Parents and carers of Canberra, listen up: a new indoor play centre has arrived on the block and this one is refreshingly different. Little Sandpiper is pristine - its sparkles and gleams and invites you in. I know that little voice which is saying, "but what about the old bandaids lurking in the ball pit? The snot covered tissues lurking on the slide or the mysterious trails of blood (a nose? a knee?) dripping through tunnels and over rope bridges?" There is none of that at Little Sandpiper.
You'll enter through a rainbow tunnel of lights, which are strangely enticing, then clap your eyes on what has to be the biggest ball pit in Canberra (or the southern hemisphere?! Huge!). The folks at Little Sandpiper have made the daring decision to choose white balls for the pit and amazingly, rather than being sticky smudged grey, they bounce around like pure little balls of fresh snow. You can shoot them from canons, float them on air tables which or even whiz them through a series of tunnels (warning: hypnotic for the tired mum or dad). You can even hurl them at a gigantic target game screen if you choose.
A slide and tunnels lead you to an island and from there, the world's biggest macramé piece is just begging to be climbed. Work your way up and you'll enter a network of tunnels and bridges packed with different activities from trippy light tunnels to tiles full of radioactive looking liquid that move and squish under your feet. There are multiple paths to take and they lead you either back to the ball pit, up to a soft mat gymnastic/dance room suspended above the café complete with a pumping soundtrack of sick Disney beats or to a man-made indoor forest with a net tree. The tree spouts multiple slides (is this the Faraway Tree?) and a sprawling astroturf lawn. There are little roundabouts, balancing walls and more in this weirdly peaceful space.
Last but not least, there's a pretty tiny baby play area hidden behind a LOT of vending machines packed full of toys - be warned if you try and run this gauntlet with older kids, it might get exxy.
The café has the usual suspects on the menu - sandwiches, toasties, burgers and milkshakes. The tables, like the rest of the place, are clean enough to eat off. The bad news here is the service just didn't happen - my daughter got her cheeseburger and ate it at the glacial pace favoured by most four-year-olds. Half an hour later, my order still hadn't arrived. I ended up cancelling it but full credit to Sandpiper, they were apologetic, provided a refund and even offered me a free snack to take in case I was hungry.
The only other negative is the soup-Nazi approach to bringing any kind of food or drink from home. Smuggle it in? No play for you! I get that you can't eat or drink on the equipment for safety and hygiene reasons and that kids may be allergic to your food but the rule even applied to water and I'm not convinced that's high on the allergen list? At least baby food and formula were allowed in. Despite the rule, it seems parents are a dastardly and rebellious bunch because about 85% of people were drinking from their CamelBaks and no staff said a word.
So slow food and weird water ban aside, Little Sandpiper was a cut above the usual germ-infested carnage of indoor play centres. Next time you have a wet, windy or hot day to survive with a kid just itching to burn off some steam, this place is highly recommended.