Sadly it doesn’t look like this smoke haze blanketing Greater Sydney, and the bush fires causing it, are going to be leaving us anytime soon. While my lungs, eyes and nose really don’t like it, I do think it serves as an important reminder to us city folk of the battle and hardship fire fighters and families continue to face in hundreds of towns up and down the coast. There are still more than 100 fires burning in NSW alone!

Bushfires North Coast Martin Von Stoll at Black Head
Photo by Martin Von Stoll at Black Head

On days of poor air quality (with or without the obvious smoke haze), NSW Health advice is to stay indoors as much as possible. For most people, the smoke will cause mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat. But for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions or who are pregnant, elderly as well as little ones the impact can be much greater. You can check the NSW air quality index, which is updated hourly, here.

But staying inside at home for weeks on end really with kids isn’t an option for most of us! So here’s my sanity saving list of things to do indoors with your little ones. There’s a mixture of free and paid activities. And as the temperatures soar, we also recommend reading our hacks and tips for keeping your family cool on a hot day.

Top 10 Indoor Adventures When It’s Smokey Outside

Here are 10 places to venture out to on a smokey day but still be inside – and enjoying some air con and space to play! Now on really poor air quality days, it’s going to be hard to avoid the smoke completely – unless you know of a sealed room with a fab air filtration system! But your best bet is to head to a shopping centre or other more modern buildings that are very likely to have an air filtration system. Or go on a little road trip to somewhere not too far away that has much better air quality, like maybe Wollongong or the Central Coast. It’s also good to preference places that have undercover/ground parking so you can minimise being outside.

Hotel Pennant Hills

Indoors, air conditioned, fun and free = YES PLEASE! And we’re a little spoilt for choice, with 20 local clubs with an indoor play area. Nearly all have plenty of room for prams and are open from about mid morning or lunch time on a weekday. Keep in mind that they can get very busy on weekends and can be a bit overwhelming for little ones as a result. During school hours and early evening however, they are a lot quieter.

Our top picks are:

2Play at a Boutique Indoor Play Centre

Kidsday Kidscafe Meadowbank

These more ‘upmarket’ indoor play centres are all the rage at the moment! They focus more on imaginative play, replacing the bright plastic and large play gyms of traditional indoor play centres, with lovely wooden furniture, different themed play rooms and softer colours. These new breed of indoor play centre are specifically designed for little ones, have air conditioning and a cafe. But also come with a much higher price tag! They charge by the hour and start from about $10 an hour, depending on when you go. Most are about $35 for a full day.

There are about six to choose from at the moment. Wannabees came first by far at Frenches Forest. And then nearly two years ago, opened another Play Town at Hornsby Westfield. About a year earlier, ChouChou Bebe opened at Lidcombe Centre. And a year ago Twinkle Kids Cafe Burwood and more recently Kidsday Kidscafe Meadowbank and Planet Mino at Chatswood. Plus there’s another one opening at Top Ryde Shopping Centre soon.

Planet Mino Chatswood
Planet Mino Chatswood

Given their price tag, these boutique indoor play centres are a special treat for us. We consider Twinkle Kids Cafe Burwood the best value for money (particularly if you spend over $20 at the cafe and get an extra hour of play). But parking can be a bit tricky to find.

3Enjoy the Air Con and Play Area at a Shopping Centre

Rhodes Waterside

Shopping centres are like temples for parents on a hot or smokey day – air con, kids play area, cafes and the option to shop of course. Definitely a sanity saver! And we are spoilt for choice, with so many in the area. I find the smaller shopping centres (with fewer large chain stores) are a lot less busy. But it’s a bit of pot luck sometimes.

There are 16 local shopping centres with free indoor play areas and most have a cafe nearby. Our favs are Rhodes Waterside, Winston Hills Mall and DFO Homebush.

4Read and Play at the Library

West Ryde Library has microscopes, science kits, learning cube, interactive boards and lots of space in the kids area.

Libraries are like free bookstores! Most local libraries have a great collection of children’s books, and some even have toys to borrow. Plus, there’s the added benefit of a kids space, where they can spread out. And some even have a few toys to play with. All library branches run reading programs for young kids during school term. They are generally known as rhyme time for under 2s and story time for preschoolers and last anywhere between 15mins to an hour, depending on the age group and location.

Remember, you aren’t limited to only borrowing from your Council’s library. We are actually members of five different Council library services and particularly enjoy visiting West Ryde Library, Wentworthville Library and Ryde Library.

Going to an indoor pool is the best of both worlds for us at the both – we get to avoid the smoke haze and cool off at the same time! Our favourite local indoor swimming pools are:

Keep in mind though that indoor pools may still close on days of extreme smoke haze. So best to check their Facebook page. Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre and Blacktown Aquatic Centre for example have both closed on Tuesday 10th December due to the high levels of bushfire smoke pollution in the air. (which I find a little odd given they are indoors and relatively new buildings)

6Burn Off Energy at a (Traditional) Indoor Play Centre

Chipmunks Prospect – only $5 for all day play when you arrive before 11am on a weekday!

