The Worst Pools In The World

“If Concrete Could Burn.”

By Jane

Not long ago, we published our list of what we view as the best pools in the world. It’s a biased list in that the pools were chosen for various reasons, including their strangeness (Leeds), location (North Sydney), history (Newmarket; Rome) and sentimentality (Long Beach). But for every stunning aquatic centre, there is its ugly, over-chlorinated twin. Thus, we bring you the worst pools in the world… it turns out that they’re mostly in New Zealand, but we’ve simply not visited any real shockers elsewhere.

Clive Memorial Pool
15 Farndon Rd, Pakowhai, 4102, New Zealand

If concrete could burn, it would smell like the Clive Pool. Imagine it for a second. Old, dirty concrete, soaked in chlorine, on fire.

Windowless. Airless. They’ve added some windows since I last visited, but I doubt they’ve added oxygen. The starting blocks were rough slabs of concrete. The picnic benches to the east side of the pool were buckling under decades of dampness. The water was murky like a sick Seattle morning when the Space Needle is invisible in the fog. Underwater, I had the feeling I was swimming in blue milk.

Blue, concrete-infused milk that, at some point, had been on fire.

The weird thing about my relationship with the Clive pool was that I completed some amazing workouts there. I swam repeats of 3,000 metres faster than I ever had before in 81 degree Fahrenheit water. I first broke a minute for 100m freestyle there. When my best time for 100m breaststroke was something around 1:15, I completed a time trial in 1:12.

At least part of my successes between 1999 and 2002 were due to training sessions swum at Clive and I’ll never forget some of the good times David and I had driving from Napier, listening to our Nissan’s bitchin’ stereo, on our way to Clive for some swimming. That I had some good times there, however, does not negate the fact that Clive is definitely one of the worst pools in the world.


Lloyd Elsmore Leisure Centre

Admission is free. That should have been our first warning. More than once, we made the mistake of stopping at Lloyd Elsmore to train after the Auckland Championships. Why did we not drive to Papakura or Newmarket? I suppose convenience was our only excuse.

The pool is hot. Really hot. There are fast, medium and slow lanes, but the lane speeds aren’t enforced and the lanes are possibly half the size of a standard Olympic width. Frog-leg, 1950s breaststroke is the order of the day, whilst children pour over the lane ropes from the play area. A chronic language barrier means that no one in the pool can understand each other which, with the overcrowding, makes swimming there somewhat like navigating a Christmas sale in a foreign country.

Raumati Pool
Marine Parade, Paraparaumu Beach, 5032, Raumati, New Zealand

Do you like filth, weird hours and draconian life guards? If so, Raumati is the place for you. Let me refer you to the case of a swimmer at Raumati who was banned from the pool for flip turning. Tumble turning. Doing this. I quote:

“Here I am one quiet morning empty lane plodding up and down my last training session before Rotorua half ironman. just a 2km quicky. I get stopped 6 or so lengths into it and told “get out you are tumble turning”. I later find out (after xmas) that I have been banned for tumble turning. this has to qualify for pool rage only problem I can’t rage about it in the pool now. Any suggestions, help, is it legal, can pool staff enforce ban. I am not a happy swimmer having to travel some distance to another pool (strangely enough run by the same council – go figure).”

The thread I’ve link to documents the swimmer’s ban, at the hands of the Kapiti Coast District Council, which was initially for two years but which was reduced to six months and then overturned entirely. The grotesque crime – flip turning – was apparently not forbidden at the pool, but an overzealous pool attendant simply decided that the technique got on his nerves on that particular day. Other swimmers – including myself – have flip turned at Raumati. The pool even has a swim team. The sad thing is, this is just an extreme example of the normal idiot fodder from small-town pool attendants and city councils.

I seriously hope you’re not thinking about tumble-turning…


Napier (Onekawa) Aquatic Centre
Maadi Road, Onekawa, Hawkes Bay 4110, New Zealand

Firstly, I’d refer you to our ancient Napier Pools Guide, which rates the Napier Aquatic Centre, formerly known as Onekawa, as a miserable failure. Everything that Raumati does, the Napier Aquatic Centre can do worse.

A personal view of the Napier pool’s misgivings: For a long time, I had no good idea why I had such trouble breathing at night. I’d have awful coughing fits and difficulty regaining my breath, but I didn’t have asthma or any other distinct respiratory ailment. I also suffered from a curious light sunburn on my face year-round. Literally two weeks after I stopped training at the Napier Aquatic Centre, having moved across the Pacific to Pullman, Washington, both the cough and the burn were gone. It was the water at that pool.

Again: no ventilation, no windows, no pool rules and a generally aggressive, retarded staff. The water spelled bad. Not like Clive’s concrete, but like a dirty bath. Patrons used the backstroke flags as clothes lines. Junk food, dropped on the pool deck, was never cleaned up. The place was putrid.

King County Aquatic Center, aka Federal Way
650 SW Campus Drive, Federal Way, WA 98023

What? Surely the King County Aquatic Center doesn’t belong on a post about the world’s worst pools? Whilst in a very different league to the above, Federal Way makes the list out of pure boringness. Wet tea-towels are more inspiring. No one could have built a more personality-void, bland shell of a pool if there had been a bland-pool-building competition.

The pool produces great swimmers. There is, in fact, nothing inherently wrong with it, aside from its epic boringness. But its boringness is its downfall.

  • Going on a trip to New Zealand and this popped up during my research. I’m actually planning to go to Hawkes Bay, so thanks for the heads up.