Adults have it rough. We have to go to work and pay our bills. And forget about playing on the swings at the park — they’re much too small for our adult-size bottoms. Unless you’re at The Waterworks eco-park in Coromandel, New Zealand.
In 2005, Jeffrey Howarth bought 10 acres of farmland on New Zealand’s north island. After 10 years of world travel, he planned to settle down and enjoy some peace and quiet in the country. But around Christmastime, Howarth noticed groups of visitors flocking to his homestead. He had no idea that the Waiau River and lush surrounding forests were a popular holiday destination. The laid-back Howarth decided to embrace the situation. With the help of locals, he began building giant slides and swings out of discarded material to entertain his visitors.
Over the years, those few playground essentials have grown to include oddities that even Hogwarts wouldn’t have in store. Strolling through the park’s subtropical forests, you’ll come upon a man of metal turning a whimsical water pump, a hamster wheel big enough for an adult human to fit inside and musical instruments made from random odds and ends like knives and oil barrels. Everything is constructed from recycled materials, and the mechanics run entirely on hydropower or human-power — no electricity required. “We’re the only eco-park in all of New Zealand,” Lynda McGregor, the park’s marketing manager, says proudly.
But the park, with its massive playground equipment, rife with nostalgia, is definitely a fantasyland for adults.
As you might imagine, The Waterworks is also a hit with kids. The bikes you can “ride in the sky like E.T.” are very popular with little ones, says McGregor, as are the Flying Fox zip line and the climbing wall. But the park, with its massive playground equipment, rife with nostalgia, is definitely a fantasyland for adults.
And when it’s time for a break? There are areas to barbecue or pull up a cooler of ice-cold Speight’s beer and have a picnic. The market café also sells dishes made from fruits and veggies grown onsite, as well as organic coffee and ice cream. The swimming hole has great cannon ball spots, and there are plenty of kauri trees tucked away from other exhibits, which provide quiet, shady places to rest. Want to make a weekend of it? Camper vans are permitted in the park overnight.
On a recent visit from the U.K., Susan Logan and her husband found Waterworks in a local guidebook. “We were surprised and delighted once we got inside,” she says. “We had great fun squirting each other, and bear in mind we’re retirement age!” And while she can’t name a favorite attraction overall, she was tickled by the “guest” near the entrance to the outdoor privy — a life-size witch scaring the crap out of bathroom-goers a bit prematurely.
The quirks of Waterworks are endless. You can hand-feed a family of eels that live in the river, says McGregor, and comical stories and quotes on walls will entertain visitors as they stroll through the park.
But the best thing about The Waterworks is how easy it is to let loose. The playful environment will turn even the stodgiest curmudgeon into a giggling, rambunctious 10-year-old.
Go There: The Waterworks
- Where: Located along the historic 309 Road in Waiau Valley. From Auckland: Drive up State Highway 25 along the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula from Thames for about 50 minutes. From Whitianga: Either take the 309 Road from the east coast of the peninsula or follow SH25 from Whitianga to Coromandel Town. Map.
- Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (November to April) and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (May to October). Closed Christmas Day.
- Cost: Adults - NZ$25 ($17.60), children 15 and under - NZ$20 ($14.10) or NZ$75 ($52.77) for a family.
- Pro tip: The region’s subtropical climate makes the park enjoyable year-round. If you want to avoid the crowds, don’t go during high season (the scorching summer months of December and January).
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