The residents of Kaeo – a town of 450 in the Far North – have come together to bring colour and play into their community. When Eljon Fitzgerald took his two year old granddaughter to the town’s playground only to find nothing that she could play on, he decided to take action into his own hands. The local community came together in force to back the project.
Building on their existing strengths and assets,  the project team tapped into many different opportunities to bring the dream of the playground to life. Using the Whangaroa Community Trust to secure funding, they received support from the Far North District Council (FNDC) and a local fundraising group called Kaeoannes to purchase a secondhand playground with the help of the Kerikeri Lions Club.

Bark spreading

To locate the shortfall, residents and local businesses pooled their resources to create a raffle that raised the final $5000 towards the installation of the playground. The rest came down to the hard work of community members, like Bruce Mills, his daughter Georgia, and Eljon who spent hours painting and sprucing up the old playground.  In a fantastic show of community spirit over 100 people answered the call to help lay and spread the bark FNDC had supplied.

What was once just a climbing frame and two swings is now a multi-activity playground for kids of all ages. Putting local initiative at the heart of this project has resulted in the playground becoming a central hub that has brought the whole community together.

“Kaeo has been buzzing with activity and not a day goes by without the playground area being full of kids and parents.” – Eljon Fitzgerald

Shared local visions driving action and change
Thanks to the vision of community members, the support of local businesses and community, and the guidance of the FNDC recreational services division, the collective desire to change a rarely-used area into a vibrant community playground and recreational area for families has been realised.

Building diverse and collaborative local leadership
The project was led by motivated community members and the Coordinator at the Whangaroa Community Trust. This mixed leadership allowed the voice of the community to remain strong in decisions while creating an official pipeline to essential resources and permissions necessary to be able to build the playground.

Using existing strengths and assets
Other than the installation of the playground, which required professional services, the entire project was facilitated through the work, support and donations of community members.

Kaeo may be a small town but we have all the skills of larger towns and cities within our community.  A strong volunteer workforce including young and old, tradespeople, parents and retired folk who have given freely of time to achieve this result. – Angela Norman, Community Coordinator.

The installation of the Whangaroa Community Playground is just the beginning for this small community who have been inspired by the changes they have been able to make for themselves. The initial leadership group plans to form a ‘Friends of the Playground’ group in which the goal would be to continue to build a welcoming hub for all visitors.

With the aim of becoming the coolest town playground in the far North, they are setting their sights high. They hope to develop a family area that offers picnic tables, BBQs and shade and have future dreams of a skate path and a flying fox.

Opening Day

The determination of the residents of Kaeo to build a place of fun and exploration for their youngest members has illuminated the necessary steps for change, allowing their vision to grow and flourish and creating lasting impact within their community.


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