A marine park experience the kids will love this school holidays

Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre
Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre

“Seahorses are fascinating creatures,” says volunteer, Graham Hankin, “watch them for ten minutes and they’ll absolutely mesmerise you.”

As he releases hundreds of tiny shrimps into the water, a group of excited kids steps closer, some pressing their faces against the tank.

“Wow!!” a couple of them gasp.

As the little creatures start hoovering up their food, Graham continues. “Seahorses don’t have stomachs, we have to feed them 24/7, they eat continuously.” 

“Like me!” a little boy pipes up.

“Yes, and did you know that it’s the boy seahorses that give birth? The girls actually get the boys pregnant and they get little bellies on them.”

“Ha ha!” says a little girl, “that’s cool.”

The little boy isn’t so sure and before Graham can elaborate he darts over to another tank where Priscilla, a cute three month old Port Jackson shark, is also drawing a crowd.

Measuring just 15cm, baby Priscilla, along with the four majestic seahorses, are the latest attractions at The Marine Park Discovery Centre in Terrigal and they arrived just in time for the school holidays.

“There’s so much to see,” says one of the many mums being pulled around by their little ones. “The kids absolutely love it here, we come every school holidays.” And then she says something you don’t often hear adults say at a children’s centre, “I actually like coming too!”

Idyllically located lakeside in Terrigal, the Marine Park Discovery Centre opened in 2009 and is run by a group of 60 passionate local volunteers headed up by John Asquith, OAM General Manager.

“It’s very popular with kids, and we have regulars that come back again and again” John says, “but it’s also very interesting for adults and they seem more than happy to be here.  Basically, it’s somewhere the whole family can come and enjoy themselves.”

John’s love for the centre is obvious and since retiring as an engineer, he’s devoted much of his time to what he believes is an important and much needed facility for the Coast.

“The Central Coast has very few educational and recreational facilities based and built around our beautiful natural environment,” he says. “We’re lucky to be surrounded by so much nature and we are passionate about educating kids on how to look after it.”

Today the Marine Park is buzzing with excited children of all ages, navigating their way through a labyrinth of colourful marine exhibits.

“There’s something to read, do, touch and interact with in every nook and cranny of the building,” says Val, another friendly volunteer who’s helping out over the school holidays.

First stop for most kids is the Wet Touch Tank where they can get their hands down into the water and safely explore the wonders of a rock pool.  There’s also a Dry Touch Tank with sand, shells and seaweed, a turtle display featuring fossils and a 90 year old turtle shell, and, of course, a fantastic wall of sharks’ teeth that’s fascinating and positively scary. An impressive humpback whale display will have children measuring themselves against the mammal’s giant jawbone and trying to figure out how many little people can fit inside a whale’s mouth. 

You can read about whale migration, sea birds and the effect of climate change on fish populations. Kids can retrace the path of the ‘Endeavour’ and learn about Captain Cook’s journey up and down the coast. And the “The Amazing Adventures of Gavin” is an animation aimed at teaching kids about marine conservation.

“When the committee conceived the idea for this centre we wanted to make it a fun experience, but also an educational one,” says John. “We wanted to inspire people to aspire.”

The centre also offers plenty of interactive activities.

“Kids love the treasure hunt!” says Val. “You’ll see them excitedly running around with a clip board and pencil, marking off what they have to find on their lists.”

“Yes, I’ve got five kids here today,” says one mum who is visiting from country NSW, “they’re all off doing the hunt and I think they get to pull a prize out of the treasure box when they finish which they’ll love.”  She looks around “Actually, they look busy, so I might duck out for a coffee.”

And she doesn’t have to go far.  PARKLIFE Café is attached to the Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre and faces the newly reopened Terrigal Rotary Park.  The gorgeous little eatery serves healthy food made from the best local ingredients, organic coffee, local East Coast juices and gelato.

“We started as a pop up earlier this year,” says owner, and passionate local foodie Pauly Mac, “but now we have plans to expand and we’re here to stay. If you’re at the Marine Centre you can grab a drink and something to eat or just come down anytime and take advantage of our location right by the lake with the beautiful new park on our doorstep.”

 “It is great,” says Jill, a grandmother who’s babysitting her granddaughter, “We’ve spent the morning inside the Marine Centre and now we’re having a bite to eat at this lovely café. We might go back inside because it’s unlimited entry for the day or we might just play in the park which my granddaughter loves.”

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