6 kid-friendly animal adventures in Ballina
Want to up the joy levels on your next family break? Your kids are guaranteed to go wild for these animal encounters on the Ballina Coast and Hinterland, starring everything from baby crocs to gigantic whales.
Get close to ocean giants
Ready for a whale-watching adventure? Jump aboard Out of the Blue Adventures, cruise out of Ballina’s Richmond River, and keep your eyes peeled for whales. You shouldn’t be waiting long: humpbacks number in their tens of thousands as they head up and down the east coast each year. You’ll get a 360-degree view of the action from your 20-guest eco-vessel as the whales breach, dive and nurture their calves which, despite being 4m long and two tonnes at birth, still somehow manage to look adorable. As this gigantic creature breaches right in front of you, sea spraying on your skin, you’ll find it hard to wipe the smile off your face. It’s a core memory your kids will treasure for life but they’ll get to learn a little, too: there’s a marine biologist on board and, via an underwater hydrophone, you can listen in as the whales sing to each other.
Explore the rainforest at night
Tell the kids you’re going for a walk in a rainforest after dark, and they’ll probably be interested. Tell them you’ll be wearing night-vision goggles, and you won’t be able to hold them back. When you head out on a Night Vision Walk in the Ballina Coast and Hinterland with Vision Walks Eco-Tours, you search for wildlife just like you would on any night-time expedition but, because you’re not carrying a torch, you can often sneak up on animals without them even knowing you’re there. On a typical night, you’ll see anything from possums to pademelons, and from tawny frogmouths to micro bats. And after your walk, you’ll get to sip on a steamy hot chocolate under the stars.
Handle a baby croc
This one shouldn’t be too hard to sell to the kids, either: a castle, with lots of animals and great pancakes. Formerly the Macadamia Castle, this venue has been entertaining families since 1975 with its winning blend of wildlife and sweet treats. Recently renamed the Byron Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, it’s home to more than 150 animals, and offers encounters guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s face. There’s the Crocodile Experience, in which the kids get to hold a baby croc; the Owl Experience, in which a barn owl swoops in to land on your gloved hand; and the Snakes & Lizards Experience, in which you can snap a photo with a snake slithering around your neck. You’ll also find a playground, mini golf, lots of macadamia goodies (the decadent nuts are native to northeastern NSW) – and those scrumptious pancakes.
Get a pic with the Big Prawn
OK, so it’s not technically a real animal. But the Big Prawn is to Ballina what the Empire State Building is to New York. You cannot visit without stopping here for a pic. Two decades after it was built in 1989, the 9m-high prawn had become a shell of its former self, and there was even talk of throwing it out with the rubbish. But, thankfully, a $400,000 restoration in 2013 put the giant crustacean back in the pink. Make sure you get a family selfie with this famous ‘Big Thing’, and if the sight makes you peckish, hit one of the seafood stores on the other side of the road.
Pet farm animals
The miniature goats do their best to steal the show at Summerland Farm, but with mini donkeys, mini cows, alpacas, guinea pigs and rabbits also in attendance, competition is tough. This working macadamia and avocado farm in the Ballina hinterland is just the spot for a bit of family fun in the country – you can join petting sessions with the farm animals, and head into the adventure playground and water park, too. There are also farm tours available, and a cafe and restaurant. On top of all that, the farm is a real good-news story: it takes pride in being an inclusive place to work, employing more than 100 people with disabilities. This is an adventure with heart, and one your kids won’t forget.
Go bird spotting
The Richmond River is wildlife central, so jump in a boat with your kids, and get exploring. At Ballina Boat Hire, you can rent a tinnie with a canopy or a barbecue boat big enough for eight people. The kids can learn to get their sea legs while they chomp on a Dad-cooked sausage sandwich. Throw in a line, or just go wildlife-spotting instead. Look out for dolphins, as well as some of the 160 bird species that live in the mangroves and other habitats of the Richmond River Nature Reserve. Many of them – including the pied oystercatcher, the osprey and the beach thick-knee – are threatened species, so don’t forget the bird book and the binoculars.
Let us do the planning for you!
Let us do the planning for you!
For more family-friendly adventures in Ballina, check out this one-day itinerary.