MERCURY SERIES - Saltwater Sanctuaries
When the sun beats down in the middle of the day, ocean pools are no longer just for the early-morning swimmers who turn up rain, hail or shine.
As the day wears on at Wombarra rock pool, it becomes a haven for those wanting to feel salty water on their skin without the strong pull of the current, for families with children who aren't strong enough to brave the beach just yet, for people wanting a quick plunge to get relief from the heat.
Not quite a perfect rectangle, when the waves are big and rough the pool's end and the ocean's beginning is hard to distinguish.
But even when the sea is large, the incoming water constantly pulling and pushing bodies through the pool, it's easy to relax.
Some let the water buoy them around, linking hands with friends to stay together, while others lay back and look up at the sky as they float.
A few prefer to dip their feet into the turquoise kiddie-sized pool attached to the side, perfect for toddlers who prefer splashing over swimming.
But it's not just the locals that appreciate the pool carved into the rock shelf.
Jenny Gouldthorpe makes the trip down the mountain from Engadine every so often to enjoy the scenery and a dip.
"When my son was younger we used to come down all the time," she said.
"This pool, it's just really nice."
Extended families travel from Sydney to make a day of it, gathering on the grass ridge that overlooks the pool.
Groups settle in for the day by setting up sun shades or trying to take cover under the few trees that dot the shore, while others sprawl out in the sun, napping on towels before eating elaborate picnics brought from home.
Children run around on the stretch of sand, building sandcastles or playing in the shallow water lapping at their feet.
Chris Leverkuehn once lived in Otford and regularly visited the pool. Now living in Melbourne, he grabbed a few hours there on a recent trip to Wollongong, his son enjoying a dig in the sand.
"The scenery, the water, it's just great and the rock pool is usually a safe place for the kids," he said.
Shairon Paterson from Stanwell Park agreed the chance to swim in the sea without braving the big waves was part of what appealed to her about the pool.
"I've got relatives that come out here from Scotland and the surf is a bit rough for them, so the pool is perfect."