From the absurd to the absurdly beautiful, New Zealand boasts some of the world's most unique playgrounds. Here are eight of the country's best, guaranteed to delight both children and the child within.
Cornwall Park in Hastings
When Hastings' revamped Cornwall Park playground reopened in December 2019, the buzz was palpable. It had taken five months and $1.7 million for architects to transform Hastings' oldest park into a state-of-the-art destination. The main attraction? New Zealand's fastest slide.
If your kids don't have a need for speed, there are 27 other pieces of equipment to explore, including a 10m-high acorn tower, which is connected by rope structures to four more slides.
Queen Elizabeth Park in Masterton
Considered to be one of the best family parks in New Zealand, there's a laundry list of activities to enjoy at Queen Elizabeth Park in the centre of Masterton. For starters you can ride a miniature train, feed the ducks, play mini golf, try the BMX and skate park, or go for a boat ride on the pond.
It's all impressive, but the "Kids Own Playground" section is nothing to snuff at. Built in only six days, it includes a pirate ship, castle, and flying fox, with accessible areas for wheelchair users.
Māra Hūpara in Mt. Roskill, Auckland
What started as a stormwater control project resulted in one of Auckland's most innovative play areas. Hidden in Underwood Reserve, Māra Hūpara is based on ngā aro tākaro, or traditional Māori games.
You won't find steel, plastic, rubber or bright colours here — everything is made from locally sourced natural materials. Ancient swamp kauri are linked by kōpapa or long log walkways, a torero is meant for climbing, and wera-te-paatu allow kids to practise agility and balance. It's not just a chance to play — it's an opportunity for kids to be fully immersed in both nature and history.
Parliament Playground in Wellington
An opening ribbon was cut on International Children's Day in 2019, but it wasn't until last month that taxpayers learned the true cost of the Parliament Playground. The slide, which was made of sustainably sourced native red beech, cost taxpayers $572,000.
Although it's architecturally stunning, this definitely isn't Wellington's most immersive playground. (It's basically just a slide and some wooden blocks.) But considering it features the country's most luxurious piece of play equipment, you might as well get your money's worth.
Kowhai Park in Whanganui
Whanganui's Kowhai Park is rumoured to be the country's best playground. As soon as you set foot in the nursery rhyme-themed park, located on the east banks of the Whanganui River, you'll understand why.
Spread out across an area that would put most playgrounds to shame, there's everything from swings hanging from an octopus' tentacles to giant snake see-saws. You can have a cook-out inside a pumpkin or commune with Humpty Dumpty on his brick wall. The park may be forever trapped in 1959 (the year construction started) and the paint may be chipping, but its charm hasn't faded.
Marlow "Dinosaur" Park in Dunedin
The 1960s was clearly the golden era for playground construction. Not to be confused with Wānaka's Dinosaur Park (also worth visiting), Marlow Park's highlight is the massive dinosaur slide that's been delighting families for six decades.
It's set on the shores of St. Kilda beach and you'll also find all the stock standard equipment here with some twists (swings hang from a giant serpent), alongside a comprehensive "learn to ride" area for burgeoning cyclists.
Steampunk Playground in Friendly Bay, Ōamaru
Ōamaru isn't just the centre of one of the world's largest steampunk movements — it's also the site of what may be the world's only steampunk playground.
Just around the corner from the historic Victorian precinct, the Friendly Bay park features a giant elephant, Penny Farthing swings, a flying fox and a mouse wheel. And if Hastings' has the fastest slide, this might just be home to the country's steepest.
As if that wasn't enough of a drawcard, there's also a new balance section featuring a permanent slackline.
Margaret Mahy Playground in Christchurch
If you haven't visited Christchurch in the past few years, you'll arrive to find a city very different from the one you remember — and at the centre of it all is the $20 million playground near the Avon River. It was named for local children's author Margaret Mahy, who believed in the power of imagination and exploration.
Designed by Ōamaru design firm Numat (with help from 6000 local children), its motto seems to be "bigger is better" and it's believed to be one of the largest playgrounds in the Southern Hemisphere. Even the equipment is mega-sized (read: big enough for grown-ups), like the giant slide than an entire family can go down side by side. There are in-ground trampolines and a water-play area. Best of all, slopes and surfacing meet accessibility requirements.
This story first appeared in the Herald on 5 July