What is it: A fully fenced, recently renovated playground directly adjacent to Austinmer beach with an excellent café across the street, 25 minutes North of Wollongong.
Why you should go: Austinmer Beach Playground has always been popular with tourists and locals alike due to its great location. Although there are other beach parks this is the one which is literally five steps across a car park from the beach. As a result the unobstructed view of the beach is amazing and as an added bonus there's a great café across the road. I often go to this park on a summer day when I want a little shade as there are trees around the edge of the park. The old, tired play equipment was pulled out at the start of 2016 and a brand new modern play park installed. In February 2016 the council added a fence so it's now fully enclosed.
I went with my teenage daughter and three year old son on a Saturday morning to check out the new fence. I'd seen photos of it online and I was surprised to see that such a rudimentary wire mesh fence had been put up in arty Austi especially in the part of it most frequented by tourists. So it was with curiosity that I scanned the park as I pulled in to the car park.
On a hot day this car park, which serves as a parking place for the cafes, park and beach can get really busy. On a few occasions I've had to wait for a place or I've had to head inland from the beach on to Moore Street (on the left as you enter Austinmer) to find parking and walk back. Today there were lots of spaces.
We parked and decided to walk along the prom first to the toilets. The closest public toilets are at the South end of the beach in the yellowy coloured building. The entrance to the ladies is tucked around the corner right at the far end. The toilets are rather run down, damp and sandy but then that's what you expect from beachside toilets. There is a toilet in the Austi Beach Café across the road if you're feeling fussy but this is for customers.
Walking back towards the park I was tickled to see that there was the usual mini bus load of tourists and that they had taken off their shoes and lined them up prettily on the prom. I'm not sure exactly which country the bus tourists come from but on a couple of occasions I've seen tourists taking photos of children in the park. Nothing sinister but perhaps a little inappropriate.
And perhaps that was one of the reasons I loved the new fence around the play park. Despite my misgivings about the appearance of the fence itself I really liked the new feel of being enclosed.
Tourists shoes lined up on Austinmer Beach Promenade
Previously, with the sea so close I never would have taken my eyes off Jake for a second but now I could chat to my daughter with Jake in my peripheral vision knowing that if he went out of sight he'd still be safe in the park. There are childproof gates at either end.
I found myself wondering at the change in atmosphere and realised that often there are people without children taking advantage of the shade from trees around the park but now there was only families with playing children in the park area. It felt less crowded and safer but there was still room for groups with camp chairs and rugs on the other grassy areas out with the fenced area.
The recently renovated Austinmer Beach Play Park with the beach just beyond
Jake had great fun playing on the swings (there is one with a back and one without). He raced up steps to come back down a little slide then approached the more challenging end of the equipment. Here there was a platform but to get up to it he had a choice of two small climbing walls or a series of ropes with saucer attachments. He went for the littler climbing wall and after a wobbly shout for help and a little push he was up on to the platform. In the blink of an eye he was down the tunnel slide back to the bottom. This time he went up a rope ladder. At the top is a net of wide squares suspended horizontally. A bit too unsafe for a three year old who might fall through the holes but great fun for older children who are looking for something challenging.
Fun on the swings at Austinmer Beach Playground
After a good play in the park we headed across the road to the Austi Beach Café. We paid at the till then took our tickets to the gelato counter where we ogled the ten or so different flavours on offer. The waitress came and we asked for our favourites then took them back across to the beach to eat them.
We sat on the edge of the prom but there are also benches looking over the beach. Ice-creams finished we washed off our hands at the shower next to the prom and jumped in the car.
I'll definitely be meeting friends at this park when I want somewhere the children can play safely while I chat. With only two other enclosed parks that I know of in this area (Corrimal Park on the Highway and Wollongong Botanics Play Park) this is a great addition.
Who should go: Families looking for an enclosed play park.
When to go: I went in February on a Saturday morning.
Where it is: Take the Princes Highway north out of Wollongong. Turn the left fork towards Thirroul at the bottom of the Bulli Pass and continue North through Thirroul until you come in to Austinmer.
What to bring: Children.
Facilities: Bench, Food and drinks available nearby at the cafes opposite the park, nearest public toilets at south end of the beach, bubbler at the south end of the beach in front of the surf club.
Extend your visit with: A walk along the beach, a swim on Austinmer patrolled beach or in the Austinmer sea pools (South end of the beach), rock pooling on the rocks to the south of the sea pools, Ice-cream, chips or lunch at the cafes opposite the park.