The Kingston Heath Botanic Gardens in Cheltenham has a unique water feature that is ideally suited to rubber duck and unpowered toy boat racing. Running through the gardens is an ankle deep artificial stream with a continuously recycling flow of water. It is strong enough to push your rubber ducky or toy boat along the 30 metre course, but gentle enough for kids to stand in without being washed away. The stream bed is lined with pebbles over a concrete base and the water is crystal clear.
Launching the rubber ducks from the starting line at the little bridge
For our races, we launched from the bridge in the middle of the gardens and raced down to the small pond. The channel is likely to be clogged every few metres with loose eucalyptus leaves and twigs on your first passing, so do a trial run first to relieve the blockages before you start racing in earnest. The leaves are easily removed and if your toy still gets stuck then just reposition it into the main flow to get it moving again. There are also two smaller branches of the stream above the bridge, but these seemed to have a shallower gradient that made it harder for water craft to make headway. You might be able to run the two shorter courses above the bridge after wet weather, when the water will be a little bit deeper. As with any water based activity, keep your kids under close constant supervision and don't get distracted from this responsibility when following your own duck.
Watching intently and coaching your rubber duck through the course
If you want to make an adventure of this with your kids, here are some suggestions, depending on how enthusiastic you are:
For toddlers, choose a few familiar bath toys, ask them to drop them in the water from the bridge and walk down with them through the forest as their toys float beside them. We tried three sizes of rubber ducks, a penguin, a turtle and a whale. For the record, the medium sized rubber duck was the best performer overall.
For kindergarten aged kids combine it with a visit to you local op shop or toy store to pick up the best floatable racing craft you can find. Small plastic boats would be great to try.
For primary school kids you could make your own boats from model kits or waterproof cardboard or paper beforehand. A can of Scotch guard will help to keep it afloat. BYO cap gun and air horn to start the race and announce the winner.
An essential item of clothing is gumboots. Parents can get away without them because you can straddle the stream in most places, but kids definitely need a pair to have the most fun. If you have one, bring a butterfly net to fish your boats out of the pond at the end. I retrieved them with a long stick without too much effort, but a net would be simpler. Lastly, bring a towel and a spare set of clothes just in case the duck racers lose their balance.
The view of the course from the pond at the finishing line
I have not come across a water feature like this before in a public park and was greatly impressed with this innovation. After giving it a go, I'm nominating this as Melbourne's best rubber duck and unpowered toy boat racing venue. If you have an alternative nomination, leave a comment below as I'd love to hear about it. Although it sounds quirky, it was a great way to spend a free and fun afternoon with the kids.