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Playground designers Philippa and Renee Muir at Porritt Park. Photo: KELLEY TANTAU

Thames history in new playground

Thames’ first Destination Playground will give a nod to the past by incorporating an accessible boat akin to the one that used to be berthed at Porritt Park.
The designers of the playground, Philippa Muir and her daughter Renee, have been inspired to construct a space which reflects Thames’ history and the needs of its community.
“We’ve spent a bit of time here and we’ve talked to a lot of people,” the Auckland-based designers told The Profile. “We’ve looked at the history, we’ve looked at the Wakatere and we know that the boat and the lighthouse were really important before.”
In October, 2016, the Wakatere boat at Porritt Park was dismantled to make way for a skate park. It was built by the Thames Lions Club more than 40 years earlier, and was a replica of the Wakatere paddle steamer, which linked the Thames goldfields and Auckland from 1896 until 1926.
The new playground, an innovative Destination Playground like those often seen in bigger centres, will feature a new boat and lighthouse design, with all ages and all abilities able to use it.
The park will also feature an all-accessible carousel and see-saw, as well as water and sensory play. Construction is hoped to kick off early next year.
“We don’t want to put in elements that, for the first six months, look great and then start to deteriorate,” Renee said. “What we’re putting in will be able to be maintained for a long time.”
The sustainability-minded designers also want to get “the best value for money” and will reuse some of the items within the current Porritt Park playground, including the swings.
The wood chips would be used in landscaping, while items that don’t get reused will be donated to kura and kōhanga reo around the area.
“We want to be able to provide something that puts Thames on the map,” Renee said.
Previously, the pair designed a destination playground in Takapuna, Auckland, which features a 9m-high tower with slides, which joins to a 7m-high climbing rope structure.
There are also in-ground trampolines, merry-go-round swings, and a giant mouse house hamster wheel.
Philippa said the project was one of her proudest since establishing Future Landscapes 23 years ago.
“When you see the kids playing on it, the first thing you think of is: ‘Oh my gosh, I got it right’. It’s very gratifying and humbling,” she said.
“Everybody gave a little in some way, and those projects are really nice. This one will be another nice one, with people giving time, supplies… it’s not just a commercial job, it becomes a bit of a passion.”
Thames’ state-of-the-art and accessible jungle gym will be majority-funded by philanthropists, who have asked to keep their identities a secret.
It will also include a Changing Places public bathroom which meets the needs of people who cannot use standard accessible toilets.
DETAILS: To keep up to date, find Porritt Park Project on Facebook or email