on how to get there plus some additional information for interstate and international travellers.
Getting to Sydney
Flights: Of course, you’ll need to be based in or around Sydney to do this trip. If you’re travelling to Sydney from overseas, use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search. Also, if you’re based in the UK or US, you should sign up to Jack’s Flight Club for the best flight deal alert service. By simply subscribing to the free weekly newsletter or buying premium membership, you could save lots of money on international travel. If you’re interstate, subscribe to I Want That Flight for the best flight deal alerts to and from Sydney.
Getting to the Mermaid Pools
Drive there: Tahmoor Gorge is actually located just outside of Sydney in the beautiful rural area of Bargo in the Southern Highlands. They’re unable to be reached by public transport so you’ll need a car. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, we recommend using RentalCars.com. When hiring a car, we also search through RentalCars to find the best deals. Use our link to have a look!
Directions: From Sydney, it’ll take around 1-1.5 hours to get there. Direction wise, they’re south west of Sydney. They’re inland of Campbelltown and from there, essentially on the way to Bowral. According to Google Maps, they’re called Mermaids Pool. If you follow directions to that point, you will not be directed to the actual car park. That happened to us, so we were a bit lost to start off with.
There is actually a dirt road car park located next to Rockford Road Bridge. This dirt road is seemingly unnamed but following the signs to Pothole Reserve will lead you there. After crossing the bridge on Rockford Road, you will turn right onto Charles Point Road and immediately right again on to the unnamed dirt road. There is plenty of space here to park. Use our Google Maps pin drop to direct you to the exact spot you need to park!
Accommodation in Sydney
Accommodation: If you’re an international traveller or a visitor to Sydney, you’ll probably need somewhere to stay! Being based in Sydney means we have never had to look into accommodation here. Unfortunately, accommodation in Sydney generally isn’t super cheap.
However, for couples travelling on a budget but are not camping or wanting to stay at a hostel, we recommend using Airbnb. That way, you will still have your own private space but won’t have to fork out for an expensive hotel.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for on Airbnb, we recommend using Booking.com. They’re our favourite accommodation search engine to use otherwise. Use our link to find other options for Sydney based accommodation. If you’re keen campers, use the WikiCamps or Campermate app to help you search a campsite around the area!
Buying Local Supplies
Generally speaking, travelling in Australia is quite expensive. So to cut down on costs, it’s worth packing your own food when exploring around Sydney. We shop at Aldi for the cheapest prices. But we’ll head to Woolworths for branded products and more variety.
- Petrol: $15AUD/person ($10USD).
- Snacks: $5AUD/person ($3.50 USD).
This is a very cheap day trip to do from Sydney. Of course, if you’re travelling from abroad or interstate, you may need to consider flights, accommodation and/or car hire costs.
Five Hiking Essentials for the Mermaid Pools
It can get surprisingly cold here in winter. So make sure to have some warm layers. In summer though, those layers will be totally unnecessary.
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – for the Tahmoor Gorge bushwalk, you’ll want hiking boots with decent traction for the rock scrambling and steep descents.
- The North Face TKA Glacier snap fleece jacket – needed for early morning starts speed hiking here in winter.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack – if you’re planning on swimming, you’ll need a backpack for all your gear. This daypack is a great one for exploring – lightweight but spacious.
- Anker PowerCore Portable Charger/Power Bank – for the off-trail Tahmoor Gorge bushwalk, you’ll want a phone with GPS. Because it’s a long walk, take a portable charger in case your battery is running low.
- Karrimor 1L Clear Water Bottle x 2 – in summer it gets very hot. We’re talking +40°C. So even though you may just be swimming, do pack water. You’ll need it after walking in the bush.
You’ll definitely need to download a GPS guided map before you set out to complete the Tahmoor Gorge bushwalk. We recommend Wikiloc or AllTrails. For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.
- Beware of snakes: This is the Aussie bush! So there are snakes. We’ve been 3 times and have only seen a snake once. So make sure you have appropriate hiking gear for the bush. This means wearing trousers instead of shorts, even when it’s hot. For great tips on hiking hear, read our 66 Items You Must Travel With guide.
- Wear shoes: Again, even if you’re just swimming, still wear shoes. We recommend trainers at the very least. Ideally hiking boots though, given it’s a bushwalk. We’ve seen people just in flip flops on the bush trail. They’re asking for trouble!
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