Kids Will Race into Oulu’s ‘Speed Park’
The seemingly interminable Finnish summer holiday raises the age old question for expats with children, ‘How on earth are they to be entertained?’ 65DN finds that an adventure playground opposite the Nallikari resort may well have the answer.
You’d be forgiven for missing Vauhtipuisto. From the road, it looks like an old wooden shed and possibly a few small rides. For many years, my assumption has been that this particular ‘children’s park’ would be overpriced and under-furnished. But turning into the forested carpark quickly reveals how wide of the mark such as assumption is.
The old looking building is painted with a large black gap to make it look as though it is splitting apart and, upon passing through the entrance, my three year-old daughter makes it quite clear that she has entered some kind of paradise.
First, she tries the large bouncy castle, then – coaxed off that – the fantastically steep and bouncy slide which reminds you of one of those Aztec temples with far too many steps. This occupies her for at least an half an hour before she moves onto a fish-shaped bouncy castle slide, two trampolines, a shooting range, a little wooden village which allows you to be a carpenter, a shopkeeper or even a princess, then a reindeer-based carousel and much more besides.
It occurs to us after a while that we haven’t actually paid yet so we make our through the crowd – being Oulu it’s not really that crowded but the car park is reasonably full – to buy our daughter a green wristband for 11 euros. The way that you pay is one of the more idiosyncratic aspects of Vauhtipuisto.
You can either pay between 2 and 4 euros per ‘ride’ or pay 11 euros, which gives you access to everything apart from the arcade games (positioned under a shelter) and the ‘miniature car’ and ‘quad-bike’ track. The parents pay nothing and there is very little enforcement of having to pay at all. The only time my daughter’s wristband is checked is when she enters the puppet theatre, which takes place inside a disused train carriage.
‘The park has been open for 30 years,’ says Kari Komulainen, the parks director. ‘It’s a family business. My father opened it in 1982 when I was six years old. I bought it off him six years ago. Before that I was a computer expert!’
‘Originally it was centred on the cars,’ he explains. This, presumably, is the origin of the park’s name and logo, a boy standing next to a miniature car. ‘But I have developed it more for younger people . . . so now there are bouncy castles and the slide.’
Apparently, the most popular ride is ‘the fish’ and it seems clear from observation that the slide comes in a close second. There’s also a miniature train taking children round a garden in the middle of which is a merry-go-round.
Komulainen chuckles when he admits that paying the park’s entrance fee is indeed effectively based around trust. ‘But we trust people. We’ve never had any problems!’
It is clear from the carpark, and just walking around, that there are quite a few foreigners at the park on the day I’m there, especially from Norway. All of the many signs in the park – advising parents how the rides should be used – are written not only in Finnish but also rather quirky English: ‘Older children should taken notice of younger children on the slide . . . Follow the circulation of the slide . . . House of fun is a lot of fun but also moral.’ The website is in English, Norwegian and Swedish.
‘We have 30,000 visitors each summer,’ estimates Komulainen, ‘and about 30 percent of those are from abroad . . . mainly Norway and Sweden but also sometimes from Russia.’
One Norwegian man I get talking to who has come from Tromso, in the north of the country, along with his Oulu-native wife and bilingual son. He describes Vauhtipuisto as a ‘great-place’ as his boy, who looks about seven, exercises himself on the larger of the two trampolines.
There is a small but reasonably priced café as well as an icecream kiosk and plenty of benches upon which to have a pic-nic should you choose to bring one. Nicely spread out and backing onto a forest, behind which is the open sea, Vauhtipuisto has a far more relaxed atmosphere than many of its competitors. Despite not having to pay – unless they wish to accompany their child inside the puppet theatre (then it’s 3 euros) – there’s no problem with parents using the carrousel or even giant slide in order to ‘assist’ younger children.
If you want – and as we did – you can go home, have dinner, and then come back again to continue the fun later in the evening. The park opens at midday and shuts at 8pm, seven days a week during July and is open 2pm to 8pm in August.
On our second visit, we found attractions that we missed the first time round – a mock-old pirate ship in a forest by the sea and a small race track around which children of various ages can drive pedal cars through the mud.
Komulainen admits that, for both himself and his father, finding attractions that children like has been a matter of trial and error.
‘A lot of things have not worked. We have tried, for example, roller-skating and BMX bikes and these were just not working!’
I’m not sure that the ‘moral’ yet ‘fun’ ‘Hall of Fun,’ actually one of the older features, works as anything other than a curiosity for theme-park historians. It is too dark inside, many of the bulbs illuminating the features need to be replaced, some of the games are broken and it generally isn’t worth the effort. It also seems odd that the miniature car track, after which the park is named, is not included in the ticket price, though this is obviously aimed at slightly older kids than much of the rest of the park.
But these problems really don’t matter much. Vauhtipuisto is the perfect place to entertain young kids for a day while the sun’s still shining. And, of course, my daughter wants to go back again.