Questacon Canberra: Kids + Science = Fun!

Tornado Display at Questacon in Canberra
Tornado Display at Questacon in Canberra

Questacon Entry in CanberraMy 5 year old son came to me with a look of consternation on his face.  He had initially gleefully followed his older brother and sister to have a turn on the 6 meter high Free Fall slide.  And had then gotten scared and decided not to have a turn.  We encouraged him to have another try, and he got as far as dangling on the bar before again deciding that it was too scary and having to be recovered by the staff.

When we decided to visit Canberra for our recent family holiday Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre was definitely on our list of places to visit.  We had previously visited when our older two children were toddlers and had a great time, so it was definitely time to return!

Questacon has eight galleries which each focus on particular science and technology themes.

Excite@Q Gallery in Questacon

We decided to get things started with the Free Fall slide, as we arrived just after Questacon opened and we thought (correctly) that if we went early we should avoid a queue later.  Our children were able to have multiple turns on the slide with only a short wait and had a great time.  When we walked past the Free Fall slide closer to lunch time there was a really large queue.

One whole wall of the ExciteQ Gallery is covered with the Whoosh exhibit where both primary school and pre-school children were having a lovely time.  Whoosh consists of a network of connected transparent tubes which transport colourful scarves through the device.  Children can feed a scarf into the bottom of the system, and watch the scarf be sucked around and up to the top, before they exit and float down to the ground again.  There was a definite race to catch the scarves!

We also had fun playing with Batak reaction time game and the Cross Hockey – a variation on air hockey with four table ends and players.  My older son also loved the Heart Rate exhibit where a real drum beat in time with his heartbeat!

Questacon Free Fall Slide in Canberra
Questacon Free Fall Slide in Canberra

Spectacular Science Shows at Questacon

Questacon runs 30 minute science shows every day on a variety of topics which are included in your admission fee.  On the day we visited during school holidays there were a total of six shows run over the day across three different topics.

We saw the Crystallised Show which was ably presented by Alex.  He did a great job of explaining crystals in a way that our children could readily understand.  A real feature of the show was when he showed a live video of ice crystals growing, and how they reacted to temperature changes and the application of electricity.

Questacon Tip; When you arrive work out which shows you are interested in attending and build your schedule around them.

Questacon Science Show
Questacon Science Show

Awesome Earth Gallery at Questacon

After climbing up the ramp to the top of Questacon and experiencing the various displays along the way we headed to the Awesome Earth Gallery, bypassing the Perception Deception and Wonderworks galleries.  My five year old son had heard a news presentation from a school classmate who talked about the Earthquake House and Caged Lightening display and was keen to see them for himself.

Upon arrival we realised that there was a big queue for the Earthquake House so I settled in to wait while my husband and in-laws went with the children to explore the room.

The Caged Lightening display only activates every 15 minutes and there is a countdown.  When the time was close we gathered to watch and everyone agreed that it was a very impressive display.  My youngest son was quite afraid as he is also usually afraid during real storms.

Questacon Caged Lightening Exhibit
Questacon Caged Lightening Exhibit

My kids loved this room and spent a lot of time exploring and enjoying the impressive Tornado display and many others.  We also had fun at the Black Hole display – the kids enjoyed starting the balls rolling and then seeing how long it took them to get through the final narrow funnel – it was amazing to see just how fast the balls could spin in such a small space before finally succumbing to gravity.

Tornado Display at Questacon in Canberra
Tornado Display at Questacon in Canberra

After a long wait we finally had our turn in the Earthquake House which provided an interesting experience of what a real earthquake would be like.  The platform we were sitting on did some impressive shaking to simulate the experience, while parts of the house progressively fell apart and cracked.

Questacon Tip:  Head to the Free Fall Slide and Earthquake House either early or late to avoid long queues.

While preparing this article I discovered that the Earthquake House is currently closed for redevelopment and is planned to reopen in December 2014.

Earthquake House at Questacon

Wonderworks Gallery at Questacon

We walked back to have a look at the Wonderworks Gallery which is a combination of art and science.  The Ames Room was really amazing – if you have ever wondered how some of the film visual effects are created – for example how they can make Hobbits look so small – then you need to visit this room!

The Light Harp also fascinated the kids.  All three children loved dancing at the Recollections IV exhibit which generates silhouettes of them dancing with amazing colour patterns.

Recollections IV Exhibit at Questacon in Canberra
Recollections IV Exhibit at Questacon in Canberra

We all really enjoyed just wandering and immersing ourselves in the different displays across the whole of the Wonderworks Gallery.

Q Lab at Questacon

We moved on to the Q Lab and enjoyed playing with the range of experiments on offer.  We all loved the blowing machine where you could make ribbons and plates float up high in the air if you got it right – if you got it wrong then the items would quickly fall to the ground.  My older son was very interested in the Periodic Table Display.  It was great to see real samples of almost all of the elements.

Enjoying the Blowing Machine at Questacon in Canberra
Enjoying the Blowing Machine at Questacon in Canberra

H2O Gallery and Questacon Shop

We finished off our visit by making a quick visit to the H2O Gallery which focuses on water.  The view of the massive Hydrotram water sculpture which sits in the very centre of Questacon motivated us to have a closer look and as a result we got to experience more of the exhibits in the H2O Gallery.

We also visited the shop and while it was very busy we were impressed by the sheer amount of exciting science options.  Our children each purchased several items to remember their visit and we have since conducted several science experiments at home which have been great fun.

Summary of Our Visit to Questacon

It is important to understand that Questacon is very large and each gallery has many exhibits, and there are also a great variety of shows and other interactive options. We only visited for half a day but could have easily spent a full day there, as we felt that in many of the galleries we only touched the surface of what was available.  Our children loved visiting Questacon and for them it was a real highlight of our visit to Canberra.

As a result of visiting during school holidays it was quite busy when we visited which resulted in some queues, but overall we managed our visit well.  I suggest that if you plan to visit during peak periods that you plan to avoid the middle section of the day which is the busiest time.

Getting to Questacon

Questacon is located between the Canberra City Centre and Parliament House, as detailed in the map below.

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There is parking available on the Parkes Place access road, but note that Canberra is in the process of shifting to metered parking so ensure that you purchase a ticket and display it in your vehicle.  The same car parks will situate you within walking distance of the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library and the Lake Burley Griffin Foreshore.

You can also access Questacon via a pleasant 30 minute walk from Canberra City Centre, by bicycle on the lovely (mostly flat) bicycle trails or by bus.

 

This article was written in collaboration with Visit Canberra and the Questacon.

Have you been to or are thinking about going to Questacon?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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