A Playground in New Zealand

Skate park in Raglan New ZealandLocation: Raglan, New Zealand

The Raglan Website lists all amenities and a bit of history about the Raglan Domain.

IMG_2763This is a Guest Review from my dear friend Helen Sarakinos, who blogs at The Winged Samara. Helen temporarily relocated to New Zealand for a six-month sabbatical with her husband and two children. After a couple of months adventuring throughout the country in a van, they settled into the funky little beach town of Raglan on the west coast of the North Island. Helen is an adventurer by nature, always open to exploring new places, playing with ideas big and small, and learning new things. She speaks many languages, gets her hands dirty in the garden and kitchen, and rocks out often with her kids and husband. She co-founded and co-organizes the annual May Picnic in the Park and started the Fools Flotilla in her official capacity as a River Rat with the River Alliance of Wisconsin.


This spot on earth has a lot going for it. The town of Raglan is right on the beach and has a centrally located and very lovely recreational area. This central gathering spot makes it delightfully easy to play, eat and get all your errands done in one little spot. We like to walk in from our rental house and spend some time hanging out.

The ‘playground’ is more than a playground. It is located within the Raglan Domain, a recreational reserve made up of 18 hectares of land given by the Maori owners to the Raglan Town Board in 1923. The founding idea was for the domain, also called Kopua Domain using the Maori term, “to be a playground for Raglan people of both races for all time.”

The reserve is accessed by a lovely footbridge from the center of town. It is across the bay, which is a favorite spot for jumping into the water. Within the domain there are actually several playgrounds, as well as a swimmable black sand beach, a skatepark and bmx trails, walking paths, and playing fields. The skatepark was recently upgraded and nationally recognized for its creative and challenging runs. I love that the extension was designed to mimic the nearby rolling surf.

Collage of images from Raglan New Zealand

Playground-Review-logoWhat’s to love?

Adult: I love this place for a lot of reasons. The whole designed playground is super fun and holds attention and challenges you to use your body in different ways, and I’ve noticed that many adults, myself among them, find it irresistible not to join in the fun. There is a seamless transition from playground to nature. The kids start at the playground, but they are easily drawn to climbing the trees. Eventually, they head to the beach for a swim and some playing in the sand and that’s usually where we end up. In fact, I love that I can take a dip in the water even if they don’t want to. And the setting! All around us, the smell of the sea and view of the mountains. It’s pretty idyllic.  The kids can fish or dig for shellfish, construct their own games, and get creative. While I might like more natural areas to play or walk in (like trails through woods), here the water offers a real connection to the landscape.

Six-Year-Old: “I really like scootering up and down the bridge. I like playing on the playground, I like to practice hanging on the swinging wheels and I like the monkey bars because they help me get stronger. I love the spinner swing because I get in there with my mom and I can swing us both with my feet. Everyday, you get to go to the beach, the water looks so blue and sparkling and clean and once we had a sandcastle competition there and I got to build a big castle and I won a prize. And sometimes there are seahorses in the bay! I love that we can walk there and it’s close to town.”

Nine-Year-Old: “I like the the challenge of going across the bars with just my arms. I think it’s awesome because there’s a park, and the beach is right there and there’s a bridge you can jump off into the water! And there’s a skate park to play at, too. It’s great that it’s located right close to downtown because you can skate on over and go to the store or the library after playing. You don’t have to drive.”

Thoughts: Most noticeable about this place is that there are a lot of kids here, pushing their limits in all sorts of ways  with little parental presence. Of course there are always a couple of adults keeping an eye on things, but generally, kids are left to do their own thing and that thing is sometimes pretty amazing. The skatepark is full of tiny rippers, pulling off some incredible tricks on boards and scooters. Even the playground has plenty of monkeys, working on their balance as they walk across the top of the swings 16 feet in the air. Kids are generally looking out for one another, especially around the water and the fish & chips shop at the reserve always lets them call home or get a drink of water if they need it. As a parent raising kids in the US, I realize it looks weird to me to see a bunch of 7-, 8-year olds playing alone in the park for hours. How sad is that? New Zealanders also have a very different appetite for letting kids take risks than we do. One of the local elementary schools has a mini skatepark on its school playground! If there is one thing I don’t love, however, is the lax attitude to helmets. About half the kids are skating helmet-less. They need to protect their brains! That one is non-negotiable for me.


About Jessica Becker

I am a community outreach professional raising two daughters with my husband in an old house on an isthmus. I wake early to practice yoga, I cook dinner for my family, I bike most places I go, and I believe that happiness is a life skill. It is up to each of us to create the causes of happiness. For me, that means seeing what is going on and engaging creatively with people and places. I write about it at BetweenTwoLakes.com.

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