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SocietyDecember 25, 2021

Celebrating the cursed slides of Aotearoa


Summer read: In a year when one of Wellington’s most famous slides was finally dismantled, The Spinoff writers remember some of the death-defying structures that have made us who we are. 

First published September 24, 2021.

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There is no childhood experience quite like getting your ass absolutely handed to you by a slide. Many can relate to the traumatic memory of climbing your way cautiously up an endless ladder, gazing upon your kingdom, and then propelling yourself down a stretch of metal or plastic that was either piping hot, way too fast, chillingly slow, or filled with concussion-inducing twists and dips. To conquer a dangerous slide is a rite of passage here in Aotearoa, and it is high time we remember some of the great, death-defying structures that have made us who we are. 

Frank Kitts Park slide, Wellington

RIP Frank Kitts slide (Photo: Wellington City Council)

RIP the Frank Kitts Park slide, arguably the most intense, dangerous and fun slide* in Wellington. Installed around 1989, the obscenely long slide inexplicably had a bend in it that was supposed to slow down the rider. It didn’t work. To go down the Frank Kitts slide was to accept a bruised bum and a fleeting glimpse of the mortality of man. Thanks to having lots of old(er) siblings, I’ve watched many home videos of family trips to Frank Kitts Park in the early 90s, and every clip has no discernible dialogue because the sound of the now-removed roller bars on the slides was overwhelming.

I asked the family group chat what they remember about the slide and the consensus was that a) it was extremely fast and was a good litmus test for a child’s sense of self-preservation, and b) it used to be much worse. “I’m pretty sure way back then the main slide also had a section in it that had these rollers in it. It was super scary because I remember being very worried my fingers would get stuck in it or my clothes. Was definitely way more unsafe back then!”

The problem is that when sliding down in sneakers and fearing for one’s life, children would push their feet against the sides to slow down and would instead topple over or, in some horrible instances, break a leg. The black marks along both sides of the slide was art, painted by rubber and terror. I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been if the council had simply lubed up the slide and created a padded landing area. The joy!

For teenagers, it was a place to publicly drink alcohol while being relatively safe from prying eyes. Slide house or pash palace? The question could be asked of any slide house in New Zealand but is particularly true of the Frank Kitts Park slide house that came with harbour views and an extreme sports activity to get back on ground. 10/10 night out, 10/10 slide. / Madeleine Chapman

*dry slide. The best slide full stop is the Wainuiomata Summer Pool water slide.

Marlow Park dinosaur slide, Dunedin

Growing up in Invercargill, trips to Dunedin felt like visiting The Big City – and as far as I was concerned the playground next to St Kilda beach was as good as Disneyland. In its early-90s heyday the park had bumper boats and a mini golf course, but the pièce-de-résistance was always the dinosaur slide.

Nowadays it’s hard to see what was so magical about Marlow Park. To adult eyes, it appears sparse and windswept; the whole place has a vaguely menacing aura. And according to a 2018 story in community newspaper The Star, the dinosaur slide isn’t even slippery any more.

“A large slide at a Dunedin playground has been slammed for its lack of slipperiness,” read the opening sentence of journalist Shawn McAvinue’s report. The complaint was first raised at a community board meeting, at which a disgruntled member quotably claimed: “It’s a slide that doesn’t slide.”

McAvinue wrote about the slide one more time in 2018 – this time reporting that it was closed for repairs. “A ‘gutted’ mother and son on holiday in Dunedin are leaving the city today unable to realise a dream of riding a dinosaur slide,” read another spectacular lede, followed several paragraphs later by an equally perfect kicker: “A council spokeswoman confirmed there was a hole in the slide which had been identified as an ‘entrapment risk’.” / Calum Henderson

Waiwera Hot Pools ‘The Black Hole’, Auckland

I remember checking in at the front desk, walking past the movie pool and thinking “cool”. I remember jumping in the spa, seeing an unclaimed plaster float by, then jumping straight out again. I remember a friend daring me to try The Black Hole slide and I remember the epic climb to the top, but I don’t remember much else after that. At some point while going down Waiwera Hot Pools’ most notorious water slide, I got airborne, my head hit something, and I was spat out into the small pool at the end while clutching my head. At some point during the pools’ final months of operation, the slide was welded shut. Was this why? I don’t know. But I only ever went down it once, and once was definitely enough. / Chris Schulz

Science Alive’s vertical slide, Christchurch

To this very day, whenever I get really stressed or anxious, my dreams always involve the same situation. Me, at the top of the vertical slide at Science Alive in Christchurch in 1997, biffing myself off the edge and falling into infinity. Within Science Alive, an interactive museum of marvels including a “human gyroscope” and “a leaf blower with a beach ball balanced on top”, the vertical slide was the absolute showstopper attraction. Ask anyone! Ask this woman!

