Sydney’s Lavender Bay is the perfect spot to enjoy the spectacular Sydney scenery and let time pass by. If you turn your back to the gorgeous view and walk a up a stealthy flight of stairs, you’ll find yourself somewhere a bit magical – Wendy’s Secret Garden.
The garden was created in 1992 by Wendy Whiteley, wife and muse to artist Brett Whiteley, following her by then ex-husband’s death. Before Wendy turned the patch of land into the whimsical retreat it is today, it was a dumping ground, overgrown with weeds. The lot is officially owned by NSW State Railways, but after Wendy’s incredible efforts to turn it into a treasure to be enjoyed by the general public, the government has agreed lease the land to North Sydney Council on a 30-year renewable lease, securing it for hopefully generations to come.
The garden lies beneath the home Wendy shared with her husband and their daughter, Arkie. What started as a therapeutic way for Wendy to channel her grief following Brett’s death turned into a creative outlet for her, and a sanctuary for locals and visitors.
Wendy invested millions of her own money into the project, with the resulting garden filled with tall Moreton Bay figs, flowers and shrubs.
We took Cheese to visit the secret garden recently, and she, like the many other children we encountered along it’s winding pathways and steep climbs, was enchanted by the hidden trails, secret sculptures and beautiful plants. Many families we encountered had brought a picnic and whiled away the afternoon at the various tables, chairs and benches set up for general use, while their kids enjoyed discovering the secrets contained in the special garden.
We have been exploring a lot of southwest Sydney lately, looking for parks and playgrounds in particular. I was recently re-introduced to the Central Gardens Nature Reserve in Merrylands, where I spent a lot of my childhood while my parents played their weekly tennis game with friends. At the time, the gardens were closed so I never was past the tennis court. It was amazing to see the park in daylight, and open! I remember in my errant youth scaling the tennis court bathroom walls in an attempt to see the closed off garden at night – so to see it during the day brought back memories of our night time stealth mission that ultimately failed and left us somewhat in trouble as a result.
The Central Gardens Nature Reserve, also called the Central Gardens, is a nature reserve in the southwest Sydney suburb of Merrylands. The 12 hectare park features two playgrounds, animal enclosures, BBQ areas, a flat path perfect for scooters and bikes, plus a small waterfall feature.
The playground we found was fantastic, with the biggest shade cloth I’ve ever seen over a playground. It was so wonderful to visit in the middle of the day and not worry about sunburn.
Behind the playground lies the animal enclosures. It’s free to wander through them and see the very well cared for animals, including birds, particularly scary emus, wallabies with babies in their pouches, and kangaroos.
We didn’t find the waterfall this visit, but will be back to find it next time.
Do you know of any more great southwest Sydney parks for us to discover?
Southwest Sydney really has some fantastic places for families to enjoy the great outdoors. One of our faves is the Plough and Harrow Park in Abbotsbury. The park is part of the massive Western Sydney Parklands that spans across the suburbs of Abbotsbury, Eastern Creek, Prospect and Horsley Park. The entire parklands covers 5,280 hectares, and includes several playgrounds, events centres and sporting venues.
We end up at the Plough and Harrow in Western Sydney Parklands East a fair bit. It has a fantastic playground, 22 electric BBQs, parking for over 200 cars, 24 picnic shelters, a pond with ducks and other water birds, public bathrooms and a cafe/restaurant: Amoretti’s.
The big draw for us is the playground. It’s spread out across a large area, interspersed with trees and other Australian bush pants. The playground features include a hamster wheel, flying fox, sand pit, little kid play area, large climbing spiderweb, basket swing, big kid swings and a water pump feature. The park has play equipment for all different ages, so it’s a suitable venue for families with kids of all ages.
The only downside to this playground is the lack of shade. It could do with some shade cloth!
Make a day of your visit to the park by booking into Treetop Adventure Park too, which is located in this part of Western Sydney Parklands, too.
Plough and Harrow Park
Western Sydney Parklands,
Elizabeth Drive, Abbotsbury Bathrooms: Yes Picnic tables: Yes Shade cover: No Cafe: Yes Skatepark: No Off-street parking: Yes Children’s playground: Yes Water features: Yes Get Directions
Parramatta Park is one of Sydney’s most historic places. In the centre of the park is Old Government House, which, along with the surrounding pack, is one of 11 sites that form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage property. The park is also notable for its Aboriginal heritage: Evidence of Aboriginal occupation from over 200,000 years ago has been found there.
