Today I started what I aim to make more or less a weekly tradition, much to my children’s delight: a trip to playgrounds that we’ve heard about but haven’t visited before (or haven’t visited for a long time). I thought that it would be a good way to learn more about the play facilities on offer in Auckland, enabling me to take photos and give you all a better idea of what’s on offer. Plus, it’s good fun for me and the kids!

For our first Playground Safari we visited three playgrounds, in the Devonport-Takapuna and Kaipātiki Local Board areas.

Rewi Valley Reserve

Local Board: Kaipātiki

Playground list: Auckland Playgrounds of Concern

As I wrote in the Auckland Playgrounds of Concern entry, this is the playground that first made me wonder why so many playgrounds for young children are near busy roads, but unfenced. We hadn’t been back since the incident I discussed, where one of my children nearly ended up in the middle of the road, so I was eager to see how it compared to my memories.

The playground is as close to the road as I remembered, and the fencing is not enough to keep a small child contained. There’s also a gateway, but no actual gate:

However, my children loved the playground, which is perfect for two to four year olds. My kids are four, and could handle everything but one of those high zip line things (which they know better than to ask me to help them with, given that my son is 20 kilos now and far too big for me to hold up that high while he has a go). They particularly loved the extensive ‘fort’, with multiple levels, and lots of things to climb up and down – they enjoyed trying out everything, and decided that the whole thing was the perfect site for a rousing game of Octonauts:

There was plenty of space for caregivers to sit nearby, with a large picnic table and benches next to a free BBQ (out of order at the moment), and some bench seating under a pergola. There are also some artfully-placed rocks nearby. After they’d had a good 20 minute play on the playground itself, my kids mountaineered up the rocks, and practised their balancing skills under the pergola:

My son also decreed that the path leading down into the middle of the Reserve would be “really good if you were on a scooter”. The basketball court would be great to keep older kids occupied while younger siblings played, or for younger kids to sharpen up their scooter skills before heading off down the hill:

So, in many ways, this is a really nice playground. However, the lack of fencing continues to be an issue, given its proximity to the road (and it’s a busy suburban road, with a car passing at least every 30 seconds while we were there today). And although there’s a ‘no dogs allowed’ sign, there’s nothing to actually stop dogs from entering the playground.

Looking beyond the Kiwi Play Safe remit, the lack of shade is a huge problem. We were there at 10.30am, and there was a very small element of tree shade on the slide, but that was fast disappearing, and the playground equipment would be in full sunshine for most of the day. The picnic bench possibly gains some shade by mid-afternoon. And another irritation was the sole rubbish tin on this side of the Reserve, situated around 400m away from the playground and seating.

The verdict: A fun playground, as long as your children are older preschoolers who actually know the importance of staying away from the road (and aren’t runners). However, be liberal with the sunscreen, and perhaps time your visit for no later than 11am in the summer!

Windy Ridge Reserve

Local Board: Kaipātiki

Playground list: Auckland Fenced Playgrounds

After leaving Rewi Valley Reserve we drove for ten minutes, ending up at Windy Ridge Reserve. I was excited to check out this fenced playground – one that I didn’t know about until a reader drew my attention to it last week – but a little disappointed when we got there and discovered that it was one of those playgrounds where only the area immediately around the play equipment is fenced:

I can appreciate that other members of the community also use the Reserve to walk their dogs (and probably not much else – it’s a small space), but it seems a bit miserly when so little fenced space is given: it forces the kids to just use the equipment, providing them with little opportunity to explore other opportunities to play (as per my kids balancing on the pergola and climbing the rocks at Rewi Valley Reserve). However, the fence is very sturdy, with one gate that swings shut and latches, and a second gate that has to be pushed shut.

Although this playground looked good at first glance, my kids and I rapidly realised that it’s designed for school-aged children. They did their best with the equipment that they could reach:

But there was plenty of equipment that was too high for them, or just not friendly for little hands and feet:

Given that there are a huge number of playgrounds for younger children that remain unfenced, it’s difficult to understand why Kaipātiki Local Board decided to fence this one, given that it’s obviously aimed at kids who would be far less likely to impulsively bolt into traffic.

