Auckland: Art in the park

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright finds public art in children's playgrounds the perfect combination

The Tui Glen Tree Top children's playground at Tui Glen Reserve, Henderson. Photo / Supplied
The Tui Glen Tree Top children's playground at Tui Glen Reserve, Henderson. Photo / Supplied

Art is supposed be fun, but it can also, understandably, suffer from taking itself a bit too seriously when children and their sticky fingers are involved.

Not so with outdoor art, especially when based in parks or playgrounds, creating an atmosphere where children are encouraged to climb, poke and mimic the artworks. Here are some of our favourites:


Auckland Botanic Gardens
102 Hill Rd, Manurewa

From the tower of silver seagulls and metal nikau palm waterfalls at the entrance, to Peter Lange's brick rowboat, seat and tent, there are public artworks to delight children around every corner.

As well as the public art, there are also botanical sculptures, such as gardens filled with different cactus shapes and the giant kereru eggs, moa bird and mosaic numbers to hop around in Potter's Children's Garden.

For just 20c, buy a bag of duck food from the information desk, or encourage children to create their own art in the activity centre.

From the entrance there's a blur of buggies, rushing children and dogs on leads, as well as the friendliest cafe staff where every customer is called "doll".

Wetland Community Play Park
Sir Barry Curtis Park, enter at Stancombe Road, Flatbush

The Wetland Community Play Park was built to prompt children's interest in the nearby wetlands and stormwater ponds. There are also historic stone walls nearby, which were built around the 1880s.

The real attraction, though, is the impressive art - giant metal pukeko babies with their mother, over-sized stone eggs, metal stems that play sounds, puddle pavers that fill up with water on wet days for children to splash in and tall towers with yellow binoculars poking out of walls.

Our children's reaction: "This is just amazing." It's a worthy destination for a Sunday drive. Older kids will love the skate park, winner of last year's Best Design awards - almost a sculpture in its own right.

Olympic Park
Portage Rd, New Lynn

There are spinning tops by Steve Woodward near the carpark and an art viewing bridge, where we spotted quite a few shopping trolleys dumped in the stream, as well as art on the horizon.

Homage to Crown Lynn by Louis Purvis was our favourite artwork and our 4-year-old daughter loved to pull herself up by the teacup handle and pretend to drink from the enormous cups.

Further around the walkway are some impressive metal eels by Whare Thompson, next to an educational poster about stream microbiology.

The play park nearby is filled with climbable structures, as well as a big sandpit and basketball nets for older kids.

Hobsonville Point Playground
Cnr Buckley Ave and Hastings Cres, Hobsonville Point

There are giant climbing structures that look like fantail nests to give children a bird's-eye view and oversized metal seedpods in this nature-based playground themed like a forest floor.

The pathways around the equipment mimic tree-roots and delighted children rush around them, in between turns sitting inside seedpods or twirling on top. Catalina Cafe, or on weekends, the markets, are nearby in case it rains.

Local artist John Reynolds has also created a series of blackened poles set in the landscape, lined up in a visual barrier. He took inspiration from 19th-century illustrations of local Maori demarcation poles for an artwork in, rather than on, the landscape.

Navy Museum Play Park
Torpedo Bay, Devonport

With a view over the water to Auckland skyscrapers, the new Navy Museum play park offers children a chance to explore maritime art while parents can sit at the cafe and take in the stunning views.

Brightly coloured ships' wheels that spin, voice pipes and museum artifacts, such as a small canon and a giant propeller, are great for adding some education into the play.

On a windy day, the wharf nearby is fun to be blown along and in the rain, head into the museum, which is very kid-friendly. Children can even try on a sailor's cap; look out for the great school holiday programme.

Tui Glen 'Tree Top' Playground
Tui Glen Reserve, Claude Brooks Ave, Henderson (near the West Wave Aquatic Centre)

Three large towers made to look like giant wooden tepees are connected by rope walkways to give children a chance to be as high as the large trees surrounding the playground.

Excited children slide, swing and zoom along on the flying fox in front of the climbing structures. There's also a small wooden fort for the younger children to climb.

The reserve, New Zealand's first camping ground (established in 1925), once boasted donkey rides, a skate rink, maypole and fairy grotto, but the modern version is pretty impressive, too.

The Waterfront
Start at the ferry terminal and end at the playground near Silo Park

We usually start at Greer Twiss' Flight Trainer for Albatross sculpture near the ferry terminals and end at the Jellicoe St playground.

Along the way, the kids play a kind of hopscotch on the multi-coloured striped pavement before the Wynyard Crossing, listening out for the sounds created by artist Rachel Shearer on a six-hour, 10-minute loop.

They climb over the giant moveable deck chairs before heading over to sit inside the shiny ship funnels, listening to each other talking through the smaller funnels.

Michio Ihara's stainless steel Wind Tree is usually overlooked as they run towards the "under the sea" themed playground near to the Silo Six-Pack. On rainy days, there's an indoor sandpit at the Auckland Fish Market for shelter.

While you are in the neighbourhood, check out the Landscape Unleashed exhibition on Karanga Plaza (until April 23). It shows 14 of the best rural and urban public space designs, winners from the recent Institute of Landscape Architects awards - add some to your list of places to visit for another weekend.

Variety Long Bay All-Access Playground
Long Bay Regional Park

Giant musical instruments, two trampolines built into grass mounds, in-ground tube talk systems and a nature trail were added to the Long Bay Regional Park late last year. There are also different-sized hearts to leap-frog over and a bumpy grass area in the middle, surrounded by a climbing frame and flying fox.

It's an all-access playground perfect for children of all abilities, including those in wheelchairs. Climb up the rope towers and take in beautiful views across the ocean, or interact with the friendly pukeko and ducks who live here.

Myers Park
Queen St, central Auckland

Rachel Walters' Critters are three cast bronze bird sculptures hidden under cardboard boxes and inside paper bags. They're at the Queen St entrance to the park and the nearby kindergarten children have been inspired to do workshops on endangered birds. The children were given cardboard boxes and paper bags to cut eyes out of to hide under and pretend to be just like the birds. If you've got shopping to do in the city, it's worth a visit and a bit of crafting fun for the kids afterwards. There's also an old-school playground that is just as popular as the more modern versions.

- NZ Herald

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