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Whale watching with kids

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Wild About Whales
Whale watching at North Head, Sydney Harbour National Park. Photo: D.Smith/OEH

When you're a kid everything seems big. And so imagine how it must be to see a whale, the world's largest mammal, through the eyes of a child? Amazement plus for sure! Seeing a whale for the first time is something a child will never forget – and now that numbers are increasing year on year, the chances of them spotting whales on their annual migration are looking better all the time.

Whale watching from land in the coastal national parks in NSW can be a great way to introduce your children to whales and the importance of these amazing animals of the deep. But, like any activity with children, it pays to plan ahead to get the most out of your experience and ensure the whole family has a great day out getting wild about whales.

Here's some top tips on whale watching with your little ones:

Plan ahead – You don't want unhappy kids, so plan ahead. Check the weather, pack the essentials and dress appropriately. Some of the most beautiful vantage points for spotting whales in our national parks are along the coastal tracks and cliff tops which can often be quite cool during whale watching season, so make sure the kids are rugged up.

Check recent whale sightings – You want to give yourself the best chance to see the whales, and the kids may be disappointed if you don't, so before heading out check the whale sightings map on the Wild About Whales website – it's the quickest and easiest way to find out where the whales are being seen and the kids will love spotting the 'whales tails' on the map – plus there's heaps of great pics and they can see the types of whale species that inhabit our oceans.

Choose your park – NSW national parks provide some of the best whale watching locations along the coast. Choose how far you want to go – you might like to choose your local national park and head there, or make a day out of it and travel further afield. There are whale watching hotspots all along the coast from Byron Bay in the north, to Eden in the south.

Download the mobile app – Kids are getting more and more tech savvy all the time, so before heading out download the Wild About Whales mobile app for Apple and Android. Talk to them about the whales and check out the detailed whale watching guide. After your day you can also submit your family's very own whale sightings.

Take the essentials – The last thing you want is children complaining about being hungry, so before you leave stock up with lots of warm drinks, snacks and a packed lunch for the whole family to keep their bellies full. You'll also need binoculars for better viewing as children may become frustrated if the whales are hard for little eyes to see. And don't forget your camera so they can share pics of the whales with their mates at school. You might also like to take folding chairs and picnic blankets for extra comfort.

Have a back-up plan – Whales are wild animals and of course there are never any guarantees you will see them, so make sure you have other things in mind for the kids. Research the park you're heading to via the NSW national parks website to discover what else there is to do and see there. You could go bushwalking to uncover the native flora and fauna nearby or picnic near the water. Keep an eye out for other wildlife including dolphins, seals, and on land the array of birds. It's also a good idea to visit a park with a Visitor's Centre – they often have educational material for children on native plants and animals, gift shops and cafes.

Take part in a tour – Take part in a Discovery Tour, an entertaining and informative tour or activity led by a specialist ranger. Tours are for everyone, whether you're five or 95, and help explain the secrets and unexpected delights of the landscape and its inhabitants. There are several Wild About Whales Discovery Tours on offer too.

Make it fun AND educational – Kids respond well to games, so turn your whale watching experience into a game - first to spot a whale, first to see a whale jumping out of the water, first to spot a whale's tail and so on. Everyone knows kids are not the most patient of creatures, and sometimes whale watching may involve some waiting, so make it fun by printing out pictures of whales for them to colour, or have them draw what they see. You can also research species and whale behaviours before you go and explain what each of the whale's behaviours actually means.

Grow into a responsible adult – Most large whales species found in Australian waters were pushed almost to extinction, yet have rebounded tremendously in recent times. Let the kids know how special what they’re seeing really is, and how they can do their bit to ensure the whales have a positive future. Ensure they take all their rubbish away with them – Remember even a small amount of plastic left to blow in to the ocean can be mistakenly eaten by whales and other marine life such as turtles.

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