Say no to electronics and say yes to being outdoors
If you are guilty of letting yourself and your children spend too much time on electronic equipment, then place an embargo on anything with an on button next weekend and head off outdoors. A great place to have a little explore is at the Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills. This small State Forest is located smack bang in the middle of suburbia and it is the best place to get your kids and yourself out into Mother Nature and breathe some fresh air and also learn a bit about the bush - and don't worry caffeine is also available! The Forest occupies approx. 40 ha of land so it is the perfect spot to forget about the hustle and bustle of city life and get back to nature.
The wonderful thing about the Cumberland State Forest is that it is suitable for everyone. So you could bring the grandparents as well as your babes in prams and even your fur child (as long as they are on a lead). The forest contains bush walks for all ages and abilities, a fantastic visitors centre, a cafe, nursery and loads of picnic and BBQ spots - entry is free all year round. When you arrive at the forest drive along the road until you reach the car park next to the visitors centre. Head on into the centre where you will find some interesting displays and hands on activities for both kids and adults to participate in.
Now you may come a little unstuck with your embargo on electronic equipment as one of the hands on activities inside the visitor centre is Ipads! The Forest Ipad Detective is located at the entrance to the centre and being the bug eyed little detectives that they are, your children will spot them as soon as they walk in the door. The Ipads only have a game on them that lets children discover what is hiding in a forest, so it is quite educational but it is also a bit tricky to get them off it. Luckily there is also another game called the Forest Frame Challenge which is more physical. You have to move a spring loaded table around and make a yellow ball go through a maze until it comes out the other end.
If you have older kids they may be interested in reading all about the Cumberland State Forest's history etc on the displays around the centre and there are some taxidermy displays that you and your kids may also find intriguing. Once you've dragged your kids away from the Ipads it's time to do some bush walking. Make sure you pick up the Forest Treasure Trail booklet for each of your kids before you leave the centre. This is a great little activity sheet for children to fill in whilst they are in the forest - please note you must have your own pens and pencils.
Start at the Sensory Trail (all walks are well sign posted). This easy 350m loop apparently takes 30 minutes to walk - unless you like to wander at a snail's pace you will complete this walk in about half that time. The track has loads of signs along the way trying to encourage you to stop and smell and listen (hence why it is called the sensory trail). If you can make your kids stand still for long enough they can fill out their Forest Treasure Trail booklet and also complete the task of each sign. For example in the photo below, the task was to rub the old stump and then say what it smelt like. My children rubbed their hands all over the tree stump and then smelt their fingers and in true boy style, exclaimed that it smelt like poo!
The Sensory Trail is really pram friendly so you'll have no hassle taking the whole family along. There are loads of opportunities for photos and it is a really easy walk to take someone on who may never have been on a bush walk before or someone who may be in a wheelchair. On the day we visited we had the whole walk to ourselves which made the experience so much more pleasant.
Once you have finished the Sensory Walk you can then attempt the Palm Gully Trail. This is a bit more difficult and not pram/wheelchair friendly. You do walk up a hill for some of it, but most energetic kids and adults won't find this a problem. It doesn't take an hour, like the sign says - we did it in under half this time, but we did do it at a fairly brisk pace. By the way, there are toilets right near the entrance to this walk if anyone is busting a move, so to speak. If you still have some energy you can now attempt a 1.3km forest trail walk. My little ones were pooped and I needed a caffeine hit so we decided to check out the cafe instead.
Cafe Saligna (named after a type of flowering gum I believe) is a nice little cafe to recharge your batteries in. They are open for breakfast to afternoon tea each day from 9.00am - 4.00pm. For morning tea we had juices, very decent coffee as well as pear and raspberry bread ($4.50). There are also cakes, cookies, raisin toast and croissants available. At lunch time the fare is a bit more hearty with salads, burgers and pasta featuring on the menu. There is seating both inside and out, the cafe is quite popular on weekends so you may need to make a booking for breakfast and lunch.
If you have green thumbs, there is a nursery on sight that sells Australian native plants. The staff here are really helpful and will give you loads of information on what plants would be right for your garden and how to plant them.
During the school holidays and weekends there are activities for children and their families to participate in at Cumberland State Forest. Guided walks and talks, breakfast with the birds and night time spot light tours are to name but a few. There are also loads of different picnic spots and 3 BBQ areas available for you to enjoy - it's a great place to host a children's outdoor birthday party. Parking and toilets with baby change table are all available near the visitors centre.