Adelaide Zoo Nature's Playground


Recipient: Wax Design

Client: Zoo's SA

Project team: 

  • Phillips Pilkington Architects
  • LCS Landscapes
  • Bullseye Creative
  • Fleetwood Urban
  • Ric McConaghy
  • Dan Schultz - Sweet Lime Photo
  • Kaebel Leisure

Project address: Adelaide Zoo, Frome Road, Adelaide SA 5000

Nature’s Playground is a fantastic new exhibit at the Adelaide Zoo that connects children, parents and carers to nature through play. Nature’s Playground reflects the values, aspirations and philosophies of Adelaide Zoo regarding social inclusion, education and the need to foster an understanding of the natural world in everyone.

Significantly, Nature’s Playground uniquely accommodates all members of the community providing an inclusive play environment. As a not for profit organisation, Adelaide Zoo partnered with Variety to fund and deliver play opportunities for children with physical, sensory, cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

The underlying philosophy of the project is for children of all ages, genders, cultures and abilities to learn through play and gain knowledge from nature. This pedagogic approach enables children to make decisions, take risks, develop resilience and have fun. Climbing, jumping and rope play challenges are balanced with a variety of investigative and sensory interventions, including a rock lined creek, complete with tadpoles to explore, water play spouts, a giant sand pit, musical chimes and cubby building.

A custom four metre high elevated walkway with timber pods provides wheelchair compliant access and a unique visitor experience irrespective of age or mobility. The walkway and pods also incorporate sophisticated, innovative and challenging play experiences as well as views throughout the Zoo.

The playspace is based on the planet’s major Biomes and allows the Zoo to expand teaching programmes into Nature’s Playground. These biomes provide numerous educational opportunities allowing children to learn through the natural environment. The creek represents aquatic systems focusing on water play, and the sand pit demonstrates the hot desert environments. The bamboo maze, trampolines and grass chimes recreate the Savannah and the rope climb, walkway and pods allow play in the forests of the world.

Sponsorship from Variety enabled visitor facilities to be developed including covered outdoor areas, toilets, changing rooms and lift access to the walkway demonstrating the highest commitment to accessibility.

Sustainability principles were embedded in every aspect of the project. Significant trees were retained and nurtured with the removal of surrounding infrastructure and the use of permeable surfaces. Other trees were preserved or relocated within the playspace, with the planting of numerous trees as a long‐term shade strategy. Many elements of the site were reclaimed and repurposed including rocks, logs, seats, sculptures, paving, mulches and soils.

Renewable materials were utilised in many of the play elements, particularly salvaged timber and rope. A high proportion of the equipment is custom designed and Australian made, with WAX collaborating with local manufacturers to create bespoke elements.

The project involved extensive engagement that encouraged the community to influence the design process. Consultation through the Zoo’s education centre provided information regarding children’s ideas and further feedback was given through discussion with Variety to ensure inclusive play was achieved.

The playspace has rejuvenated the Zoo and created a valued asset which is the leading nature play destination in Adelaide, with its success measured by some of the highest visitor numbers on record and unprecedented increase in Zoo membership and patronage.