Time for another local adventure, one worth sharing because it should be on anybody’s list if you live in or are visiting Sydney. I can’t believe how this gem in Sydney’s geographical centre has remained hidden from us.
Sydney Olympic Park is, of course, famous for hosting the aforesaid games back in 2000. Today it retains many sporting facilities, a range of hotels and is the venue for events ranging from rock concerts to the yearly agricultural show. The Aquatic Centre is Alex’s favourite swimming pool, with a water playground, slides and “river”. The area also hosts a number of parks, nature and heritage sites.
We visited Blaxland Park after reading reviews of the playground facilities. The entrance via Silverwater Road is a little insalubrious, past a fuel depot and razor wire fenced prison. Once inside the park we could not help but be awestruck by the design and range of play facilities on offer.
These weren’t the same old plastic forts and slides that spring up in almost every other playground. No, there were hills of rubber to climb and metal slides to whizz down. Rope webs of varying difficulty for young spiders, lots of swings and a tall wooden tower for kids. It’s a pity we didn’t bring a change of clothes as there was also a water playground shooting out jets at squealing kids.
|One of the slides and climbing area|
The facilities are spread out so that kids are not concentrated in a small space and can enjoy exploring and discovery. There are cafes and busy picnic facilities, though shade is somewhat lacking. It’s a great place for a gang of young friends to have adventures together.
|Swings and the river|
But the park is not just for young children. While Alex played we found ourselves looking down along the Parramatta River that runs into Sydney Harbour, catamaran ferries taking passengers to and from Circular Quay. Alongside the banks, near a restaurant facility, were two derelict cranes.
|Fishing for kids with a net!|
Leading up to the cranes were narrow gauge railway tracks. There are few things I find sadder than abandoned tracks. Alex, however, enjoyed pulling the levers to switch points.
But wait, what was that over there, past the old buildings. A train! A running passenger train!
The cranes, the buildings, the railway tracks all belong to the Newington Armory. For over 100 years until December of 1999 the facility stored military explosives ranging from gunpowder to sophisticated guided missiles and torpedoes for the Royal Australian Navy.
Near the entrance to the armory you can hire bicycles (the whole park has extensive bike tracks) or join a Segway tour (prices starting from $45). B wanted to do the latter but lacked covered shoes, which are sold for $6 extra. One of the attendants kindly let Alex have a short, guided, go on a Segway, though the minimum age is 9 years.
Also available for $5 each are tickets on the railway. Each Sunday a tiny diesel train takes passengers on a guided tour of the Armory along tracks that were previously used for transporting explosives between buildings and the docks.
|The Armory train|
It might look a little toy train but it is a surprisingly scenic ride through scrub, small tunnels and past wetlands along a winding track. It would be a railway modeller’s dream with lots of crossings, passing loops and sidings into and beside structures ranging from large sheds to tiny cottages.
Today the buildings are used for a bird watching centre, as art galleries, studios and artist residences, activities that serve to improve lives. But in their working life they were containers of hazardous materials, always at risk of exploding. The many buildings, numbered into hundreds, were scattered around the site, behind hillocks and concrete barriers, to try to prevent a chain reaction should one suffer an explosive incident. Lightning rods, doors of copper and earthing wires are de rigueur for even the smallest of huts, static electricity and sparks being the mortal enemy of explosives.
|Birdlife Discovery Centre|
Whilst you can see some of the facilities by bike the train runs through some securely fenced areas. One building that it passes through previously held sea mines but now has a display of armaments ranging from cannon shells to large Harpoon missiles and the Australian developed Ikara anti-submarine missle/torpedo combination.
All the while an informative running commentary was piped through from a guide at the head of the train. After looping around the site the train driver swapped to the cabin of the rear engine and we reversed back to the beginning of the line.
|Artists studio and crossing tracks|
|Now in reverse|
Who knew that such a fun little train ride was lurking so close to a route we’ve driven or trained along so often?
We all agreed that this was a place we’d love to return to, for a ride on a bike, Segway or train, to view history and art or to enjoy nature, have a picnic with friends and definitely to have fun on the playground. This is a place that should belong on every visitor’s list of things to see in Sydney.