By Local Mum And Author – Alyssa Vaartjes
Our latest article below is written by a local mum. Here she shares her great local insight on getting out and about with toddlers in the Illawarra. Many thanks to Alyssa Vaartjes for her local parenting wisdom below.
My husband and I have both lived in the Illawarra for our whole lives. We now have a three-year-old daughter and a ten-month-old son. We love the relaxed pace of Wollongong. It is so close to beaches and the fact that most of our family live here too.
Toddlers are such busy little people. Finding toddler-friendly places to go to burn off that energy can be tricky. Fortunately, here in the Illawarra, we have many great options. These range from playgrounds to cafes and play centres.
Some of our favourite places to go & things to do with a toddler in the Illawarra.
My eldest child was just shy of two during the second lockdown. Playgrounds were one of the few places we could go, we visited a different one every day. As such, I have a deep appreciation for a toddler-friendly playground. I generally look for uncovered slides, stairs and bridges without gaps. Accessible swings, spinners, cubby houses, rockers, and water play are always an amazing bonus.
It can feel risky to try out a new playground. What if it has too much inaccessible equipment, leading to a frustrated or bored toddler? Check out these tried and tested playgrounds. Especially if you and your toddler need a change of playground scenery.
- Bulli Beach Reserve, Bulli: Very recently revamped, this playground is now nothing short of excellent. It has something for everyone – but a LOT for toddlers. Plus, it has the huge bonus of being right near the beach, toilets, and two different cafes.
- Pop Errington Park, Towradgi: I love that Pop Errington still has plenty to keep a toddler busy for a smaller playground. In particular, it has a fantastic water play feature and an excellent circular footpath that is great for learning to ride a scooter or balance bike.
- Figtree Park, Figtree: This is an older playground, but it has proved to be great fun for my daughter since she was only one year old. It has a dedicated toddler section (with a tunnel!) and a field right next door to run around on. Perhaps best to avoid visiting during weekend sports hours, though.
- The Red Lamp Play Space, Reddall Reserve: Shellharbour Council has recently upgraded the play spaces across the length of Reddall Reserve. This particular playground has a Ninja-Warrior course for older kids, but plenty to do for young ones. It is right near Kiyong Beach, which is perfect for toddler beach play with its calm inlet waters.
- Kanahooka Lakeside: As my family’s local playground, I’m perhaps slightly biased towards this park, but I do think it’s absolutely fantastic for toddlers. New toddler play equipment was installed within the last few years, and my daughter has played on it at least once a week for the last two and a half years. I think that says a lot about how good this park is.
- King George V Playground, Port Kembla: Whilst it may not be as new as some other parks on the list, this playground does seem to be built for toddlers. There are some simple climbing nets great for beginner climbers and a great variety of slides for a playground this size. Pair it with a visit to the (very toddler-friendly) Port Kembla pool, and you have an amazing morning out.
What to do with Toddlers – Parent’s Guide Illawarra
Best Gated/Safe Place to Contain Toddlers on the Run
Cringilla Hills playground: An excellent, free playground that is fenced is one of my favourite places now that I have a toddler. This large, fully fenced and NEW playground has some great covered seating, a wheelchair-accessible sway fun glider, water play, musical instruments and a cubby, amongst many other things.
All Abilities Playground, Botanic Gardens: Depending on your child’s interests, this playground may be more or less of a hit. There is a large sandpit which is usually a great drawcard, and a climbing net that my three-year-old can get up. However, with three gates into the playground, you do need to pay a bit more attention to where that run-away toddler is than at Cringilla Hills.
Splash Park, Albion Park Swimming Pool: We discovered this gem last summer. The toddler pool is fully fenced and includes a small but excellent splash park where toddlers can safely run around until their heart’s content. A small fee to enter, but totally worth it for the fun to be had.
Toddler-friendly Play Centres
Our family doesn’t frequent play centres often as they can be expensive. But if we’re all stir-crazy from rain or we want an easy way to guarantee a fun time, we hit up one of these play centres. My top tip is to head to these centres in the late morning if you can (e.g. if your toddler no longer naps). By then, the crowds have usually thinned out by then, and you can have a bit of a quieter time.
- Go Kids Play, Albion Park: This play centre is based mainly around a large inflatable play area. However, it also has decent toddler soft play, providing a safer space for toddlers to play independently (if they will!) and a cafe. Our whole family always has a great morning when we head here.
