News | 31 May 2023
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Wāhine embracing Wellington waters

A group of Pōneke women are finding support and making the most of the city’s beautiful blue spaces all year round by regularly meeting up to plunge into the gorgeous, but glacial waters of Island Bay.

Six women walking into the ocean with their backs turned to the camera.

As part of the Te Whai Oranga strategy, the Council have been looking into how people use recreational space within the city and how they find their happy places in Pōneke. 

The group the Hardcore Oceanics: The Mermaid Express Swim Squad, or HOTMESS for short, started as a group chat between four mums with a shared love for ocean swimming. Two years later, HOTMESS is a community of more than 50 people, and they found their happy place in the city’s beaches and bays.

One of the group’s members Sophie Hazelhurst was roped in by the founder of HOTMESS and now has a goal of hitting 201 swims in a year, even though she had never been an ocean swimmer before joining the group.

“I have always loved the sea and spent plenty of time in the water but usually just faffing about - a bit of boogie boarding/body surfing, but never actually swimming. I had been a bit of a pool swimmer in the past so was a reasonable swimmer, although slow. 

“Swimming in the sea is so different - the conditions change constantly and the cold in our southern Wellington waters takes your breath away at first. I'm loving the journey that 201 swims is taking me on. I'm up to 90 now and it's a brilliant motivator for me on days that are busy or cold or when I would rather lie on the couch.”

Island Bay Taputeranga island surrounded by boats in the water.

The cold-water club organise meet ups all year round to take advantage of the South Coast together. While some members choose to just dip their toes in, others swim out to the island, or even around the island, roughly 2.8km! The team are out rain or shine and swims are always followed up by a group selfie on the beach.

Sophie’s favourite swimming spot and happy place is Island Bay because of the ever-changing conditions of the water. 

“It's really cold - but I'm very acclimatised. On a clear day you can see the sea floor all the way out to the island - it's breathtakingly beautiful. And the island creates a shelter for us but also presents wonderful opportunities in terms of our swim course. It's constantly changing and it's right on our doorstep!”

The group has been a great boost for members’ mental health, while providing all the benefits of cold-water swimming. It’s a safe and supportive community for wāhine to enjoy Wellington’s waters and do something they love.

Group of women walking out of the ocean onto the beach with Taputeranga Island in the background.

While it can be challenging to get started, you will become hooked once you begin seeing the benefits, says Sophie.

“I just love it so much and really notice when I go a few days without a swim. For me, it's physical, mental and social! Physically, I'm fitter, stronger and have more stamina in the water. I have gone from only swimming very short distances and to being increasingly comfortable with longer and more challenging swims. Like most of us in the HOTMESS, I have a full-time job and a busy family life - my moments in the sea are just for me and create such a welcome space in my brain. 

“While I'm out for a swim everything else just slips away for that period - I emerge feeling more zen, calm, and ready to take on the day's challenges. If you’re thinking about swimming, do it! Go out for short swims while you build up your comfort in the water and find others to swim with - there are lots of groups around now.”

With so many bays, Wellington is an ocean swimmer’s dream. Be sure to check it’s safe to swim on the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website before heading out.