Sydney-siders have been enjoying Parramatta Park for recreation for a long time – it became a public park in 1858 – making it one of the earliest designated public parks in the world.
We particularly love the recently renovated Domain Creek Playground in Parramatta Park – it’s located on the Westmead side of the park, opposite the Queens Road Gatehouse.
The playground features activities for all ages and abilities, including flying foxes, swings, slides, trampolines, water pumps, sand pits, small trampolines built into the ground and spinning carousels.
Each section is connected by ramps and walkways, making it easy for strollers and wheelchairs to get between each area.
The double flying fox is a particularly popular feature of the new park, with one of the flying foxes adapted to be used by people with disabilities. The seatbelt feature makes it popular with young children too, who are a bit scared to use the regular one.
Adventurous kids will also enjoy the slide, which requires thrill-seekers to climb up a rope ladder to the top, and then scoot along to the top of the slide. Getting up was a bit scary for little Cheese due to the lack of handholds to pull herself up at the top of the rope ladder, but she had no problem climbing it, or going down the slide, either.
Other sections of the playground worth noting include water pumps that flow into a sand pit, a climbing net that looks like a spider’s web, a second sand pit with equipment for bigger kids like sand diggers, swings, and one last sandpit in the shade that was ideal for small kids.
The playground is beautifully designed to blend into the bush surrounding it, with plenty of fun surprise activities to discover. In the bush section in the middle of the playground few discovered a bush xylophone and cubby house, and there are also small metal sculptures of native Australian animals and a few roses dotted around the park.
The playground doesn’t have a shade cloth over it and there are very few sections with tree coverage, making it a bit of a scorcher on a hot day – particularly the metal play equipment. I would suggest this playground for milder to cold weather!
Bathrooms are also scarce – the nearest ones are a good 10 mins walk away at the Parramatta park Cafes, near the Queen Gate Entrance.
Near the playground is the river and lake, which is home to many birds such as ducks and ibis. Watching the birds is also an excellent way to entertain the little ones.
Domain Creek Playground, Parramatta Park
Pitt St & Macquarie St, Parramatta
Bathrooms: No – nearest one is a few mins walk away at nearby Parramatta Park Cafe.
Picnic tables: Yes
Shade cover: No
Off-street parking: Yes
Children’s playground: Yes
Water features: Yes (but minimal) Get Directions
Do you have a kid who loves climbing, heights and physical challenges? Then TreeTop Adventure Park is a must-do for your family. TreeTop Adventure Park operates three parks, in Wyong, Newcastle and Sydney – we visited the Sydney one which is located inside the Plough & Harrow Park in South-West Sydney.
TreeTop Adventure Park has courses for kids and adults, with the children’s course suitable for little ones aged 3 – 9. The next group, “Juniors”, consists of three courses for kids aged 10 – 17 who are at least 1.4m tall.
The children’s course is made up of four courses with different degrees of difficulty, and four flying foxes.
While booking isn’t mandatory, the sessions are so popular that I highly advise booking a few days in advance to ensure you can take part in the timed session of your choice on the day. One the website TreeTop advises you arrive half an hour before your timed session, and if the weather is nice you may as well arrive early to make a day of it. The Adventure Park is right next to a massive playground in Plough & Harrow Park so kids can play there until they need to put on their helmets and harnesses.
We were incredibly unlucky with the weather on our day. The skies opened and it poured just when we arrived. The session before ours climbed in the rain, but thankfully it eased up when our session was beginning to a slight drizzle. The sessions go ahead unless there is lightning or heavy winds, in which case the courses are suspended until they can begin again. I advise bringing a rain coat if there is a chance of rain, or investing in a $2 rain poncho from TreeTop like we did on the day.
Each group is restricted with numbers for safety reasons. The kids are strapped into the harnesses and helmets by TreeTop staff, and then given a very detailed talk on safety. The instructors drill the kids on the number of kids allowed on each platform, challenge and flying fox at a time, and ask the kids repeatedly to make sure the kids understand all the information.
Each child’s harness has it’s own metal pulley that is used to hook onto the wire that runs above each course for safety. They are large and heavy, making them quite dangerous for little kids to be trusted with, but the instructors had an excellent way of teaching the kids about how to use the pulleys, calling them a “froggy”, and using terms that kids would understand – like the “froggy” had to be put onto the wire “frog to the log” so he could “eat his food” (AKA the wire). The rope dangling down was called the “tail”, so we were calling out repeatedly “hold onto the tail!” and so on to describe how to get across the challenges.
