The Long Bay Regional Park on Auckland’s North Shore has a fantastic waterfront location and is host to nature trails and sheltered picnic areas which attract families from all over Auckland. The long sandy beach is a huge drawcard, with safe swimming for the kids and plenty of parking. During the Summer months, ice-cream and food vans park up and families bring all sorts of things with them to make it a real day out. The area is said to attract over 750,000 people every year.
Variety, The Children’s Charity and Auckland Council partnered up to design and build an all inclusive playground for the Park. The playground was opened to the public back in October 2012. It was designed to be accessible by children, parents and caregiver’s of all abilities. The project was funded by Auckland Council who provided half the funds through their playground budget and the rest was raised through various businesses and charities. Plaques and heart sculptures can be seen around the playground identifying everyone who made this development happen.
Nearly 8 years on I was keen to revisit the site. Now having children slightly older we look at things in a whole new way. Finlay used to get around in a manual wheelchair but now he travels in a power chair. I also can’t lift him into a swing like I used to, so unless his wheels can get some place they become his barrier to things.
As you drive in you will find three marked mobility parks. The one to the right is quite narrow. Parking during the peak hot summer months is in red hot demand, so unfortunately, I have seen these parks abused by those who don’t need them. As you can see the Council is doing their best to make sure they are well marked with signage.
On the other side of the playground, if you drive a little further around you will find more. The mobility parks here are not marked with lines however so parking will be at the discretion of those that park there. For example, close proximity between cars will make it impossible for wheelchair users to exit their vehicles from side entry.
The playground is accessible via a series of wooden and concrete pathways that wave around the different play spaces. Finlay finds the wooden trail amusing as his wheelchair vibrates a little over the grooves. A little bit of sensory feedback is always entertaining. To access various play equipment, like the climbing frame and swing, black tar seal has been applied over the bark. Such a great idea as bark can be awkward to wheel through with a set of wheels or a walker.
The Sand Pit
Always a favourite with kids and a great learning opportunity to get all children of all abilities playing together. The equipment here enables not only children in wheelchairs a chance to play with the sand, but also parents in wheelchairs who might like to play with their young toddler. Just like able-bodied parents, those in wheelchairs also like to spend quality time with their young children playing alongside them.
We all loved a see-saw when we were kids. Eight years ago when we first visited this playground I was able to pick Finlay up and place him into the see-saw with his sister. He was six then and loved it, but more so because it was something he could play on with his 4 year old sister. Now he is a big 14-year-old and I would find it hard to get him in and out without a great deal of assistance. That’s why I think it’s always good to have another equipment option to play on for those who are more wheelchair dependent.
The Wheelchair Carousel for example, would make a fantastic addition to the see-saw that will include the wheelchair dependent child or adult. This piece of equipment would compliment the playground well. It means everyone can join in. All-abilities being the key to any inclusive playground.
Swings are another favourite amongst kids, in this playground there is one high back swing with a harness and one basket swing. They are both accessed by a tar seal area that provides access over the bark from the wooden pathway. You will find also two regular backless swings right next door to them.
As you make your way along the paved walkways you will come upon picnic and park benches, water fountains and different activity equipment. The hammock has loose bark around it and I remember putting our Finlay into it when he was still liftable and it giving him so much joy. These days its all about lifts and transfers that cause most of our barriers.
The saddle swing we found wonderful when we were able to do a standing transfer with Finlay. I would support him on the seat and get him to practice his sit to stand.
I’m not a great fan of the standalone wheelchair swings but I do like the wooden wheelchair accessible glider swings. I especially like the ones that incorporate extra seating areas so all children can jump onboard and experience the play equipment together.
Along the discovery trail you will find lots of creative Xylodrums (wooden tongue drums) and xylophones to engage with. The music stations around the playground are all made out of wood so very in keeping with the natural setting underneath the shade of all the trees. The trees are also full of native birds making it all sound pretty special.