With big slides and lots of climbing fun, plus one entry fee that let’s you play all day, traditional indoor play centres are an attractive option for keeping the kids occupied when it’s smokey outside. Plus most have air con!

Our go to is Chipmunks Prospect as they have a great deal on – it’s just $5 for all day play per child when you arrive before 11am on a weekday! Here are some of the other traditional indoor play centres nearby:

7Visit a Pet Store

Animals, air con and free – what a perfect combo when you need to stay indoors! Taking the kids to a local pet store/ aquarium can be a lot of fun if your little ones like animals. And if you go to say Best Friends Pet Supercentre at Lidcombe Centre you can combine a visit with some shopping. Or make more of an outing and go to the BIG Kellyville Pets, which is so much more than your usual pet store!

8Chill Out at the Movies

New Junior class at Event Cinema Macquarie

Pre-kids, going to the movies was a great way to be entertained for a while in cool comfort. Post-kids they’re not always as attractive… Thankfully movie cinemas are increasingly providing things to draw in families. There’s already the screenings that welcome parents with babies. Hoyts has Prams at the Pix and Reading Cinema has Spit the Dummy, both on Wednesdays during school term. Plus, Event Cinema has Bring Your Baby sessions, usually on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can enjoy the latest movies, with the lights dimmed (so you can still see what you’re doing) and sound softened.

And now, Event Cinema has introduced Event Junior at Macquarie Centre that actually has a play area inside the movie theatre! There’s an intermission to allow kids to play and you can also book in 30min play sessions for $5.

9Run Wild at an Indoor Soft Play Centre

Indoor Soft Play Centres are indoor sports centres that are converted into a play area for little ones on school days (and usually only during school hours). They offer lots of open space for kids to run around (indoors), with a mix of toys to play with, jumping castles to burn off energy, synthetic grass ground for little knees, coffee for parents and all day play. But sadly indoor soft play centres are very rare, with just two nearby to Parramatta – Kids Zone at Blacktown and Kids Playland at Castle Hill. And keep in mind they can get rather hot on a warm day – they’re basically large metal sheds.

10Go for a Play Date at a Friends House

Ice and water play at home

If you don’t have the energy or budget to do the above activities, a simple back up option is to simply stay at home – but at someone elses place! Change of scenery can make all the different and there’s plenty of fun activities you can do inside at home. Like playing with ice or water, making a no cook play dough to create with, fireworks painting and water painting. For some more inspiration, check out:

Health Impacts of Smoke Haze and What to Do

As over 100 bushfires still rage across NSW, Sydney continues to be covered in a blanket of smoke haze. And air quality has been ranked as the amongst the worse in the world on some days recently. You can check the air quality hourly on the NSW Government website.

Smoke Haze at Clovelly Beach
We headed to the coast recently thinking we could avoid the smoke haze with a nice ocean breeze…and found it worse at Clovelly than Parramatta. Somewhere behind all this smoke haze is Coogee Beach.

For most people, the smoke will just mean you have sore eyes, nose and/ or irritated throat. But for people people with asthma and other respiratory conditions, the smoke can flare up their condition. NSW Health has advised that children, older adults and people with heart and lung conditions are also susceptible to the effects of air pollution and excessive smoke.

The main concern with the bushfire smoke is the very fine PM2.5 particles it contains. They are so small they pass through most types of mask. The only type of mask to filter out these PM2.5 particles is a P2 mask. But it’s only effective if there is a good fit and an air-tight seal around the mouth and nose. Surgical and other types of masks are not effective in filtering out the PM2.5 particles that pose a potential hazard in the smoke.

P2 Mask
Example of a reusable P2 mask

As the smoke continues to stay in the air, it will also make it’s way into our homes unfortunately. Structures that are significantly more protected include modern office buildings and shopping centres because they have air filtration systems.

At the end of last week, ash started to fall in Sydney as well as burnt leaves floating down from the sky. And over the weekend, a number of Sydney’s beaches had black lines of ash along their shores.

It’s not clear yet what the longer term health affects will be of the bushfire smoke. For most people who are otherwise healthy, any ill effects will disappear with when the smoke does. In the meantime, depending on how much the smoke is impacting you and your family, you may want to purchase some reusable P2 masks as well as air purifiers. We’re also advised to take the following precautions to reduce our smoke exposure over the coming weeks:

  • Take advantage of any breaks in smoky conditions to air out your home. But remember to close off the house again when conditions deteriorate.
  • Reduce physical activity.
  • If you are particularly susceptible to bushfire smoke, consider staying with a friend or relative whose house has clean indoor air. Or leaving the area for a cleaner environment.