Have fun on a playground

I’m not sure I can fit through this hole.

This is not an ideal thought to have when halfway through said hole. Damn these child-bearing hips! Above me, my seven-year-old bounces impatiently on the netting by my head.

“Come on Mum, you can do it!” I contort my body into the small pocket, lift my feet off the astroturf below and push through a second, even tighter hole to emerge with relief and ruffled hair into a riot of squealing children, bouncing and rolling over a vast expanse of multi-coloured crochet.

The scene is as surreal as it sounds.

I have wriggled my way inside the sculpture of Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi Macadam. An artwork-slash-children’s climbing frame, hand crafted using 70kms of coloured nylon over more than two years, stretched from a 12-metre-high metal frame.

This is part of the playground of Henderson’s Whoa! Studios, in West Auckland. Whoa! comprises a plush, purpose-built theatre with daily pantomime shows, a working film studio and an ‘adult playground’ aka The Grounds – a first class restaurant where parents can enjoy a spot of casual but impressive dining, while the kids play on the fully supervised playground.

From the vintage-inspired toy shop with its oversized teddy bears, to the gleaming brass and red velvet doors of the theatre, or the behind-the-scenes tour of the intricately crafted movie sets, everything is well executed down to the smallest of details. Whoa! really lives up to its name.

After lunch, we take our seats in the dimmed theatre for the afternoon performance of A Very Gloomy Holidays. The kids giggle at nefarious Dr Gloom’s giant prosthetic nose and shriek with laughter when he gets his villainous sidekick, Colin, to do the ‘maniacal laugh.’ We all yell with gusto when encouraged by the Muppet-like puppets: Jazz, Buzz and leader of the gang, Custard.

After the applause dies away and the audience files out, we stop to examine ‘The Treehouse,’ a movie-style set built by the same crew who worked on Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, replete with digital projection screens and trapdoors for all the classic, knee-slapping pantomime gags.

When the kids get hot and tired after rampaging through the playground – bouncing over sneaky in-ground trampolines, swinging off crochet pods, scaling the Dragon’s Castle and plundering Pirates' Cove – they are quickly revived with a cold-pressed juice and house-made, choc-dipped ice-creams on sticks.

After a full day out, the children have run themselves ragged, but before we leave I have to have one last go on that playground…

Reported by Jo Percival for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue

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