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Royal Park Nature Play, Parkville
Splash parks in Melbourne, Australia

Royal Park Nature Play is an innovative playground recently built on the site of the former, and adjacent to the new, Royal Children's Hospital in Royal Park. At under 2 km north of the city centre, and accessible by a short tram ride, this is the best shallow water play area for kids within close proximity to the Melbourne CBD. The splash pad in action at Royal Park near the Royal Children's Hospital Above: The splash pad in action (Order this image)

There are two water features at the park. The first is a large splash pad with around a dozen water jets of different heights. I liked the space that was available around individual water jets, and around the outside of the jets, which gives kids more room to dash in, out and through the water feature. Look out for the big silver button on the ground, which when pressed gives you about five minutes of water play before it needs to be pressed again.
The second water feature is a short artificial stream that includes a traditional levered hand pump and several mushroom pumps feeding water into a combination of wood and stone channels, some with sluice gates, that spill into a slushy sandpit about ten metres downstream.

All of the pumps were surprisingly easy to operate for even very young kids, but the steel mushroom pumps are worthy of special mention for their innovative design. To operate them, you need to push down on the mushroom top, which then sprays water out from underneath the mushroom onto your feet. These were by far the most popular item in the park, and I rarely saw them not being pressed. There are seats around both water features for adults to supervise their kids. Kids pushing down the steel mushroom pumps at Royal Park Above: Kids pushing down the steel mushroom pumps that drive the water in the artificial stream (Order this image)

The rest of the nature play area in this playground has some challenging climbing equipment, that looks similar to what you would see at the Orangutang enclosure on the other side of Royal Park. These climbing ropes are probably best suited to primary school aged kids.
The playground also has several swings, three steel slides of different height and length, a separate sandpit, a cradle swing, and lots of stepping stones for climbing and clambering up.

Being relatively new, the trees still need to grow a bit to increase the amount of shade available, and as with the rest of Royal Park, the area can be a bit exposed on windy days. I nearly lost my hat standing on top of the mound that overlooks the playground, and which also rewards you with a panoramic view of the city from end to end.

The park's proximity to the city and the absence of any water features of similar quality currently in the northern suburbs means that this playground is extremely popular on hot weekends. Located next to the Royal Children's Hospital, it was also being used by patients taking some time out in the park when I visited.
Other Information Before You Go:
Location: Corner of Flemington Rd and Gatehouse St, Parkville, 3 km (approx. 10 min. drive) north-west of the Melbourne CBD
Latitude:-37.795088 Longitude:144.951239
Getting there: By public transport, trams 55 and 59 run past the park on Flemington Road. Tram 59 departs from Flinders St Station at the Elizabeth St tram terminal, and from Melbourne Central Station at Elizabeth St. Tram 55 runs along William St in the city, including a stop at Flagstaff Station. By bicycle, there is a bike lane that runs along William St and Flemington Rd to Royal Park. If you are driving, be mindful that street parking is limited in the area.

General facilities: Public toilets, barbecues, playground, lawn areas, park benches, picnic tables, rubbish bins, drinking fountain.
Baby change facilities: Yes. I used the toilets on Gatehouse St which had baby change facilities.
Sun shade: Shade is very limited, but will improve as the newly planted trees grow.
Entrance fee: None
Opening times: Always open. The managing authority advises that some sections of the playground may be closed at some times for maintenance or to allow plants to recover.
Wheelchair access: Wheelchair accessible paths and toilets, wheelchair accessible splash pad
Prohibitions: No dogs, no smoking, no glass, no alcohol
Managing authority: City of Melbourne
Nearby attractions: If you happen to be visiting the hospital at the same time, make sure you take a look at the meerkat enclosure inside the hospital.
Before you head out, make sure to read the water safety information and check with the managing authority for any current change of conditions. Advice to adults from the managing authority is that "you are responsible for actively supervising your children in this play space. This is a natural environment - sharp sticks, rocks, water, and small critters are all part of our environment. Stay safe by watching out for the natural hazards that occur here, and for safety and hygiene, keep children clothed at all times."
Locality Map:
The marker indicates the location of the water feature at the park. If the map is not zoomed in locally, as can occur with some browsers, simply click or tap on "View Larger Map" below.
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