If you think Penrith is just the home of the Panthers rugby league team, you may want to take another look. This western Sydney suburb has quietly been growing a reputation for family-fun activities – particularly for tweens and teens.
Penrith is approximately one hour west of the Sydney CBD. The suburb sits at the base of the Blue Mountains alongside the Nepean River. We spent the weekend in Penrith and were seriously impressed at what this suburb had to offer.
Our weekend started with a trip on the Nepean Belle. This gorgeous old paddle steamer makes daily trips up to the Nepean Gorge from Tench Reserve at Penrith. Lunch is included and if you are lucky, the captain will let you have a go of steering the ship. On our cruise, he taught the kids how to read the wind on the river ahead and how the wheel works to turn the ship around.
The two and a half hour cruise leaves at 12 noon. It doesn’t take long for the houses to fade into bushland and for all of us to feel like we’ve slowed down the pace of our city lives. Jagged sandstone cliffs speckled with eucalypts loom on either side of the river as we make our way through the gorge. Occasionally a wakeboarder or a jet-ski rider zooms past.
Lunch is served on the slow trip up the gorge and includes roast barbecue chicken, ham off the bone, fresh salads and gravy. Once we’ve had our fill, we join the other guests on the bow of the ship and watch as the captain expertly skippers the ship through “the narrows” – a small opening between the river banks marked by red and green buoys. Dessert, a choice of chocolate cake or pavlova is served with tea and coffee on the return trip. Guests can also purchase alcohol on board.
From the Nepean Belle, it’s a short drive to Panthers Leagues club. This club is unlike any other in New South Wales. It’s not so much about Rugby League, although you will find team paraphernalia in the main lobby. Panthers is home to western Sydney’s adventure activities – Aqua Golf, wakeboarding and even indoor skydiving. This is teen and tween heaven.
We head to Aqua Golf for a few rounds and our 10-year-old, Callum, instantly loves it. One bucket of balls is $9. We highly recommend at least one each. If not two.
You will love this game. Once you have your golf balls and a club you make your way into a small cage in front of a lake. The lake is pockmarked at regular intervals with signposts and baskets. Each one has a dollar amount written on the top. Hit the target and get the ball into the net and you win the dollar amount written on the sign. A small row of colourful signs adorned with Australian animals sit at regular intervals in the front row – hit one of these and you will a discount on your next bucket of balls.
Only one person is allowed in each cage at a time. We line up our cages next to each other and start swinging. It’s the 10-year-old who hits the sign first and pockets a discount voucher.
It’s oddly satisfying to whack golf balls out over the water. Every time someone hits a sign, a loud cheer goes up from the crowd. Two buckets in, I haven’t hit a thing. But I feel relaxed and I have laughed a lot. Callum, 10 has two discount vouchers and shows no signs of wanting to stop swinging.
Eight buckets later, we decide it’s time to go. So we head to our accommodation for the night to check in before dinner.
Quest Penrith is close to Penrith train station and to the Westfield. This place is great for families because the apartments have a kitchen and a laundry. The kids sleep in the lounge room and we take the master bedroom. Both rooms have a TV, but we don’t have time for that. There’s too much to do in Penrith to stay inside the hotel room.
For dinner, we try to stretch our kids’ taste buds with a selection of Tapas at The Union on High Street.
The casual and intimate Brazillian and Mediterranean tapas restaurant is child-friendly and does incredible tasting plates. Tapas is a great way to get kids used to trying different foods. They love snacking and tasting different bite-sized parcels. Don’t like it? Don’t worry, try something else – dad will eat it.
We order the union tasting plate with polenta chips, arancini balls, empanada and paprika squid as well as some baked prawns, potatoes bravas and pork and veal meatballs. Just about everything is a hit with the kids (and with us). My favourite has to be the fried halloumi with beetroot, pomegranate, walnuts and honey. The kids need to fight me for the last scrap of that one.
The kids favourite – as always – is dessert. Churros with caramel dipping sauce. What’s not to love?
If you have an early sitting at dinner, you have time to head to Westfield Penrith to catch a movie. It’s just across the road. That’s one of the best things about Penrith with kids – everything is close so it is easy to chop and change activities.
On day two of our Penrith adventure, we head to breakfast at a cafe the locals are raving about. Every day needs to start with coffee and Herni Marc on High Street does a deliciously smooth brew. The menu has regular favourites such as eggs benedict but it also has loads of delicious new flavour combinations such as beetroot, whipped ricotta, spiced Indian pickle and dukkah on sourdough.
After breakfast, we head back to Panthers for some more adrenaline fun. This time we’ve brought our swimmers for a race through the Aqua Play park at Cables Wake Park. The Aqua Park consists of several inflatable obstacles, slides and even a volleyball court set in a man-made lake. To play, you must have a lifejacket (supplied) and kids must be at least 6 years old to play. One 50 minute session costs $20 per person.
You enter the course by swimming to the first obstacle. Pull yourself up (hello core muscles and arms) and you will find yourself on a long and slippery walkway. The kids love racing each other through inflatable pyramids, up huge walls and down slides back into the lake. The course is harder than it looks. I struggled to make it over the inflatable hills and ended up falling flat on my stomach and collapsing into a fit of giggles. The hardest obstacles are the monkey bars – up and over a pit of water. Needless to say, I got very wet. And my kids thought it was hilarious.
The wake park also has cable wakeboarding and a giant jumping pillow. You could easily spend all day here. But we had one final activity to tick off our Penrith list – Indoor Skydiving.
IFly Downunder Penrith has to be the ultimate Penrith adrenaline adventure. The indoor wind tunnel replicates the feeling of skydiving – no parachute needed. To start you need to check in for your flight, then complete the safety briefing and get kitted up in a flight suit, goggles and helmet. Once’ you’ve learnt the basic hand signals and correct flying position – legs slightly apart, arms in front with elbow bent and chin up, – it’s time to fly with a skilled instructor.
Inside the tunnel, the wind averages around 130km an hour. Our group proceeds onto the flight deck and waits nervously for our turn. My son, makes me go first.
As I stand at the entrance, the butterflies start. But there’s nothing like the expectations of a 10-year-old to make you do something you wouldn’t otherwise do. To fly, you need to lean into the tunnel and trust fall. A safety net covers the bottom – but you won’t get near it. As soon as you fall the wind hits your body, forcing you into the air. It rushes up your nose and wobbles your cheeks. Tom, our flight instructor guides me into the perfect position and lets me fly by myself. On the second turn – we fly up the tube spinning and twisting in the air before rushing back down with the force of gravity.
iFly Penrith is accessible. They have flight harnesses to assist flyers who use a wheelchair. iFly Penrith has also started Virtual Reality flights – so you can really feel like you are jumping out of a plane.
The whole flight experience takes less than half an hour end-to-end. But that’s enough. I am hooked. I’m hooked on sky-diving and on Penrith. This place really is the best place to take active kids in Sydney.
As we leave Penrith to make the drive back home my husband says “Wow, Penrith really is loads of fun”. I wonder why we were surprised. If you haven’t checked our Penrith with your kids – you really should head west.