The first course, “white”, was the easiest, and designed low to the ground so parents could hold their child’s hand if needs be. It also allows parents to assist kids with getting the pulley over the connectors at each platform – this, for the little kids, proved to be the hardest element of the courses. It was really difficult to swing the rope hard enough to get enough momentum to push it over the edge of the connectors at each platform. Once the kids are up on the higher courses, they must to every element on their own, as adults are on the ground and can’t reach to help.
For my four-year-old, the courses were exceptional for not just physical enjoyment, but also to help her self-confidence and resilience. Quite a few times she struggled to get her pulley over connectors, but had to work it out herself – and while she got frustrated, she managed to do it, every time. She also lost a shoe at one stage, while she was several metres over our heads. Even though she couldn’t reach her feet with her hands, and she was balancing high up on a tiny platform, she managed to use her foot to place the shoe in the right position and jam her toes inside so it was on well-enough to get to the next platform where an instructor could fasten it for her.
As an only child, Cheese is used to us doing a lot of things for her that she could probably work out herself, so this ropes course was just what she needed to realise that she was more than able to conquer many difficult things on her own. As the courses got harder, they involved more problem solving skills as well as balance, agility and also confidence! The last two courses involved a lot of moving logs and sections that were quite far apart – pretty hard and scary for little kids whose arms and legs couldn’t reach them. I was so incredibly proud of how Cheese conquered all of the four courses.
The minimum age for participation is three, with no height minimum, and, while there were three year olds on the course, there were a few who attempted the harder courses, got stuck or scared, and then couldn’t get down. The way the courses are created, you hook on at the start and unhook at the end. There is no way to unhook in the middle – AKA there’s no going back if you get scared or can’t physically finish the course. We had a moment during one of our courses where the kids all had to reverse backwards through the course to the beginning and unhook to allow a smaller child to leave the course.
On the website it’s advised that you buy or bring gloves, and while we didn’t this time, we will definitely buy a pair when we return. Shoes must be closed toe like sneakers, and I would suggest long tights for girls so their legs don’t rub on the harness.
Looking around the courses I was pleased to see that they were set up in a way so as to not harm the trees – there was no drilling used to attach the platforms, and the structures were designed to allow trees to grow free of restrictions.
The children’s course costs $28 per child. While initially I thought it sounded pricey, the you have two hours to spend on the courses. Time absolutely flies by and I really thought that it was money well spent.
Cheese finished the day feeling strong, brave and incredibly happy! She told us she had the best day ever and can’t wait to go back.
TreeTop Adventure Park
Plough & Harrow, Western Sydney Parklands,
Elizabeth Drive, Abbotsbury Online
Once of the fun things about being new to being a parent in Sydney is discovering for the first time fun kid-related things, such as the Blaxland Riverside Park playground. Even though I grew up in Sydney, so much has changed since I was a kid that a lot of the city feels brand new to me.
Blaxland Riverside Park had been suggested to me by a few friends, so I checked it out on a hot Autumn day with Cheese and my parents. Turns out the playground is the biggest in Sydney, with new play equipment set among three hectares of rolling green hills and big open spaces.
The playground caters for kids of all ages and abilities with a fantastic water play area (the largest outdoor water play facility in NSW), moving play elements, high and steep landforms and hidden and confined spaces. There’s a double flying fox, mega-swing, tunnel slides, scramble wall, spinning play disk, Viking swing and a multi-level tree house to be discovered and enjoyed.
Since the play space is so spread out, it really forces – I mean, encourages – parents (or carers) to get actively involved with the play.
I was incredibly impressed with the playground, with the only improvement I’d have liked being shade cloths over the equipment where possible.
If you get hungry or thirsty, there’s a little cafe in the playground serving basic pastries and lunch food. In the same block are facilities such as a family room with changing tables.
Parking: Free parking is limited. You can also park in P5 car park, located off Hill Road, and make use of the pathways to cycle or walk to the play space. Parking at P5 carpark costs $4 per hour, maximum $20 (except on event days, when a flat fee of $25 may apply).
This year we spent Easter Sunday at the beautiful, historic Vaucluse House, taking part in their Egg-cellent Easter Trail. The event is held on Easter Sunday each year, towards the back of the estate, on one of their huge lawn areas.
$17 per child gets you a trail map, four activities, and an Easter treat at the end. The activities are geared towards slightly older children than the Centennial Park Egg Hunt: a Hen Hunt (find the picture of the breed of chicken on the map and write it down), egg-rolling, which was kind of like egg croquet, an egg-and-spoon race with wooden spoons, and the hot cross bun station, where kids were given all the ingredients of a traditional hot cross bun to explore, and then write them down in the correct spot in the recipe in their book.