Before too long my kids got bored, and wanted to play on the real MVP of this Reserve: the amazing pohutukawa tree just outside the fencing:

And that’s the biggest frustration with this playground: that tree – and other trees nearby – should have been included in the fenced space. They would have provided much-needed shade on the playground, and they would have given children a nature-based play option. I’m no expert at locating playgrounds appropriately, but wouldn’t you think that this spot between two big trees might have been a good place?

Photo 30-01-17-19.jpeg

The lack of shade really is a problem with this playground, given the extensive use of metal platforms:

Photo 30-01-17-14.jpeg

Imagine how hot they must get by the middle of the afternoon!

Other issues with this playground include a lack of rubbish tins anywhere on the Reserve, and the meagre seating provided for caregivers:

Photo 30-01-17-13.jpeg

The verdict: Windy Ridge Reserve is a lovely spot for a playground, but the one that has been provided is pitched primarily at older children, without much variety to keep siblings of varied ages occupied. The lack of shade is a shame (and would stop me visiting later in the day), but the missed opportunity to incorporate the natural environment is the biggest regret here.

Seine Reserve

Local Board: Devonport-Takapuna

Playground listAuckland Fenced Playgrounds

Our final playground stop was in Milford, at Seine Reserve. There was initial excitement when we pulled up to see the fully fenced Reserve, with a colourful playground nestled within:

Photo 30-01-17-2.jpeg

However, my kids – who have fully embraced their new roles as playground testers for the nation’s small children – discovered that they could easily reach over the fence and unlatch the gate themselves. This was the latch, which is easy to open even if your children are like mine and have never actually attempted to open a gate before:

Photo 30-01-17-8.jpeg

I was so horrified and impressed by their rapid gate-opening skills that I asked them for a demonstration:

And once we got to the playground we realised that, while it looks lovely and colourful, there actually wasn’t much for a couple of four year olds to do. There’s a seesaw (which my two didn’t go near – one twin outweighs the other by four kilos, making seesaws very frustrating for all concerned); one big kids’ swing; and a single preschooler-friendly climbing structure and slide:

There were also a few abstract climbing boxes that would probably keep younger children entertained in the short term:

Photo 30-01-17-9.jpeg

And the whole playground is nicely set in the Reserve, with plenty of space to play:

This means that there is nothing to keep dogs away from the playground – and I don’t remember seeing a sign about keeping dogs out, either. We rented a house down the road from Seine Reserve in 2011, and I used to play fetch with my dog there, and I’m 99% sure that there was a fence separating the playground from the rest of the Reserve then. So, while it’s lovely that there is a lot of grass available for ball games and general running around now, the trade off is a lack of dog-related protection.

More playground-specific: the biggest structures in the playground are designed for older children:

So – like at Windy Ridge Reserve – this seems to be a playground that has been fenced, despite being primarily designed for children who are old enough not to need fencing around their playgrounds. In this case it seems particularly odd to fence a playground aimed for older kids, given that a) there’s no primary school nearby, and b) there’s a kindergarten immediately next door to Seine Reserve.

Looking beyond the play equipment, there are a couple of seating options for caregivers, and a rubbish tin right by the playground, but once again there is virtually no shade – just a random, tiny, shade sail covering an equally tiny raised platform:

Photo 30-01-17-6.jpeg

And the tree shade in the Reserve is far away from the play equipment. However, it provided a scenic spot for an emergency al fresco potty break…

The verdict: Yet another playground with not enough to do for two to four year olds, unfortunately. And while it’s great to see some fencing, in this case it is of limited effectiveness when it’s so low, and with gates that are so easy to open.

Join the campaign for better playgrounds for Kiwi kids – follow Kiwi Play Safe on Facebook