The music stations were all sourced from SoundPlay.Com – A company known for their accessible outdoor musical playground equipment.
I really like the idea of this climbing frame. Again, tar seal has been put down over the bark just around the ‘accessible area’ of the climbing frame. This allows a child who has limited ability the chance to give it a go. Again, when my son was small enough I would place him onto this so he felt included as his able-bodied sister climbed all around him.
Further along the trail you will find ‘in ground tube talk stations’ where you can talk through one tube making your voice travel underground to another tube station. In the same location you will find binoculars too that are all at a good height to access via a wheelchair.
There used to be trampolines that were built into grassy mounds with gradual slopes to access them. On this occasion I couldn’t quite find them and wonder if the grass has been allowed to grow over them. They may still be there … just very well camouflaged!
The Flying Fox
Now this is amazing for so many reasons. If you are parent in a wheelchair and you want to coax your little one to have a go you can. If you are a child in a wheelchair with good enough upper body strength to hold on you can.
Unfortunately the flying fox is still out of action and has been on my last couple of visits. When it is back in use make sure you have someone ready and waiting on the other end to help the child down. An obvious things to say, but I wouldn’t want you to think I hadn’t thought about what happens next once the ride ends.
Toilets & Changing Rooms
Now, the older and heavier my Finlay gets the harder it is for us as a family to stay out for too long. He simply can’t perform a standing transfer, so when he needs to use a toilet there is nowhere for him to go.
We checked out the playground’s accessible toilet and changing facilities. It ticked all the boxes for a standard public accessible toilet, but unfortunately it didn’t tick any boxes for us. I did note how fantastic it was to see a sink made lower to enable a wheelchair user the chance to wash their hands along with everyone else. The changing room itself was an open space with a bench.
What we would like to see in addition to what is already here is a a registered Changing Place. A Changing Place would enable us to assist our son to toilet. This in turn would mean our whole family could stay longer and enjoy this beautiful location along with everyone else.
“What DOES A Changing Place HAVE, THAT A REGULAR DISABILITY TOILET DOES NOT? “
Check out my review on one recently built in Newmarket, Auckland.
Recently in Tauranga the council started building picnic benches to include wheelchair users. This was thanks to members of the community who came up with a design to solve the problem. As you can see from this example taken at the playground, the standard picnic benches don’t allow wheelchair users the feeling of inclusion while they sit and eat with family and friends. They have to sit at the end of a table which means they can often be away from the conversation. An article around the story of the Tauranga picnic benches can be read here.
Access to the Beach
Now this is something that is not possible presently at Long Beach from the playground. Imagine visiting this playground and the Long Bay Regional Park and actually being able to access the beach with everyone else.
Unless you have the wheels to take on the terrain and assistance with you it’s not possible. So I decided to put together a few images to see what things could look like for everyone if access was made possible. It’s amazing what a bit of photoshop can do.
“Often one of us has to stay with Finlay to keep him company while the others take to the beach. This can be quite frustrating for our family and the guilt of not being inclusive is huge”
Access from the playground in the distance to the beach could start with the same concrete trail used in the playground. The gradient is relatively flat and could be managed easily by those in wheelchairs or with walkers.
The tricky bit would be access down to the beach from here. In keeping with the natural environment a wooden pathway could be built and curve down to the beach to help with the gradient. This would allow the path to be free from natural weather erosion and foot traffic.
Then comes the beach mat that can be rolled out to any length desired to cover the distance to the water. There are many beach mat options out there that work better along different beach terrain. It’s best to explore the options before fixating on a particular brand. C1South has started importing the Mobi-Mat and Mobi-Chair Floating Beach Wheelchair into New Zealand. These brands are used extensively in Australia.
Beachwheels NZ also have a number of different options for beach access and are conveniently located at Long Bay. If anyone knows this area well it would be Mike from Beachwheels NZ.
“Just imagine how wonderful it would be to have a set of beach wheelchairs for hire next to the access mat on the beach”