Free outdoor fun at new playgrounds in East Coast Park and Botanic Gardens

Children playing at the Leisure Nets at the newly opened Coastal PlayGrove at East Coast Park.
Children playing at the Leisure Nets at the newly opened Coastal PlayGrove at East Coast Park.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Children playing at Como Adventure Grove at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Gallop Extension.
Children playing at Como Adventure Grove at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Gallop Extension.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Air-conditioned indoor play areas might be all the rage for families with young kids.

But the massive outdoor playgrounds that recently opened in two of Singapore's most beloved parks - Coastal PlayGrove at East Coast Park and Como Adventure Grove at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Gallop Extension - prove that there is a special joy in getting sweaty in the open air.

Best of all, both are free.

Earlier this week, my two daughters - aged eight and two - my wife and I slathered on sunscreen to check them out. Here are the lowdown and highlights.


Coastal PlayGrove

Where: 902 East Coast Park Service Road

Open Vertical Challenge and water play area: Tuesdays to Sundays, 8am to 8pm; slides: 8am to noon, 4 to 8pm daily

Info: NParks' website

LOWDOWN

Singaporeans who grew up in the 1970s to early 2000s will remember the thrill of swishing down the colourful slides of the now-defunct Big Splash water park.

Good news: It is still a super fun place, now that the National Parks Board has transformed it into the family-friendly 4.5ha Coastal PlayGrove.

There are plenty of eating spots to satisfy both young and old, from fast food at Burger King to local fare at Old Town White Coffee.


Children playing at the water play area at the newly opened Coastal PlayGrove at East Coast Park. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

FUN FACTOR

It now boasts Singapore's tallest outdoor slide as well as the tallest outdoor play area at the former Big Splash's distinctive tower, now called the Play Tower.

It is a big deal for kids, like my elder daughter, who loves climbing. She spent hours clambering up and down the rope-based obstacles in the four-storey-tall net play area, dubbed the Vertical Challenge.

The tower also houses two enclosed tube slides - one that starts from the third floor and another from the fourth floor. It is a breathless race to the bottom, I discovered, while winding down the taller of the two.

Younger kids can play at the less challenging Leisure Nets closer to the ground. My two-year-old spent her time splashing around in the water play area, which includes wading pools and a stream with water jets that lights up when it gets dark.

There is also a "nature playgarden" where kids get to explore a bamboo tunnel trail, balance on log trails, hide in several tepees, as well as play in a large sand pit.


The writer's child playing inside the Play Tower at the newly opened Coastal PlayGrove at East Coast Park. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

LEARNING VALUE

There is a seaside outdoor classroom meant for pre-school outings, complete with chalkboards as well as boulders and log stools to sit on. Kids can make a game out of looking for the many plant species there, which include sea hibiscus and pong pong trees.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

The metal slides get very hot in the midday sun. Go in the late afternoon or evening, when it is cooler.

INSIDER TIPS

Take along swimwear - the kids will get soaking wet in the wading pools and water fountains.

There are public toilets and changing rooms, but no lockers, so be prepared to carry your stuff around.


Children playing inside the Play Tower at the newly opened Coastal PlayGrove at East Coast Park. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

WILL WE BE BACK?

My kids have declared the place their new favourite spot in East Coast Park, a welcome alternative to the often crowded Marine Cove nearby.

We will probably go again after school on weekdays though, when it is less packed.


Como Adventure Grove

Where: Gallop Extension, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Gallop Road

Open: 7am to 7pm daily

Info: NParks' website

LOWDOWN

Nestled within the Singapore Botanic Gardens' newly opened Gallop Extension, Como Adventure Grove is billed by the National Parks Board as a "nature playgarden".

What it means is you feel like you are playing in the middle of the forest, a respite from the noise and pollution of urban life.

All you hear are children laughing and wild chickens clucking in the bushes.


Children playing at the Como Adventure Grove play area at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID


The writer joins his daughters and wife as they play at the Como Adventure Grove at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

My daughters loved running after the butterflies and dragonflies flitting around the shrubs.

The play areas are designed to resemble plants, fruit and seeds native to the region. The climbing areas, slides and swings are modelled after the aerial roots of the weeping fig, for example.

FUN FACTOR

The centrepiece is a giant cempedak fruit-inspired structure that kids can clamber on - it is sure to be an Instagram magnet.

There are also huge red saga tree seeds that they can roll and hop on.

My elder daughter is crazy about climbing and there are plenty of nets and rope structures for her to navigate, although they do not go as high as the ones at Coastal PlayGrove at East Coast Park.

I love that the ground is covered with sand, just like the playgrounds of my childhood. You rarely find that in the playgrounds of neighbourhood housing estates now.

LEARNING VALUE

Kids learn through play and there is plenty of information about local flora and fauna to pick up.

Besides the playground, we made a stop at the nearby Forest Discovery Centre @ OCBC Arboretum, housed in Gallop House No. 5 (Atbara), Singapore's oldest surviving black-and-white bungalow, built in 1898.

The interactive displays and videos there highlight Singapore's forest habitats, which means that kids get to pick up lessons on both history and botany.


Gallop House No. 5 (Atbara), the oldest surviving colonial-era bungalow in Singapore. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Take along your own sand-play paraphernalia. There are communal spades, buckets and other such items for the public to share, but most have gone missing barely two weeks after the place opened.

If you plan to take refuge from the sun in the air-conditioned cafe there, be warned that tables are limited.

We went on a Tuesday afternoon, which is an off-peak period, but every seat was taken.

INSIDER TIPS

Take along a stroller at your peril as you will have to lug it up and down steps.

If you are taking public transport, alight at the visitor centre. Otherwise, it is a 15-minute brisk walk from Farrer Road or Botanic Gardens MRT station.


The Como Adventure Grove at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

WILL WE BE BACK?

Definitely. But we will avoid weekends and public holidays as it gets pretty crowded, which makes it difficult to practise safe distancing.