The Egg-cellent Easter Trail has three timed entries and the activities can be done in any order. There are only three timed groups, and each one has an hour to complete the activities before the next one begins. It’s more than enough time – but also really great to not have to rush, particularly with little kids.
This is an all-weather event – so bring gum boots, rain coat and umbrella if the forecast looks grim. It rained during our session which inspired us to do all the activities pretty quickly, but didn’t take away from the enjoyment.
As well as the Egg-cellent Easter Trail activities, Vaucluse House puts on free Easter colouring in near the animals, and also free traditional games on the front lawn for everyone to enjoy.
We all had a turn at croquet, quoits, skittles and hula hoops.
Ahhhhh Easter, the chocolate holiday is here again! In our household, we like to celebrate chocolate over the Easter long weekend, as well as spending as much time as we can with family and friends.
This year we finally made it to the Great Centennial Park Easter Egg Hunt. It’s a great, active day out for families in Sydney, and at $17 per participating child, it’s an affordable outing, too. That’s right, no fee for adults, or age requirements, just a $17 fee per child who wishes to have a map and collect chocolate eggs along the way.
The egg hunt is suitable for kids of all ages. More than an egg hunt, it’s a multi-stop engaging quest to follow the map along a specially designed course to it’s fabulous conclusion – the Easter bunny (and bilby!) and chocolate, of course!
To take part in the Easter egg hunt, you’ll need to choose your start time, 9am and 3pm, and buy tickets accordingly. Entry to the course is timed in 15 minutes increments to ensure that it’s never too crowded.
Registration for the course is at the start point, the Learning Centre, Education Precinct, Dickens Drive. Arrive right at the beginning of your time slot – you amy only collect your map and begin the course during your 15 minute time slot. You may, however, take all the time you need along the course to get to the end.
The course consists of five station, with an egg and spoon race (don’t worry, it’s a rubber egg!), hop scotch activity, ring toss and egg hunt for kids to complete at each station before the final stop, where they get a photo with the Easter bunny and bilby and collect their big chocolate prize.
Upon completing each station along the way, kids are given a stamp on their map and a little chocolate egg. The completed map must be presented at the last stop to receive the big chocolate prize – which, this year, was from sponsor Darrell Lea.
The information on the website suggests that the course will take between 30-45 minutes to complete. It took our kids a lot less time to finish, but they had a fantastic time. Each activity was very well suited to our group, with kids aged 2, 4 and 6.
At the beginning of the course, in the Learning Centre, was a large room with tables and chairs, and bilby colouring in sheets plus crayons for families to take a break out of the heat. Nearby, a Combi Van food truck was parked to provide refreshments, and public toilets just beyond.
I would suggest planning to make a big morning or afternoon of the event, by bringing a picnic lunch, bread to feed the ducks (watching the docks, eels, fish and turtles in the lake entertained our lot for minutes! Lots of them!), and anything else your family needs to spend a few hours enjoying the gorgeous Centennial Park.
A few months ago, I entered a competition to win tickets to a Disney Summer Frozen Garden Party in Sydney. I didn’t think much of it again, until, amazingly, I received an email letting me know that I’d won two tickets to the party. What good luck!
Cheese chose her Anna Frozen Fever outfit after I persuaded her that it was too hot for anything else and promised I’d even do her hair like Anna’s. One YouTube tutorial later and a hairdo that kind-of passed for Anna’s we were walking into Kurzon Hall with the blaring Frozen soundtrack welcoming us.
Kurzon Hall in Sydney, where the party was held, kind of resembles a castle, making it the perfect choice for a royal garden party. While summer in Sydney can be anywhere from around 20 degree days to 40, the party day was a particularly scorchingly one, with temps of almost 40dC. It was one of the hottest summer days we’d had – quite ironic to be going a Frozen party in such mad heat!
Thankfully the Disney team were well prepared for the heat, with parasols at the entrance, umbrellas covering most of the seating, paper fans dispersed to guests, and free gelato.
As we chose a table for our special afternoon tea, a hostess greeted us and brought us a giant picnic basket full of delicious goodies. The generous serving could have fed another two of us! We received a vegetarian basket, with quiches, a wrap, a vege roll, brownies, fairy bread, a Frozen cupcake, blue lollies, juices, apples and bananas.
