An Octopus Adventure at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

  • Preschoolers
    Mums & Bubs
    Parents Only
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By: Lisa Wolff, ellaslist

The last time I was at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, I was patting the sharks. I took my hubby for a birthday treat to get up, close and very personal with those sharp-toothed creatures of the deep. (It’s called Shark Dive Xtreme – keep it up your sleeve for Father’s Day).


This visit, I was armed with a double pram and three very excitable kids. I reckon even the sharks would have been scared off. We were at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary to explore the Octopus Garden, a special school holiday program where kids can meet an octopus and learn everything they ever wanted to know about one of the ocean’s coolest creatures!

Each kid got an octopus-themed activity sheet with colouring-in and a quiz trail. The answers to the quiz were dotted around the sanctuary and it’s a great challenge for school aged kids. For our littler ones there is a craft table to make a cute take-home paper octopus or an octopus mask. There is a staff member on hand to help out everyday until 2:30pm.


Our twins were fascinated with the tanks of colourful fish and loved finding the stripy nemo’s amongst the rainbow of fins and tails. There was an octopus in one of the tanks but he was a being a little coy hiding himself behind the rock. So instead we headed to the touch pool where the kids could stroke ‘Cecil’, the resident octopus. They also got to pat a slimy sea-slug and handle shells, seaweed and other interesting sealife.


It was penguin feeding time so we headed upstairs. This proved to be a bit of a mission for us as the building has no elevator (due to heritage restrictions) so we had to carry a heavy double pram up two flights of stairs. So I’ll pause here for a hot tip – leave your stroller in the provided storage area and carry your baby in a pouch. If you’ve got twins (or more), take along another adult to help carry the kids (or haul up the pram, if necessary).

The gorgeous little Fairy Penguins were worth the effort and we were lucky enough to see the newly born fluffy chicks. The children loved watching the penguins having their lunch and learning a bit more about these charming animals.


Next up was the fish feeding tour on the ground level, followed by the JAWsome Sharks Talk in the downstairs level. The Shark Harbour was probably my highlight (maybe because we were already close friends with the ‘friendly’ predators from our dive). The kids walked through the glass tunnel transfixed at the enormous sharks, sting-rays, turtles and colourful tropical fish. They stood gazing up as a massive shark glided above their heads and a gynormous stingray sashayed close enough to touch. Wow, what a thrill!


We ended off with a play at Shipwreck Shores. It’s a new soft-play zone and it was our kid’s idea of a fantasy world. There was a crawl-through sea cave complete with colourful corals and fossils. And they could have spent hours climbing through the tunnels, down slides and over the marine-themed obstacles. They loved being captain of the boat and wrestling with the giant sea-weed. Perfect for ages 7 years and below.

On the way out we wandered through the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary shop, which has some gorgeous fluffy marine toys and some other unusual toys – great for birthday pressies. We literally dragged the kids away from the all the fun with fervent promises that we would be back.

WHERE: West Esplanade, Manly (only 200m from the Manly Wharf)
OPENING HOURS: Open from 9:30am
PRICE: For the best entry price book online. Walk up price: Adult $25 and Child $15.
TOURS & TALKS: Check out the Daily Activity Schedule


The Manly Sea Life Sanctuary doesn’t have a café on-site and the kids were starving after their fish escapades. So we headed straight to the nearby Papi Chulo, which has prime position on the wharf. It’s a Merivale restaurant (think Coogee Pavilion, Ivy etc) so it’s one of those spots that has perfected combining a stylish dining experience with a family friendly atmosphere. Justin Hemmes (Merivale CEO) really gets that just because you have kids, doesn’t mean you automatically want to eat at Mackers. There’s an uber-cool in-house DJ and a massive open kitchen but with none of the pretension. We were welcomed warmly – which doesn’t always happen when you’ve got three energetic mini-ones in tow.


We picked Papi’s not only because of its gorgeous location and scrumptious new kids menu but the restaurant is also donating $1 from each kid’s meal to SEA LIFE trust ANZ, a registered environmental organisation which works to protect Manly’s Little Penguin community. Plus during the school holidays, children who visit Papi Chulo and order from the new kids menu will receive free entry into Manly Sea Life Sanctuary (one child, per one full-paying adult). Great deal!

The kids settled down nicely with their crayons supplied by the friendly staff , giving us a moment to breath after our busy afternoon. The kids menu is not your usual deep fried fare. We ordered the grilled barramundi fillet, cheese Quesadilla with sour cream and guacamole and the burger with ketchup (all $12 each).


Portion sizes are super generous, the food was delicious and the kids loved the crispy curly fries that came with each meal. While hubby and I greedily helped the kids with their meals, we couldn’t resist trying the pea guacamole with tortilla chips. This was so moreish and all of us tucked in. We finished off with the warm chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice-cream, which was also popular with kids and grown-ups alike.

Papi Chulo was the perfect ending to our Manly Sea Life Sanctuary adventure. What a treat!