“The Central Coast has very few educational and recreational facilities based and built around our beautiful natural environment. We’re lucky to be surrounded by so much nature and we are passionate about educating kids on how to look after it.”
“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 Central Coast Marine 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 Central Coast Marine 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 Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre 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 Central Coast Marine Discovery 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 Central Coast Marine Discovery 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.”
“Yeah,” says a dad who’s sitting on a blanket in the sun, watching his two boys climb up the mast of a pirate ship, “it’s great down here now because I can get a good coffee. So everyone’s happy, not just the kids!”
“ParkLife Café and the new Rotary Park with that fantastic play equipment and the barbecues has been wonderful for us,” John agrees.“Now families can come and spend the whole day here.”
And you will need the whole day to get through everything the centre has to offer. Back inside, the art and craft tables offer about 20 different activities for kids, everything from painting a ceramic sea creature to making a bottle cap turtle or a cardboard octopus. Little scientists and marine biologists are kept busy in The Lab looking at sea specimens through microscopes and a wonderful collection of shells is being held up to little ears.
“That’s the sound of the ocean” says a teenage girl to her little sister.
“Whoa. It’s beautiful,” she says.
Another popular activity is the Virtual Reality Dive set up in a dark and mysterious, cave-like corner.
“With the click of a mouse you can explore the HMAS Adelaide which was sunk in 2007 off the coast of Terrigal,’ says Val, as she helps a young boy navigate his way around the wreck. “You can swim around and not get wet! It’s incredible really, like you’re actually there because it’s live footage of the site.”
And speaking of diving, John says the Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre's prized possession is a late 1800s diving suit donated to the centre by a local family. “It’s a slice of aquatic history” he says. “It’s got to be almost 80 kilos so if you compare this to what they wear now, it’s a reminder of how far technology has moved us.”
The Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre will soon undergo a major upgrade to expand the centre and build walkways around the lake, so people can fully appreciate the areas natural beauty. It’s a testament to the dedication of John and all the volunteers who’ve built it up and maintained it for almost 10 years.
“We couldn’t do this without our volunteers. There are currently 60 who help out,” John says, “but we are always looking for more and you don’t really need any aquatic experience.”
Cue Graham, who looks after water quality and feeding and is about to feed the hungry seahorses again. “I knew nothing and had to learn, but I love it. It’s very rewarding and it’s a great way to spend my retirement,” he laughs.
The Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre is a wonderful, affordable way to spend the day and is open most weekends and every day in the school holidays. Entry is $10 for adults and $6 for children and you can buy a cute, furry ocean friend to take home with you on your way out.
Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre
11a Terrigal Drive, Terrigal
Open 10am – 4pm or by appointment
Follow on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/CentralCoastMarineDiscoveryCentre/
Words Marie Patane
Images Lisa Haymes
Read what locals have to say about the Central Coast.