ellaslist Discovers the Action-Packed Early Start Discovery Space in Wollongong

  • Preschoolers
    Mums & Bubs

By: Lisa Wolff, ellaslist

We crawled in through the mouth, over the tongue and dodged the teeth and suddenly we were in an intestine. We picked through bits of food scattered about…Wow, is that the heart beating? We creeped through the coil of the tummy and sque-e-e-ezed out through the bottom. PFFFT!! Oh, excuse me!

This Tummy Tour is one of 14 interactive zones in the brand new Early Start Discovery Space, which has recently opened in the University of Wollongong, as Australia’s only dedicated ‘children’s museum’!

Family Getaway So Close to Sydney

I couldn’t wait to take our kids (almost-4 and almost-2 year old twins) to test drive the facilities and report back to you. Firstly, don’t let its location put you off. Wollongong is a breeze to get to – it’s under a 2-hour drive from Sydney and believe me, it’s worth the trip. It was our first time in this city and I couldn’t believe we’d never been before. Besides the Discovery Centre, the beaches are magnificent and there are heaps to do with the kids. Visit for a weekend or just for a day but I promise you, it will be worth it! The place to stay is at the magnificent Novotel Wollongong Northbeach Hotel, which has been newly refurbished. It literally overlooks kilometres of pristine sand and is very kid friendly with a dedicated children’s toy room and kids eat breakfast free.

If kids could request their dream play-space, the Early Start Discovery Space (ESDS) would be it!

  • Touching Rule
    We LOVED that there was a “yes, please touch!” rule for everything – what a difference to my usual “BE CAREFUL! NO, not the 1000-year old ming vase” tirade.
  • Parents & Kids Discovering Together
    It was so great to see parents playing with their kids. All zones are built big enough for grown-ups to participate and mums and dads got completely involved with the role-play and interactive activities. We definitely had just as much fun as our kids!

  • Freedom!
    Children can wander around freely moving from zone to zone and back again. Our kids loved this complete freedom to explore. While the main area is open plan and there is nowhere really the kids can escape, with three inquisitive little ones, hubbie and I were on full alert in case we lost sight of any of them.

  • Learning Through Play
    I love that the aim of ESDS is to offer learning through fun and play. While the kids are building in the construction site, they’re learning about the tools of the trade. Or when they’re tallying up their groceries at the cash register, they’re gaining maths skills. I also like that there are different levels of learning for different ages so there will always be new challenges as they grow older.

walking to esds

The Zones

There are 14 interactive play experiences at the Early Start Discovery Space and we tried out all of them. Here’s a quick overview of our favourites:

Digital Dancing in The Pod

The Pod is a massive two-storey high digital screen which is essentially a giant fun wall. The kids loved creating moving shadows in the techno-colour ball-pit projection or my favourite, making bubbles in the gorgeous underwater scene – but watch out for the shark!

esds projection

Build it Up – The Construction Site

Our eldest gave this one a big thumbs up. She put on her hard hat, safety goggles and reflector vest, grabbed her tools and began to build. She learnt the names of her equipment, enjoyed taking measurements and had fun piecing together the construction materials.

esds construction

Shop Till You Drop – Market Place

Our three made a bee-line for the mini-trolleys and couldn’t believe their luck in snagging their very own in The Marketplace. They spent at least 20 minutes packing and unpacking groceries from the shelves and then ringing them up at the till. For older kids, there are shopping lists, for a bit more of a challenge. I was super impressed how organised the shopping environment was and the excellent quality and condition of the toy food. (Hopefully they keep this maintained).

esds market place

Ahoy There Me Hearties – Shipyard

There’s a real ship (eight metre long, five metres high) moored in the ESDS and our kids loved being sailors and taking turns captaining the vessel in the Shipyard. There are a heap of accessories for children to feel the part. Mr 2 got hold of the broom and swept the decks spotless while the girls were taking turns at the steering wheel.

esds shipyard

Digging for Buried Treasure in the Dig

Make sure you don’t miss out on The Dig. It’s a bit off the beaten path and you need to find the door (near the toddler play zone) that leads outside to the archaeological dig. The sand pit is divided into squares by string, which was a slight hazard for my clumsy lot who kept on tripping over the twine. Grab your escavation tools (spades and brushes) and begin digging. My kids lost patience with the tools and mainly used their hands to find the buried artefacts. There were squeals of excited glee every time someone uprooted a bit of treasure. This was one of my favourite activities.

esds dig

Tummy Tour

This was a family favourite and we all had a go (or ten) crawling through the giant intestinal tract. There is a map that explains each region of the stomach (great for older kids) and the significance (and humour) of crawling through the mouth and out through the butt won’t be lost on slightly older children. My trio just saw it as a giant amber tunnel with a few fun obstacles thrown in for good measure.

esds tummy tour

Exploring The Cave

The kids loved the thrill of exploring the dark cave with wind-up torches for light. The younger ones couldn’t get the hang of the wind-up mechanism and were a little frustrated but still enjoyed clambering around in the darkness.

esds the cave

Lights, Sound, Action!