The party had a tight schedule of events that kids could choose to participate in: face painting, horse and carriage ride and meeting Anna, Elsa and Kristoff. In between these events the kids were free to play a variety of old fashioned games like giant naughts and crosses, Jenga and Connect Four. I have to say here, a huge props to the very professional Frozen crew who were decked out in winter costumes and barely looked like they were sweating.
I had thought the highlight event would be meeting the Frozen crew, who looked almost identical to the cast from the movie but then I looked down at the schedule of events and saw that the gorgeous Aussie singer, Ricki-Lee was scheduled to sing a selection of Disney songs. WHAAAAAAAT?!
Sure enough, Ricki-Lee turned up and, in sweltering conditions, put on an amazing show. She really has such a gorgeous voice, but, even more than that, she looked like she truly loved the songs, and engaging with the kids. The kids – oh my, they were in heaven. It was like a real life princess from a Disney movie was singing to them. They just couldn’t believe their eyes.
Ricki-Lee sang a few Frozen faves (Do You Want To Build A Snowman? and Let It Go) as well as other well-loved Disney songs, such as Beauty And The Beast, Part Of Your World and A Whole New World. Without a doubt, she made Cheese’s day by putting the microphone in front of her during one song so they could sing the song together. For a kid whose dream right now is to be a performer like Katy Perry, it was the most amazing gift to be given.
At the end of the party, we were sent home with a gorgeous present – a Disney snowflake necklace – as if all the amazing entertainment wasn’t enough of a gift! A huge thank you to Disney for putting on the Frozen Summer Garden Party. We really had the best afternoon – one that I don’t think my daughter and I are likely to ever forget.
I highly suggest keeping your eye out for future competitions like this, as, you never know, you might win tickets to the next one!
Barangaroo Reserve is Sydney’s newest park, located on the north-western tip of Sydney’s Central Business District. What was once a flat strip of concrete that was used as a container wharf has been transformed into a six-hectare waterfront parkland on Sydney Harbour, with 6,500 sandstone blocks placed along the foreshore and 75,000 100% native trees, shrubs and plants.
Underneath the reserve is a giant new cultural space called the Cutaway, two levels of car park and two of Australia’s biggest water tanks (so Barangaroo Reserve can be a self-watering park).
The new reserve is named after an important Aboriginal women at the time of early colonial settlement, Barangaroo. One of her husbands was Bennelong, after whom Bennelong Point (where the Sydney Opera House sits) was named. The Barangaroo precinct was use for fishing and hunting by the Gadigal people, the Traditional Owners of the Sydney city region.
While the park is not yet complete, visitors can enjoy the first two sections of the Wulugul Walk that are open to the public. Wulugal is the local indigenous word for kingfish, a fish with a golden band on its green-blue skin – similar to the appearance of the new foreshore at Barangaroo.
When the Barangaroo precinct is completed in 2022, the Wulugul Walk will run for the entire 2kms of foreshore from Walsh bay to Darling Harbour. At the moment, the walk has two sections open to the public – Barangaroo Reserve at the north of the precinct and a second section in Barangaroo South linking up to King Street Wharf.
With the opening of the reserve, this particular part of Sydney’s waterfront district is open to the public for the first time in over 100 years.
The entire of Barangaroo is very accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. It really is the perfect stress-free outing for families with elevators, gently sloping paths from top to bottom, plus clean bathrooms that have baby changing facilities.
A visit to Barangaroo to take a walk or picnic is already a great day out, but if you visit over the next week you’ll have a chance to experience the Sydney Festival’s Ephemeral City in the Cutaway. French artist Olivier Grossetête is overseeing the construction of a city of boxes, built by volunteers of all ages, using a whopping 9,000 boxes – or more than 10 tonnes of cardboard. The buildings will be demolished on Australia Day, January 26, so get in and stick together a box or two before they go.
We had a fantastic time at the BOXWARS section of the city, where kids can build their own tiny city out of cardboard.
You can see our little homes above!
Older kids and adults will also enjoy the free Flying Fox at ‘The Ephemeral City’. Zip-line over the box city and, upon landing, grab a roll of sticky tape and get building.
Open: 8–24 January, 2pm–8pm (closed Mondays), at The Cutaway. Price: Free. Minimum weight requirement for the Flying Fox is 30kg.
Barangaroo Getting there: Walk The most enjoyable way of arriving on foot is from Circular Quay. The direct route is to walk through the Argyle Cut and along Argyle Street to the reserve entrance at Munn Street Reserve (1.2km).
Wilson Parking operates a public car park at Barangaroo Reserve between 6am – midnight, 7 days per week.