The young (and young at heart) are welcome in an oasis in the South Island’s biggest city
When we first laid eyes upon a Dr. Seuss-ian playground in Christchurch, New Zealand, I wondered what the cost of admission would be, since the only places I’ve seen with such flair and creative design are theme parks. But it’s free for all, including two hours of free parking. At a total cost of somewhere between NZ$3 million and NZ$40 million, what an investment from the city to build it and build it right.
I only say it feels influenced by Dr. Seuss because I haven’t yet read the writer whose work actually inspired this wonderland. The Margaret Mahy Family Playground is named after a prolific children’s author who was a local resident until her death in 2012—only a few years before the 2015 unveiling of the park.
A few architects-in-training (read: local students) won a competition to blueprint the place, and I’d say they all have bright, and possibly quirky, futures based on this memorable gem of park. According to TripAdvisor, the playground is the #1 attraction in Christchurch and boasts a perfect 5.0 average rating with more than 800 reviews. Based on the quantity of laughs and smiles we saw there, it’s easy to see why.
During our few days in Christchurch, we worked our way through some amazing food, cafes, museums, and walks. Many people we met mentioned the tragic earthquake that struck the city in 2011, and it’s clear that much rebuilding has been done—even as lots more remains underway. The Margaret Mahy playground was one of the projects that came out of the rebuilding.
Even though Eliza is still too young to play in most areas, she repeatedly attempted to climb a behemoth of a hill, eventually making her way up with only a little support from her Dad. The slides were slick. The swings swung high. Sean and I took turns trying out the less baby-friendly parts of the playground. It seems like the builders weren’t afraid to make the playground a little less “safe” than most of the playgrounds we can think of back in the States.
It’s rare that a playground might be reason enough to travel somewhere, but this one is rare indeed and well worth a family trip to Christchurch. We even heard that the playground is a date spot for couples young and old after dark. When visiting, beware that a side-effect of all the fun might be a lasting smile, though we also learned what other parents have warned: that sometimes all the laughter follows quickly with some serious crying.
After about an hour of relentless playtime, when we told Eliza it was time to go (by picking her up to leave), the tears started flowing. She was exhausted and it was well past her nap-time, so we swiftly escorted her out even as we also wished we had more time. One of the best parts about being a parent is the freedom to act like a kid again—or at least view the world through one.