Visiting Manly Sea Life Sanctuary {with kids}

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Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is a public aquarium located in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, Australia. It features (adorable!) little penguins, sharks, giant stingrays, sea turtles and other marine life.

Visiting Manly Sea Life Sanctuary with Kids


Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

Open: Daily from 9.30am – 5.00pm (last entry 4.30pm), except Christmas Day.

Cost: Adults $25, Children (under 4 years) FREE, Children (4-15 years) $17, Concession $20, Family $53+. You can save a minimum of 10% off these prices if you buy tickets online beforehand. There are discounted combination deals too if you intend to visit several Sydney attractions within a 30 day period.

Location: West Esplanade, Manly, NSW, Australia. Click here for map. Click here for transportation and parking information.

Suitable for: 1-100 year olds!

The best bits: The sea life is amazing, especially the little penguins. Manly has some lovely beaches to explore, and catching the ferry there is fun!

The worst bits: Parking is tricky. The inside of the aquarium is not wheelchair or pram accessible.

Playing in the sand outside Manly Aqcuarium Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

Our Review

I’m hoping the recent release of Finding Dory will result in a renewed interest in visiting aquariums and marine sea-life sanctuaries with young kids – they are such wonderful places for children to explore and learn about some of the fascinating creatures that live under the sea!

We’ve been to Manly Sea Life Sanctuary (or Manly Aquarium as it’s more commonly known) on several occasions, and loved it every time.

My daughters have always been fascinated with the sea, my eldest especially. She wants to grow up and be a marine scientist (like Shellington in the Octonauts), or a marine photographer (like Dashi), among other things. So marine aquariums have always been a very special place for her.

Because we go mid-week and outside of school holidays, we can usually find the sole available 2 hour free parking spot in one of the nearby backstreets, but because of the time restriction, my husband usually has to duck out mid-visit to move the car (lest we incur a hefty parking fine), which is really only possible if you have two adults with you. That’s the biggest downside really.

There is longer term (paid) parking available at parking stations in Manly’s town centre (which is only a few minutes walk away). Catching public transport to Manly is also another option – and if you happen to be on the ferry route, getting a ferry to Manly is a fantastic adventure all in itself!


Underwater Sydney

To enter the aquarium, you walk through a blue tunnel into a darkish room that is full of mini aquariums, featuring the amazing diversity of marine life that can be found in Sydney Harbour.

Aquarium at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

There’s octopuses, sea horses, cuttle fish, lionfish, sea stars (starfish), little Port Jackson sharks, water dragons and much more.

One time my daughter Jewel accidentally slipped over and bumped into one of the tanks. She must have scared the octopus inside, because it released its ink! Jewel thought that was amazing! That one experience has generated countless discussions about octopuses, their defenses, how we used to use ink to write with, etc.

Fish gazing

Kids can also learn about the sanctuaries breeding and rescue program, and learn about the role that marine scientists have in studying and caring for this ecosystem.

There’s also the opportunity for kids to get their hands wet at an interactive rockpool, where staff chat to the kids, let them handle (already hatched) shark eggs, and reach in to the rockpool to gently touch living sea stars, sea urchins, crabs and sea snails.


Shark Harbour

The next level is downstairs, and is unfortunately not pram or wheelchair accessible. If you have a pram, you’ll be asked to leave it towards the entrance. (Which might mean waking a sleeping baby though…)

It’s worth it though, because downstairs is like walking under the ocean. There’s loads of sharks, sting rays, giant sting rays, turtles and huge fish all gliding seemingly just inches away. (The glass is actually really thick, but it appears much thinner to look at.)

Looking at sharks at Manly Aquarium

The staff regularly give talks which is great for older kids, but not so much for the little ones, so we just meander through at our own pace.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to time your visit to coincide with the shark feeding (which happens every second day or so), or when other tourists are going on a scuba dive with the sharks – both of which are cool to watch!

Sharks at Manly Aquarium

Penguin Cove

Upstairs again, is an area known as Penguin Cove, which is home to some captive-bred adorable little penguins. They’re the smallest breed of penguins in the world, and their breed name is actually “little penguin”. (They’re often referred to incorrectly as “fairy penguins”, so you might have heard them called that before too.)

Little penguins at Manly Sea Life Aquarium

These are the same species of penguin that naturally live and breed on Manly’s coastline, one of the last remaining breeding habitats in Australia. About 60 breeding pairs of little penguins come ashore to nest every night from July to February. This colony is listed as an endangered population, and there are volunteer penguin wardens who help to educate the public about the penguins, and make sure that people and dogs are kept away so that the penguins can breed in safety. The little penguin population at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary are a way for the public to see little penguins up close, without disturbing the wild ones that are trying to breed nearby.

