We're having the goddaughter's birthday party at Potters Park on Sunday. It's where I learned to seesaw, where my big brother broke both arms coming off the swings, where I've taken my grandchildren, and it's not the same playground at all.
Like so many of the new-generation play areas around the motu, this central Auckland kidzone now has water features, climbing ropes, tunnels and more. And it's always packed.
So often, councils cop it from grumpy citizens for spending on cycle paths and not on sewerage or whatever, but creating these amazing playgrounds seems an investment in our smaller fry.
Today we continue our Best of Summer 2022 series, featuring Herald readers' favourite campgrounds, fish'n chip shops, beach walks and ice cream stores, with your best-loved playgrounds. To vote for the ultimate winner, scroll to the bottom of the page to find the simple voting form.
Which of the following 10 playgrounds will be crowned NZ's Best of Summer?
Kennedy Rd, Greenmeadows, Napier
Heard of a Destination Playground? It's a park designed to provide families with a day out rather than just a 20-minute romp for the littlies. This 36ha park has a playground, ponds, model railway and boats; it also has paths and green spaces for picnics or community events. The $3.6m all-abilities playground (see Long Bay) opened in 2018 and won the Outstanding Park Award for imaginative climbing and sliding equipment, flying foxes, waterplay, artworks with messages in braille and interactive noise-making gear. Physical challenges are targeted at various age levels; wisely, younger children's activities are concentrated at one end and teens at the other, near a skate bowl.
140a Anzac Parade, Whanganui
Long one of the city's top family attractions, the playground has been dramatically re-engineered with new stuff alongside the old. Children climb inside a giant octopus, swings hanging from its tentacles; slides fall from a dinosaur's back, whale's tail, inside a clocktower. Nursery rhyme characters abound, there are merry-go-rounds, rocket and pirate ships. Challenges include the concrete mountain (wriggle through tunnels or rockclimb to the top) and a treetop fort for climbing, sliding or taking on the flying fox. Families can picnic at tables inside a giant pumpkin. A miniature railway runs on weekends.
Lake Domain Playground
Ruakiwi Rd, Hamilton
Disclosure: Brought my children here. Now it's the grandchildren's turn, at another much-loved city park that's had an exciting makeover. Added to the old-school equipment is a treetop-themed playground, a double-tower with large tube slides to add another level of "wow". Designed to fit in with the park's trees and landscape, people of all ages and abilities can enjoy it. You've probably guessed from the name that the playground is beside Lake Rotoroa with water-based activities like yachting, windsurfing, canoeing and model boats, fishing and feeding the ducks, or burning off energy along walkways and bike trails.
Levin Adventure Park
93 Oxford St, Levin
Roadtrippers usually drive through Levin without stopping – it's almost the last series of red lights before you get onto Wellington's motorways, certainly the final set before you reach the open road heading north. Take a break: the Horowhenua capital's family park is set among trees in the middle of town (technically, Oxford St is State Highway 1). Facilities cater for everyone, from the under-5's play area to all-ages physical challenges. For other family members needing a comfort stop, there's a separate dog rest/exercise area. On weekends and holidays there's a miniature train and if you can't face that tedious 90-minute crawl into Wellington, campervans can park overnight.
Long Bay Regional Park
Beach Rd, Long Bay, Auckland
"All-Abilities Playgrounds" are a blessing for many families and a hat-tip to website grabyourwheels.nz for its comprehensive guide to dozens of wheelchair-accessible recreation opportunities. In 2012 Variety, the Children's Charity and Auckland Council partnered to build this all-inclusive playground. It's accessed by wooden and concrete pathways; equipment such as the climbing frame and swing are surrounded by tarseal rather than bark because it's awkward to steer a wheelchair through mulch. A sandpit enables children or parents in wheelchairs to play in the sand, seesaws and swings are designed for kids who have mobility issues, and a discovery trail reveals drums and xylophones, "tube talk" stations and binoculars to engage with.
Margaret Mahy Playground
177 Armagh St, Christchurch
Okay, so this is the big one. Literally: the 2ha-plus kidzone is the Southern Hemisphere's largest playground. All-ages, all-abilities (some tweaking to the original was required), it's designed to encourage kids to challenge themselves physically, learn to take risks in a safe space, interact with others – and for caregivers to join in the climbing, balancing, jumping, digging, bouncing, sliding, spinning and splashing. There's a toddlers-only area to keep wee ones safe from the older kids' rougher stuff, and a waterplay/paddling precinct. Couple of caveats: it's big, keep an eye on your lot; and it's always busy.
Hibiscus Coast Highway, Orewa, Auckland
Fun fact: Sir Edmund Hillary's dad planted the Norfolk pines which line the 3km beachfront in the 1950s. No, we are not recommending anyone climb them; there are sensible summer activities on the beach. But we're here to talk about the adventure playgrounds with equipment for all ages and sizes, and separate areas for younger and older kids. Great for families – you'll often see three or more generations taking turns. The nearby skatepark has halfpipes, turnaround quarterpipes, ramp, bridge, rails, ledges and more. Plus, one of the most amazing views from any swing or slide this side of heaven.
Pukekura Park Playground
Fillis St, New Plymouth
Pukekura Park's lakes, waterfalls, gardens, nature trails, picnic spaces and zoo are 52ha of adventure playground. As if that wasn't enough, the city's jewel has three play areas. The biggest and newest, inside Brooklands Zoo with its walk-through aviary, is one of the best in the country. While it's packed with creative spaces like tunnels through a little hill, a couple of slides, swings, mini-trampolines and a flying fox, two features are standouts. The Super Frisbee is a large rope-climbing experience set between two futuristic steel rings. The Waterwheel teaches youngsters how to control the flow of water. Suppose it's meant to be educational. Looks like fun.
Takapuna Beach Reserve Playground
The Strand, Takapuna, Auckland
One of Auckland's destination playgrounds, dominated by the 9m tower and slides merged with a 7m-high rope-climb. Done with that, kids can master the in-ground trampolines, merry-go-round swings, balancing seesaw, giant hamster wheel and waterplay. The merry-go-round and an in-ground trampoline are wheelchair accessible. When playtime's over, kick back in hammocks under the pōhutakawa, picnic or go for a swim. Remember, Takapuna Beach doesn't have lifeguards so keep a close eye on water-based activities.
Town Basin Playground
Dent St-Riverside Drive, Whangārei
If you've not gone up north for a while, congrats to Whangārei's council for a bold and imaginative makeover. The Town Basin Park links its waterfront and city centre via the Huarahi o te Whai Hatea Loop Walkway. The centrepiece playground has a "time and tide" theme, referencing both the famous Clapham Clock Museum and traditional rhythms of the sea and seasons. No doubt the kids will bear all this in mind as they attack the hourglass-shaped climbing tower; the spiral Titan Xtreme Hoop Course of climbing nets and connecting bridges that represents the tide forming ridges of sand and depositing debris from the sea; the all-abilities Inclusive Carousel, musical instruments and swings. Or maybe they'll just have a ball.