We sent our two experts out to find Auckland's best playgrounds. Diana Clement reports back.

When it comes to playgrounds, children have strong opinions. Find a good one and the entire family can be kept occupied for hours.

A lot of planning goes into modern playground design. They must of course be creative and challenging. Other issues that councils consider include vandalism and the comfort of parents.

Good playgrounds have separate areas for younger and older children and the most popular playgrounds become destinations for parents willing to travel for some distance to get to them. For some, the proximity of a good cafe is also important.

Weekend asked Auckland's four councils for a shortlist of their best playgrounds. Our testers - Maia Brown, 9, and Milo Brown, 7 - tried out all 18 over a week in the holidays and rated the top 10.

1. Barry Curtis Wetland Playground
Opposite the junction of Erica Rd and Stancombe Rd, Flatbush

Rating: 5 out of 5

In first place, according to our test panel, is the Barry Curtis Wetland Playground in Flatbush. The park itself is bigger than the Auckland Domain, and the brand-new themed playground won a New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects' gold award for its design.

Not that children care about awards. Initially Maia and Milo were enticed out of the car to play on the spacenet, which in itself is not unusual. But what really captured their imagination were the Honey I Shrunk the Kids-sized sculptural elements including gigantic pukeko, metal flax stems that emit a range of sounds when turned, and simple but clever puddle pavers, that fill up with water on wet days for children to splash in. Most impressive were the two birds' keeps, a staggering 3m off the ground, and accessed by ladders, where children can use binoculars to survey the surrounding area.

There's more, the Manukau City Council has just built what's billed as New Zealand's most ambitious skate park at Barry Curtis. It has New Zealand's first cradle, a combination bowl, and a modern skate plaza.

2. Olympic Park Playground
Wolverton Rd, New Lynn.
4 1/2 out of 5

If Mum had been choosing, this former landfill site would have most probably have been rated Auckland's best playground. In the back blocks of Avondale, Olympic Park is big. The real drawcard here is the double spacenet - Auckland's biggest and the antidote for those who argue playgrounds have become too safe. Another unique feature of this playground is the sand play area for toddlers. Electric barbecues make Olympic Park a great spot for a picnic.

3. Rocket Park
751 New North Rd, St Lukes.
4 1/2 out of 5

This has long been a family favourite - in fact Mum played here as a child. These days the towering rocket is simply decorative. One of the best features of the current playground is a junior castle, which, although aimed at pre-schoolers, is a real hit with my children who love role playing. Other modern equipment includes a climbing unit, and several rotating spinners. Unusually the Rocket Park includes several adult exercise stations so that mum or dad (or the kids) can do everything from cycling to triceps dips instead of sitting around. My kids love these machines almost more than the children's equipment and compete to see who can do the most sit-ups on that station.

4. Owairaka Park
56-60 Owairaka Ave, Mt Albert.
4 out of 5

Auckland City's newest playground is always packed with children and adults. We'd already discovered this playground which has an excellent flying fox, hexagonal climbing wall "modules", a double scale swing, roundabout (one of the few modern ones we found), and spinner units. This playground integrates well into other features for older children and adults including two half basketball courts, a volleyball court and a junior bike track with speed bumps. On the day of the review a group of 20 men were playing volleyball, and there were dozens of teenagers in the skate park. The volleyball players were still at it two hours later when we passed by.

5. Snakes and Ladders
38R Bramley Dr, Farm Cove.
4 out of 5

Looks can be deceiving as my children found out. "It's dumb" they said as we drove up. But an hour later, they had to be frogmarched back to the car, unwilling to leave. This playground, next door to the Pakuranga Sailing Club is a giant snakes and ladders game set on a hillside. Mum or one of the kids spins the dice at the bottom out and the children advance on numbered wooden stepping stones. If they land on a ladder they get to climb up, and if it's a snake (a wiggly slide), they slide down again.

6. Browns Bay
Clyde Rd, Browns Bay.
4 out of 5

North Shore residents voted this playground their favourite in 2005. The central feature is a giant wooden ship with a wiggly slide, and a number of climbing features. The wobbly bridge is particularly popular with younger children. The playground also has a six-way swing and a supernova spinner, which is always in use by groups of children. Near the playground are cafes, a fish 'n' chip shop, and a skatepark which make this a great destination for an afternoon.

7. One Tree Hill Domain
670 Manukau Rd, Epsom.
4 out of 5

Auckland's best flying fox is at the One Tree Hill domain. But the most notable feature according to my children is the small train track with a push-along train. This playground has a mixture of older equipment and some newer features including a Roctopus swing that sits four children on rubber tyres and spins around, as well as a rope climbing structure, that we hadn't encountered elsewhere. This playground like some of the others we visited had a liberty swing for children in wheelchairs.

8. Wainoni Park
56 Churchouse Rd, Greenhithe.
3 1/2 out of 5

We were first alerted to this playground last year thanks to a letter to the editor asking the council to build more. My children agree. The water play feature is a firm favourite and great on a hot day. There is a genuine old tractor to play on, a large wide slide and an old-style maypole. The children were also fascinated with the herbs planted around the play equipment. Unfortunately the water has been turned off for the winter to prevent soccer players washing their boots in it - which ruins the pump.

9. Totara Park playground
Wairere Rd, Manurewa.
3 out of 5

A definite destination for a day out, Totara Park playground is set in 216ha park-like grounds with bushwalks. It has two playgrounds. The brand new one near the car park is designed to reflect a traditional Kiwi back yard tree hut. Five minutes down a bush track is another larger playground. Totara Park is a destination with a free outdoor swimming pool, which is open from November to March, mountain biking and a bridle trail.

10. Kennedy Park
137 Beach Rd, Castor Bay.
3 out of 5

I "discovered" this new playground while out running and had the children back there the very next day. Kennedy Park has the first spacenet built on the North Shore. A small climbing wall is built into the old World War II gun emplacements. An added bonus for the children was the Mr Whippy van that makes regular visits.

Also worth mentioning
Xena Park Playground
Lake Panorama Dr, Henderson. Auckland's best duck pond.

Mission Heights Playground
Jeffs Rd, Mission Heights. Flying fox, Roctopus and more.

Hart Domain Playground
Vitasovich Ave, Henderson. Colourful climb-on taniwha, popular with younger children.

Northboro Park
Lowe St, Belmont. The North Shore's newest playground has a spacenet, swings and flying fox.

Piha Domain Playground
21 Seaview Rd, Piha. Large new playground.

Mission Bay Playground
48-56 Tamaki Dr, Mission Bay. Brand new playground with excellent sand and water play.

Ti Pai Playground
Te Pai Pl, Lincoln. Unique rope climbing structure.

Onepoto Domain
Sylvan Ave, Northcote. Fast slide, bike track and duck pond.

* Finally, if you're looking for some variety in playgrounds, check out your local schools. The equipment is often different to that in public parks.

* Have we missed out your favourite? Tell us about it
Email life@nzherald.co.nz and we'll print a selection of readers' top playgrounds in a forthcoming issue.