This area also has lots of seating, and is a great place to pause for a snack (if you brought some food with you), while you watch the penguins waddle about – just FYI!

And the penguins are sooooo cute and inquisitive!

Hi there little penguinPenguin greetings

On the way back down, make sure you stop to peek into the portholes to see the penguins swimming from underneath. They are so waddly on the land, but so graceful swimming through the water. It’s quite mesmerizing.

Watching the little penguins from underneath the water


Manly Cove Beach

Just outside the aquarium is a cute little beach, that’s just perfect for sand castles or splashing at the water’s edge, and the views are amazing. We always stop here for a while to play before we go home. Expect very sandy kids afterwards!

Playing at the beach next to Manly Sea Life Sanctuary Aquarium


Where’s the Science at a Sea Life Sanctuary?

Perhaps you’re wondering – why is a review of a sea-life sanctuary on a science for girls website?

Going on mini-excursions to venues like this is a fantastic way to introduce natural science to all kids, especially little kids, in a fun way.

They are learning the huge variety of animals that life under the sea, the different characteristics that make up a species, the sort of habitat that different species live in, what they eat, what eats them, what their defenses are.

They’re learning that there are people who study these animals, who know how to rescue, care for and breed them. They’re learning about the life cycle of different species. They’re learning about endangered species, sustainability and what we, as a society, are doing to help.

They’re learning about how they themselves can help, such as helping to keep our beaches litter-free, which when it all adds up makes a huge difference.

Most of all, they are learning to be absolutely fascinated with this amazing world that we live in.

Personally we go into as much detail as possible when we answer our kids questions. They are capable of understanding more than what you first think! I don’t know all the answers myself, but finding out the answers is all part of the process. We ponder, google, look at books, and ask experts. Gradually our knowledge, fascination and confidence grows. I find, the more detail that we go into, the more fascinating it all becomes.

Visiting Manly Sea Life Sanctuary with kids - a review by Go Science Kids


Want more?

We actually have two aquariums in Sydney! Read our review of Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, in Darling Harbour.

For more posts about sea creatures, you might like our mini-expose on the 9 Sea-Life Mistakes in Finding Dory {you might have missed}.

We’re hoping to do more reviews of science museums and excursion venues, and when we do, they’ll be listed here. (As you can see, we’ve already reviewed the Australian Museum, Questacon and Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. I’m hoping to write up reviews of Janolan Caves, Taronga Zoo, Melbourne Museum and Scienceworks shortly too.)

Or if you’re interested in science for little kids generally, you may wish to subscribe to the Go Science Kids newsletter. You’ll be the one of the first to hear about reviews like this one, as well as find out about some fun (and mostly free) science ideas you can try at home.


What’s your favourite kid-friendly science venue? Where should we go next?

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  1. Anna @Kids Play Space

    we will have to do this! looks wonderful!

    • Danya

      Oh you’ll love it Anna. We’ve been quite a few times now, and it’s always a lovely outing, especially if you allow some time for sand play afterwards. 🙂

  2. Kelly

    It looks great. We are thinking of a Sydney weekender soon, so I will add this to our sightseeing list!

    • Danya

      I especially love how it focuses on native Sydney marine animals, and then when if you step outside for a play on the beach afterwards, you can imagine all those same marine creatures, living just there…

  3. Marlee

    I am currently working on developing a summer camp for 4-5 year olds at an aquarium. Are there any suggestions/things you would want your kids to do at an aquarium camp? My previous camp experience was with campers a bit older, and I want to make sure these kids get all the best experiences.

    • Danya

      Oh wow, how exciting! There are so many awesome activities that are age appropriate for 4-5 year olds – your kids are going to have fun! It does depend on what sea creatures they will see at the acquarium – and tailor your activities around that. (Manly sea life sanctuary contains just Sydney-based sea creatures, so they might be different to the acquariums near you).

      I’m always a big fan of hands-on experiences; can you set up a touch-friendly mini pool? You could have things like sea urchins, sea weed, sea cucumbers, shark eggs (kids always love hearing they are sometimes called mermaid purses!). Can you set up a hands-on sand pit? You could bury fossils and have kids discover them, and learn about the prehistoric sea. Kids always love seahorses – maybe you could do a craft based on Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle, and teach kids how sometimes fathers play a big role in the ocean? What about something to do with mammals and how they are different to sea creatures? Or how crustaceans grow out of their exoskeletons? You could look at the tides, and the role the moon plays? So many ideas!! Let me know what you end up doing!


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