Dreamer, wordsmith, mum of two - I enjoy the outdoors, good food and good company. Subscribe to my articles to follow what I've been up to, and like those articles you want to see more of so I can tailor what I write to my audience.
Published October 7th 2015
Safely stroke a stingray and a shark
Irukandji Shark and ray encounter, picture from their website
The Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters, formerly known as the Australian Shark and Ray Centre, is located at Bob's Farm in Port Stephens, a two and a half hour drive North of Sydney. If you want to know what the body of a stingray feels like, this is the place to come.
It offers its visitors a truly unique experience - the opportunity to pat stingrays and sharks, and if you are game to get in the water, to be stroked in turn by the stingrays (they are a bit like cats and come and rub themselves up against you, which is a delightful and slightly strange experience). Even if you are an experienced scuba diver or snorkeller, I doubt you would have been able to get this close or handle these amazing creatures. Actually, if you are an experienced snorkeller or scuba diver, you know that you are not supposed to touch wildlife in their natural habitat.
Patting a shark at the Irukandji Shark and ray encounter
Not so in this carefully controlled environment. Worried about being stung? Don't. The stingrays have all had their stingers clipped, which we were assured was a humane process similar to having a toenail clipped. The staff here are passionate about conservation and make a point of trying to educate visitors about how littering affects our sea life and what we can do to prevent inadvertently hurting these amazing creatures.
When we were researching whether to visit here, we were a little puzzled by the glowing reviews interspersed with a few people who really didn't seem to enjoy it much. This was absolutely a highlight of our trip to Port Stephens, so why would anyone not enjoy it?
After mulling on this puzzle for a while, I think it comes down to this. Firstly, when it says Shark and Ray Encounters, that is what it means. There are sharks, and there are Rays. While there are a few tanks around the area containing other sea life, it's very limited. If you want to see a wide array of beautiful coral and loads of fish, you are better off going to Sydney Aquarium. The focus is very much on getting up close and personal with these special animals, and little else. If you are expecting tanks with colourful environments that are carefully landscaped, or themed, with a wide array of other sea life, you will be disappointed - this place is pretty much "just" tanks with rays and sharks in them (which you can get in and pat and stroke, which in my view, means it's not appropriate to use the word "just" here because when do you ever get the opportunity to do that?)
1) It can get busy during school holidays. Go early to beat the crowds - that way you'll be more likely to get a more personalised experience and be able to ask more questions.
2) Bring a towel to dry yourself off with.
3) You pay more to get in the water, but in my opinion, it's worth it. Where else can you get cuddled by a 300kg stingray?
4) Kids under 4 are free! Which is just as well because my 3 year old was terrified and wouldn't get in the water (which probably is a sensible response when the biggest stingray is five times the size of my 3 year old). My 5 year old loved it however.
5) While you could do this as a day trip from Sydney - allowing one to two hours for the encounter, staying in Port Stephens the night before is the way to go so you can get in early to beat the crowds. There's an excellent farm stay just down the road (a few minutes driving distance, probably not walking distance) called Kookaburra Cottages (see my other review). If you have young children, this is definitely worth checking out.
Entry fees: $29.50 for adults $19.50 for kids from 4 - 16, family entry $95 (2 adults and 2 children). Getting in the water costs an extra $15 per person.
I'm a scuba diver and a huge marine animal advocate...tho I don't love the idea of sharks & rays in tanks for people to touch all day...if it educates the population that sharks are not the enemy...I am all for it. It seems the conservationists here care too which I'm happy to read:)