Shut for winter and closed for Covid, a theme park north of Auckland has re-opened to to turn everyday kids — and many adults — into ninja warriors.
Update, December 2: In a Facebook post, Action Ninja World has announced that it has been forced to close “until further notice”.
My daughter was distraught. For 15 minutes, she’d been sitting by herself, tears down her cheeks, arms hugging her knees, inconsolable, as she glared at a Tarzan swing that got the better of her. It was a look I’d seen from her many times before; if lasers shot out of her eyeballs and eviscerated everything around her, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
She was grumping because she’d failed to complete the beginner’s trapeze at Action Ninja World, one of the many challenges on offer at the Matakana theme park north of Tāmaki Makaurau. It’s a series of three grip-swings that requires perfect precision, co-ordination and upper body strength to complete.
Finish that, and you’re allowed to move on to the much bigger, and far harder, adult-sized trapeze. She’d seen other Tarzans do it, and wanted to become Jane. At the time we were visiting the park, this past March, my daughter was just seven years old, and she’d failed three times, hence the waterworks.
Finally, she dusted herself off, chalked her hands, climbed up the ladder and, with her misery replaced by a look of sheer determination, tried again. This time, with teeth gritted, she did it. Afterwards, she rolled off the inflatable landing pad, bounded over and jumped for joy, issuing high fives.
Meltdown forgotten, she dragged us over to the next challenge so we could go through the process all over again.
“That’s what we love,” says Annalise Coghlan. Action Ninja World’s marketing manager sees this exact thing happen to people who visit her theme park every day. “Kids get so passionate. They really want to do the activities and don’t want to give up on it.”
Honestly, we weren’t even supposed to be there. From the outside, Action Ninja World doesn’t look like much. Driving past Matakana Country Park, a collection of restaurants, cafes and family-friendly activities, all that can be seen is a collection of generic theme park activities: a water slide, a couple of bouncy castles, and a climbing wall.
We weren’t going to go in, but our kids saw something we couldn’t. They were relentless. “When can we go?” they’d ask, every five minutes. The nagging continued for the next 24 hours. We caved in just to shut them up.
Tomorrow, we told them, they could go.
I’m not afraid to say it: they were right. Once you’re inside, Action Ninja World is something else entirely, a world full of challenges and possibilities. It will push you to your limits. We arrived in the early afternoon. The kids wouldn’t let us leave until closing time.
Across those five hours, I have never seen them so determined to have as much fun as possible, so relentlessly addicted to absolutely every single thing on offer in a theme park, and so completely bone-tired afterwards.
Among the things they did that day were: knocking each other off a beam with jousting poles, playing zorb football, completing an inflatable maze, jumping for joy on a huge inflatable pillow, smashing into the end of a frankly terrifying waterslide, attempting a high wire walk, completing a climbing wall, climbing a perilous rope ladder, petting farmyard animals, and drinking about four litres of water each. I believe go-karts were on offer; I can’t remember if they gave them a go too.
But the real challenge is the acrobatics. They each completed the beginner’s Tarzan swing, and attempted the flying trapeze. They also tried the ninja course, a complicated climbing frame full of obstacles that require serious levels of brawn to master, like something you’d see in the American Ninja World TV show.
Imported from China, Coghlan says it’s the latest addition to the park, and proving to be the most popular. “It’s just the beginning,” she says, promising plenty of expansions in the future.
It’s a brilliant, addictive and occasionally scary experience. In a world awash with copycat playgrounds pared back to be as safe as possible, maybe that sense of danger is what makes Action Ninja World so good. When I called Coghlan to ask her about it, she admitted it’s the only outdoor course of its kind in New Zealand. Yet it’s not dangerous: experts are on hand to train participants, and help them overcome fears and phobias.
Originally based in Paihia, and set up by two former circus performers, Coghlan used to go to the park when she was a kid. When her father, the owner of Matakana Country Park, discovered it was for sale, he bought it and moved it to Matakana, then added new features, including the zorb football and the ninja course. “My dad was like, ‘We just want kids to have fun, have a family day out and challenge themselves,” she says.
It was a surprise to find Action Ninja World’s only been open since February, so we’d been there just after it opened. Thanks to winter shutdowns and Covid-19 lockdowns, it’s been shut more than it’s been open. But it’s already proving popular. “We’ve had people asking if they can have season passes or concession passes because they have so much fun,” she says. Some days, when the park’s maxed out with 200 people, the nearby cafes and restaurants have to close early because they run out of food.
But here’s the thing: Action Ninja World isn’t just for kids. While Coghlan admits its mostly 5-11-year-olds who come through the doors, once parents get inside and see what’s on offer, they want a turn too. Many return to the ticket counter to buy a pass for themselves. That might be me instead of my daughter on the Tarzan swing next time. “They’re like, ‘Actually, I think I could do it too,” she says. “It’s made for all ages.”
Action Ninja World is open Friday-Sunday until December 15, when it will be open seven days a week. For bookings and prices, visit actionninjaworld.co.nz.