I remember nervously climbing a skinny, spiralling staircase up roughly 200 metres in the air. At this point a slide attendant, who I am certain I am not misremembering as Slender Man in a bowling shirt, would lift you up under your armpits and then drop you straight down into the black abyss. It was chilling, thrilling, a chance to prove yourself to your peers while also being a part of science… alive. Sure, the experience gave kids the odd concussion, but that’s science, too. 

“My main feeling, once the pain subsided, was a kind of low-level shame?” a coworker reflected on his VSC (Vertical Slide Concussion). “I was obsessed with this slide in a very real and probably unreasonable way and, when I finally got to try it, my experience was a categorical failure.” Science Alive was demolished after the quakes, I assume the slide with it, but that indoor plummet will continue to live on in stress dreams for decades to come. / Alex Casey

Massey Park Aquatic Centre’s hydro slide, Auckland

For a kid who lived in Papakura, this was the closest you could get to the very specific experience of a waterslide: all the thrills of a slide with the added labour of standing in a long line, paying for it, and being very wet. For what I believe was $5, you could ride the slide as many times as you wanted within in a two-hour window, and it was worth every cent for that 30-second trip down a dark blue tunnel with an insipid river running through it.

I later worked at Massey Park as a not especially efficient swim instructor (look, nobody drowned so I can’t have been that bad). Without fail, the best way to fill five minutes at the end of an hour-long lesson was to send the kids up the hydro slide. They got a treat, and I got to not plan five minutes of a lesson. That’s what you get when you hire a sulky teenager, people. I don’t feel too guilty about it – those kids definitely learned more about swimming from the slide than they did me.

I love this slide for two reasons. Firstly, the pure, base thrill of rocketing (at a safe speed) down a wet blue tunnel as a small child with a sense of wonder. Secondly, it gave me access to that teenage rite of passage: slacking off at a job that does not pay you and given how bad I am at it, perhaps shouldn’t. / Sam Brooks

Capital Discovery Place vertical slide, Wellington

I had buried my traumatic childhood memories of this slide away in the darkest recesses of my brain, but Alex’s recounting of the horrors of its Christchurch cousin have brought them flooding back. Capital Discovery Place, which later changed its name to Capital E (which still exists, but in a different place) was a very cool children’s science and technology museum whose centrepiece was a glass pyramid that’s now part of the furniture in Civic Square. Its other centrepiece, if two centrepieces is a thing that a place can have, was the vertical slide. The Spinoff’s chief technical officer Ben Gracewood remembers the slide as a highlight of trips to visit his grandma in the capital. “You’d fall literally straight down before the slide curved gently and zoomed you off down the flat part. Such a rush! It was made of smooth lino or something and just felt magical.”

I didn’t find it so much “magical” as “terrifying and traumatic”. But if you went to Capital Discovery Place, you had to go on the vertical slide or risk becoming a social pariah among your pals. And I hated that slide, almost as much as l hated playing laser tag and watching scary movies (other activities you had to partake in or risk becoming a social pariah among your pals).

The vertical slide at Capital Discovery Place (Photo: Capital E)

To access the slide you had to climb up inside a horrible claustrophobic cage. From the ground it didn’t look that high at all, but once you were up there, it honestly felt like you were about to jump off a skyscraper. A few reckless maniacs just sat on the edge and hopped off the slide into oblivion, but the sensible among us went backwards, hanging on to the edge with a white-knuckle grip akin to Mr Bean on a diving board, before releasing the hands and dropping down, down, down for what seemed like an eternity, leaving your stomach behind you. The last time I went on the Capital Discovery Place vertical slide I got a nasty slide burn on my chin, a painful physical scar to match my emotional ones. I reckon I was about 10.

