Auckland: Action stations

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright heads into the CBD to find family options that'll get the heart pumping.

Victoria Park's skate park is family friendly and graffiti-free. Photo / NZH
Victoria Park's skate park is family friendly and graffiti-free. Photo / NZH

Suburban playgrounds and bush tracks can get busy on the weekends. Instead, try some of the sporting options in and around the CBD. There's everything from climbing trees and jogging behind sound walls, to free games of tennis and shooting a hoop. Keep this list for the sunny days of the October school holidays.

Here are our picks:

Behind the Traffic

After a jog or walk around Victoria Park, head along the St Mary's Bay walkway, which starts near the entrance to the motorway on Beaumont St.

See if the kids can spot the words: "Tamaki, where the fish are so succulent you can eat the bones".

Once past the motorway overpass bridge, you'll come down past lush green on one side and the fast-moving traffic behind the sound wall on the other.

Children will love to watch the cars flash past with the sound of the traffic muffled by the wall.

Head up and around Pt Erin Park and down Curran St (past the boats at Westhaven Marina) then cross that thrilling glass overpass to end up back at Beaumont St.

Walk across Victoria Park for a coffee at Victoria Park Market. The kids can run off more energy at the play park or become intrigued by the giant frog and eel sculptures.

Tennis at Western Park

At the bottom of Western Park (at the end of Beresford St West) play a free game of tennis - the courts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hit the ball in the surroundings of one of Auckland City's oldest parks.

In 1873, the council held a design competition for the park by advertising in the local paper. The winner was promised 10 guineas.

Thirteen entries were received and the park officially opened in 1879. For a slice of history, climb to the top of the park at Ponsonby Rd to see sculptor John Radford's iconic sunken ruins.

There are exercise stations nearby if you get the sudden urge for a few chin-ups.

The kids are spoiled for choice with a play park featuring seven slides, as well as ancient tree roots to scatter toddler toys around for creative nature play. We saw one boy take his skateboard down the enclosed slide (he only tried this once - it sounded painful).

Inner city tree climbing

As beautiful as the wildflowers are in Albert Park at this time of the year, the highlight of this historic space has to be the trees to climb. Choose from Moreton Bay fig trees with draping roots, candy floss-coloured magnolia trees with perfumed blossoms, or our favourite, the giant tree behind a statue of Queen Victoria (and near the statue of the soldier missing his left hand). It usually has a few little feet climbing into its chiselled trunk in games of hide and seek.

Listen for the bells of St Patrick's Cathedral ringing out across town, and cool toddler toes by dipping them in the pond in the middle of the park. There's usually some excitement in the park on the weekend - on the day we visited we spotted people practising tightrope walking between trees and glamorous photo-shoots.

Further out, book a sports field at the Domain (free for kids) and put together a little league of friends and family for your own weekend sports competition, followed by an ice cream at the Wintergarden Cafe's kiosk and a turn at feeding the ducks. The kiosk made its debut at the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1913-14 as "the ideal New Zealand house".

The 10ha of sports fields, including 19 cricket wickets for summer, are surrounded by trees, monuments and the old grandstand. There's also a sculpture trail in the park if you just fancy a stroll rather than too much exertion.

Britomart browsing

Jump on a colourful cycle for a spin class at Les Mills or don a pair of gloves for a weekend session at City Boxing. Afterwards, turn your shopping sporty with a visit to the Nike and Lululemon Athletica stores. Reward yourself with a White & Co frozen yoghurt - cover it in chia seeds instead of chocolate sprinkles if you want to keep it healthy.

The pipi bed sculpture and fountain at Takutai Square is a good spot to cool the kids down after a long scooter or bike ride (the path from the ferry building along the container wharf to Vector Arena is a good long stretch).

The patch of grass at Takutai Square had a sign saying "On Stress Leave" when we visited, but it's expected to be back as a place to rest very soon.

If you want a bit of relaxation before a Sunday indulgence at dessert-only store Milse, join a free yoga class at the Lululemon Athletica store (Sunday, 8.30am-9.30am).

Hit a ball at The Cloud

Queen's Wharf houses Next Bike, which rents out bikes (register for $4 and then the first two hours are free). Grab a bike to explore the city or head further along the wharf to The Cloud, where games of giant Jenga, giant checkers and mini games of tennis and badminton are available (provided there's not an event in the venue).

Wall Ball will keep the kids entertained, or queue for some table tennis.

Wynyard Quarter hoops

You don't have to book the basketball court at Wynyard Quarter - just turn up and try your luck. The underwater themed play park nearby is perfect for the little kids to climb and run around while the older siblings shoot a few hoops.

From there, walk or scooter along the waterfront to the Te Wero bridge and back, stopping at the many interesting sights and shops along the way.

Fun in the city can be high octane, low energy or just chillaxing.

Next to the basketball court are Sunday workshops for kids. Turn up tomorrow between 11am and 2pm and learn how to make a newspaper hat. Next Sunday, there will be activities and fun around the theme of welcoming spring (at last) to the city.

Skate parks

We took some New York friends to the Victoria Park skate park and they were amazed that it was completely free of graffiti.

It's a family-friendly place, especially early weekend mornings when it's full of cool-looking dads teaching their toddler daughters to skateboard.

There are deep bowls for older kids to practise on and always younger teens willing to help your smaller children with perfecting their moves, or give them encouraging claps.

Cool down

The historic Tepid Baths are great for families as they have a large, warm learner pool (available weekend afternoons), as well as plenty of family changing rooms surrounding the swimming pools. Soak in the spa pool or take it in turns with your partner going into the sauna or steam room, which is not suitable for children.

On the outskirts of the CBD is the Parnell Baths (reopening November 1 for summer swimming) and the Pt Erin Pool (with a walk in beach-style pool entrance suitable for toddlers as well as a playground), reopening in late November.

Indoor sports

If the rain sets in, head indoors to the Lost in Time mini golf course in the Event Cinema complex in Queen Street. It's the first animatronic mini golf course in Australasia, and has plenty of cute (and ferocious) dinosaurs to entertain the kids on the way around. There's also ten-pin bowling at Metrolanes, as well as indoor paintball to get rid of some cabin fever. Of course, if all that fails and it's still raining, there's bound to be a suitable film on as last resort.

Ones to watch

Myers Park at the top of Queen St will have a new playground opening in late spring, but meantime there are sculptures to explore. Take the long climb up the "faded-glamour" stairs from the park into St Kevin's Arcade to get the blood pumping before you fill up with sweet treats from Honeytrap Cafe at the top.

On hot days, head to Judges Bay, a short stroll away from the CBD in Parnell. There are often paddle boarders on this little section of water next to the Parnell Baths, as well as plenty of people jumping off the wharf and pontoons.

If you're technically minded, check out the geocache spots in the CBD and Western Park, or take the skateboard to Nixon Park.

And if you have plenty of time and a lift back, try doing the Coast to Coast walk from Onehunga to the city waterfront through several Auckland parks. This walk is guaranteed to take you to parts of Auckland you never knew existed, let alone visited before.

Another one to try is mountain biking on Arch Hill, less than 10 minutes' drive from the CBD between Grey Lynn and Kingsland. The reserve has 2km of trails from easy to challenging.

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