- Sharky’s, Bellambi: An indoor playground recently added onto Northern Bowl. Sharky’s features a multi-level climbing structure, a decent toddler soft play area, and caregiver seating. I love how new and fresh everything is here. But if you want something to eat or drink, you do have to leave the gated soft play area and head to the cafe in the bowling area.
- Tabatinga, Dapto: Located inside Dapto Leagues Club, Tabatinga is really well-priced and boasts a toddler play area. It has a multi-level climbing structure, a kids’ basic ninja course, a bumper car arena (extra cost) and a cafe with plenty of seating.
- Early Start Discovery Space: I don’t think many parents in Illawarra need to be told about Early Start, but it deserves a place on the list because it’s so great! So many different play opportunities, a beautiful outdoor space with seating and access to a great cafe, and lockers to stash your things. Plus, I think it’s really great value for money,
- Flip Out Playgroup sessions: Flip Out runs three-hour play sessions on weekday mornings that are only open to children five and under (and their caregivers). This lets them access the whole play space without having to worry about the bigger kids. Plus, they place extra equipment out for the toddlers/preschoolers to play with. My daughter has only been once, nine months ago, but she still talks about it almost weekly, so I think it made a positive impression!
Toddler-friendly classes or library activities/venues.
- Drop-in Duplo: These sessions run weekly at Thirroul and Wollongong from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. It’s a casual, unstructured session with a great selection of Duplo for free play. Both libraries also usually have other fun toys (e.g., kitchens, jigsaws, oversized blocks, etc.). We frequently spend a good couple of hours at the library between this and all the books to browse.
- Toddler time: I love toddler time. They are awesome free sessions with a great mix of stories, songs and dance. They have clearly been really intentionally put together by the librarians. Whenever we feel stir-crazy and haven’t got any plans in the mix, we get out to one. Dapto, Warrawong, Wollongong, Corrimal and Thirroul libraries all run toddler time.
Find out more about activities for toddlers at Wollongong City Libraries here.
How to meet other toddler mums and dads locally.
Playgroups: A playgroup has to be one of the easiest and best ways to meet other parents in your local area. The only real challenge is finding one, but a search on Facebook or Google should offer some suggestions. Many churches or community centres will have a playgroup operating out of their premises. It’s worth focusing a search on those spots too.
Toddler-friendly Cafes and Restaurants
Our daughter loves a good cafe trip for a milkshake and banana bread. But a trip to a cafe (let alone a restaurant) can be quite challenging. There are a few things that make it easier. Knowing the kids’ food will come quickly, having space to move around or play both help.
- The Fraternity Club, Fairy Meadow: The Frat have got plenty for kids of all ages, with their indoor games room, the Orange Frog playground, Bambini Disco, $6 Weekday lunch specials, and WiFi (for those attached to their iPhones) throughout the club!
- Smith’s Lane Dairy, Wongawilly: Recently opened, Smith’s Lane Dairy has an outdoor discovery garden where kids can play. They have mud kitchens, a wooden tractor and a balancing course. As adults, we’ve enjoyed the great range of locally blended teas and browsing the general store.
- The Woolshed, Yallah: The Woolshed is our go-to if we want an easy coffee or breakfast with the kids in tow. It’s pretty spacious. Book one of the couch areas so your little one will have plenty of room to move while you eat.
- Towadgi Beach Hotel: We love Towradgi Beach Hotel. It has good quality pub-style food and is spacious (lots of room for either running around or maneuvering a pram). Plus, there are many different seating options (indoor/outdoor, booths etc.). There’s also a fully fenced playground outside (excellent for burning off that toddler energy in between ordering and eating).
- Saints Espresso, Wollongong: Full disclosure, I haven’t managed to visit this Wollongong cafe yet. However, I know they have an outdoor grassed play area for kids to run around in. So as a toddler parent, I’m sure it’s worth a visit.
- Rashays, Warrawong: I think Rashays must be the hidden gem of restaurants to take kids. The kids’ food comes out quickly and generally first, plus they provide crayons and a small colouring book. There isn’t necessarily space for kids to move around or play. But at Rashays (and similar restaurants), we try to get a booth seat. Doing this allows the little ones just that extra bit of freedom in moving about than regular chairs do.
If you looking for even more kid-friendly, fun (and free) activities to do in the Illawarra, check out our Fun Places To Take Kids page on our site HERE.