On a more positive note, my first-ever encounter with a celebrity was at Capital Discovery Place, when for some reason my family attended what seemed to me to be an extremely swanky event there. I remember meeting on-screeen/off-screen Shortland Street couple Martin Henderson and Greer Robson, and also a kid vomiting on the vertical slide. / Alice Neville

Kowhai Park’s dinosaur slide, Whanganui

Is Kowhai Park cursed? Only by the spirits of children who have grown into adults and can no longer easily fit down its legendary dinosaur slide, aka me. The orange dino slide is the best part of Kowhai Park in Whanganui, and was famously immortalised in cake form in season one of The Great Kiwi Bake Off. Both these dinosaur slides are delicious, but you should only put your bum on one of them. 

Cursed or not, a dinosaur slide guarantees you a better playground experience. It is the law. To climb that dino tail like it’s your Everest, only to be spat out seconds later through that toothy dino mouth, your hair blowing in the breeze and nothing but pure joy in your heart? It can’t be beaten. Yes, us grown-ups may need to bum shuffle more than we used to in order to begin that fast glide to Funtown. Yes, it does take some effort to squeeze your adult arse cheeks into that surprisingly narrow shute, but it’s worth it. Those little shits lining up behind you can wait. Dino slides are for everyone. / Tara Ward

Hamilton Lake Domain slide, Hamilton

Every Hamiltonian knows, fears and loves the big lake slide in equal measure. It’s ancient, by all accounts, been there since the dawn of time. Even as the playground evolves around it, the  slide stands proud – a classic straight zoomer on top of a giant mound. It’s tall and long and surprisingly fast, but anyone who’s ever ridden it in shorts in the height of summer knows its defining trait is the way the metal heats up in the sun, scorching your bare legs. It’s a hot and spicy slide, a real human barbecue grill. / Toby Morris

Shoreland Park slide, Island Bay, Wellington

What could be more relaxing than a rusted slide with appalling visibility sandwiched between two busy roads and a very large body of water? The Shoreland Park slide is beloved by people whose children are fully grown. Elderly Island Bayians crow about how much they love the slide, while parents of children under five hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. 

A polarising slide (Photo: Supplied)

If you’re a fan of minimal parenting (which I am), the slide is excruciating. You cannot see behind it so you have to actually escort your child up into it. They invariably don’t want to go down it so they get stuck at the top. If you go down, you’re almost guaranteed to either become stuck or race down it, uncontrollably leading to an ACC claim. 

My kids have managed to fall from the top, half way down, and at the bottom, which seems like an impossible feat. The whole playground is due for an upgrade but there’s no doubt the slide will stay, remembered fondly by people who think it’s a rite of passage to get a tetanus shot after sliding down it. / Emily Writes

Waitarere Beach Holiday Park slide, Levin

There are many good slide memories in my life. Racing down the pitch black hydroslide at H20 Xtream in Upper Hutt. The day a new slide appeared at my local park and replaced the previous one that gave you static shocks every time. Going down the slide drunk at Victoria Park in Auckland. All great memories. But despite an abundance of great slides in my life, one stands tall above the rest – and it’s at the Waitarere Beach holiday park near Levin. 

It’s a terrifying metal runway that propels you down at great speed through the trees, before you fly out directly onto the extremely hard ground below. It was truly exhilarating and horrifying to five-year-old me and I have many memories of tumbling aggressively onto the dirt before running back up to hurt myself all over again. 

The possibility that it’s been upgraded, or at least has had new safety requirements imposed upon it, tarnishes the great memories I have. This slide should be left in its dangerous state for eternity; a memorial to a time when hurting yourself was an important part of growing up. / Stewart Sowman-Lund

Fish and chippy slide, Wainuiomata

The fish and chippy slide. Photo: Facebook

Dinner? and? a? show?. A combination of cardboard boxes and a repurposed temporary wardrobe, Seakraft’s fish and chippy slide captured the hearts of the nation while filling the bellies of Wainuiomata in alert level three. It is not so much a cursed slide as strictly forbidden but, oh, what I would give to cruise down that chippy chunnel some day. / AC

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