Is the Illawarra home to Australia's best backyard pool?
Creators of three local blue oases have thrown their lilos in the ring for a contest aimed at elevating industry standards.
The inaugural Poolz Awards has assembled a panel of landscape architects to decide award winners in 20 categories, including most 'Insta-worthy' pool, best Hamptons-style, best pool on a steep slope, best pool and slide and most expensive pool. You can see some of the best in the gallery above.
In three overarching categories - best concrete, best fibreglass and best plunge - the voting public will decide.
A Port Kembla pool by Fairy Meadow-based Access Pools and Civil is among the front-runners for best concrete pool in the people's choice awards.
The L-shaped custom creation measuring 10m by 5m comes complete with a travertine coping, heating, a neighbouring cabana and basketball court and a view over MM Beach. It was "expertly constructed in a remarkably swift six days, despite the challenges posed by three months of relentless rain", according to the entry blurb.
In the fibreglass category, Access Pools and Civil has put forward a Kiama entry measuring 7m by 4m, which "seamlessly nestles" alongside retaining walls and a garage- cabana conversion.
A custom concrete infinity pool by Camden's Oceanscapes Pools rounds out the Illawarra entrants. The pool, positioned in the escarpment at Thirroul, features a "stunning raised, fully-tiled spillover spa" and is pitched as "a unique, refined design that compliments the natural space, while also providing lots of fun for the family with a slide".
Brad Jackson, owner at Oceanscapes said the pool was designed to take advantage of its ocean view.
"It had to be specially engineered, being a slip zone area," he said.
"The beauty of a concrete pool is that it's customised - we can basically build anything on any site.
"A lot of the high end are going with fully tiled pools like this. They're starting to incorporate a lot of lighting, for night use. A lot of people are now also heating their pools, using electric heat pumps as opposed to solar heating."
Poolz was launched three months ago, with a promise of educating home owners and connecting them with verified industry-best operators.
Poolz founder and CEO Tony Loxton said quality of work within the industry could vary widely.
"We're not listing builders on our platform if they're not reputable. We do license checks, insurance checks and where we do see blemishes, then do directors and credit checks. We also check reviews and customer feedback. We're effectively trying to take the risk out of pool-building, from a consumer standpoint, because there are so many horror stories," he said.
"There's at least three major pool companies this year that have gone bankrupt and left people up to $85,000 out of pocket.
"We're in a market that's obviously slightly more challenging than a few years ago.
"One of things that people don't know is that from the moment you think about getting a pool to when you [break ground], you have to make about 130 decisions.
"We're trying to make it a lot easier to build a pool. More than that, we're trying to make it easier to pick a good pool builder."
After a COVID lockdown-led bump in demand for backyard pools, the industry weathered a year of above-average rainfall in 2022, rising construction costs and staff shortages.
In June, Melbourne-based Pools R Us went into liquidation, reportedly leaving projects half-finished and up to 80 people owed deposits.
Victoria's Dreamtime Pools and Spas and Sydney's Scenic Pools also folded mid-year.
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