There is a big box full of dress up clothes and props, which the kids rifled through to find their favourite costume. All dressed up they grabbed a mic and danced around the stage at Lights, Sound Action. Mum and dad took control of the light and sound consoles to add some cool effects.

esds lights sound action

Galileo’s Study and the Digital Media Lab

These two zones can be found on level 2 and are great for older kids. In Galileo’s Study, you’ll find old-fashioned scientific equipment to conduct experiments and observations. The opposite room, the Digital Media Lab, is equipped with the latest technology and ipads packed with fun educational games.

esds ipad

But Wait…There’s More

Miss 2 is a fluffy toy fanatic and couldn’t believe her eyes when she met the giant teddy in the Book Nook. This is a cosy inviting room with beanbags and books and the perfect spot for Storytime that takes place here at various times every day (except Mondays when the centre is closed). Check the times with reception.

esds book nook

There are also Craft Time Activities and these are held in the CreARTivity Space. When we visited, the craft was focused on creating creepy crawlies in honour of the new insect enclosure.

esds creartivity

Don’t miss the magnificent sculptured Discovery Gardens outside at the back. Our kids loved strolling over the bridges, balancing on logs and seeing the fruit and veggie patch.

esds outside

As you may have gathered, a visit to the Early Start Discovery Space is ACTION-PACKED. We managed to try everything out but the kids have been begging us for a return visit. We will definitely be back..we may even be tempted to get the value-for-money membership deal.

During school holidays, there is a fantastic variety of workshops on offer which can be booked online on the Early Start Discovery Space website.

What You Need to Know

All Ages:
The Early Start Discovery Space is perfect for kids from 0 – 12 years. For babies, there is the custom-built crawlers cubby – a soft-play sensory adventure. The toddlers also have their own nook with games and fun interactive play. Older children will have a ball with the giant games area and the technology zones.

Birthday Parties:
The Early Start Discovery Space is a fabulous spot for kids’ parties. At only $17.50 per child, this is such a fun venue for children and parents. Find out More.

Bring a picnic and munch on lunch on the benches in the shade of the Discovery Gardens. However when we visited, all the seats were taken so we had something to eat in the fabulous cafe – Espresso Warriors. Just note that you can’t access the cafe tables from the gardens – you need to go through the front entrance of the centre. The cafe has a delicious kids’ menu and the most decadent looking treats (buns oozing Nutella – yum!)

Opening Hours:
The Early Start Discover Space is open Tuesday – Sunday from 9am – 4pm. Closed on public holidays and Mondays.

Entry Fees:
Children and adults are $15.
Babies under 12 months are free and concessions available plus Annual Membership Packages are extremely good value

How to Get There:
The centre can be found within the campus of University of Wollongong

The Best and Most Family-Friendly Place to Stay in Wollongong is Novotel Wollongong Northbeach. It’s literally footsteps away from pristine beach which goes on forever. Ask to stay in one of the newly refurbished rooms and just like us, you’ll be super impressed with the luxurious touches. We chose the ocean view room which was easily big enough for hubbie and me and our three little ones. However at the last minute, we asked for an additional adjoining room (the hotel offers 50% off the second room) so that hubby and I could enjoy a glass of wine on the balcony and watch the sunset while the kids were sound asleep next door. Bliss! The kids were delighted when the cockatoos came for breakfast the next morning. Our extensive and scrumptious breakfast buffet was part of the package and kids eat free – Bonus! Our little ones enjoyed a play in the kids’ corner packed with toys and an X-box. There is also a swimming pool, spa and gym. Book Your Weekender Now!




Jan 25 2016

We headed down to this play space on Sunday and were not disappointed, my 6 & 3 year old just loved it and we spent all day there! The construction and shop section were our favourites (as well as the large connect 4 and chess board)! Well worth the drive. Thanks for reviewing it, we wouldn't have known about it otherwise.