Window to an underwater world
As a resident of Cape Town, I'm lucky enough to be able to visit one of the city's best attractions as often as I like. And I do. But even if you're only in the Mother City for a few days, be sure to include the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront on your to-do list.
My favourite exhibit at the aquarium has to be the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest. I was recently being shown around by a staff member, and although it wasn't my first visit, I think some of the magic of the place started to rub off on me.
Perhaps it was the warmth and enthusiasm in the way she explained how the exhibit works, and how it is one of only three kelp forest exhibits in the world. Perhaps it was the fact the aquarium wasn't very busy at the time, and we were able to enjoy a quiet, reflective moment of watching the animals go by.
At a glance, the scene looks quite peaceful: huge kelp sway back and forth in a calm, rhythmic fashion, while the various animals of the exhibit flit between their leaves. But behind the scenes, there's plenty going on.
The Two Oceans Aquarium has installed three different systems to increase water movement and the circulation of nutrients in the exhibit. A plunger creates a surge, and a pump delivers approximately 70 000 litres of water per hour to create circular water movement within the exhibit. 'Dump boxes' tip large volumes of water into the exhibit at intervals – this stirs up the nutrients in the water. The water is pumped into and out of the exhibit from the nearby harbour.
All this creates a very 'natural' effect. Some aquariums leave you feeling like you've visited an underwater zoo, but at the Two Oceans Aquarium, it feels more like being offered a glimpse of how the ocean looks and feels out in the wild. There is a large emphasis on conservation here, and it's also important to note that the aquarium acquires its animals directly, instead of purchasing from a third party like some zoos do. Careful thought goes into choosing what to display, and some animals are even returned to the wild after some time.
At a glance, the scene looks quite peaceful. Huge kelp sway back and forth in a calm, rhythmic fashion, while the various animals of the exhibit flit between their leaves.
Spotted gully sharks, white steenbras, red stumpnose and galjoen are just some of the indigenous Atlantic Ocean species you'll see swimming around here.
The red stumpnose have steep foreheads which, in males, become increasingly pronounced and bulbous as they get older. This gives them the appearance of slightly grumpy, brainy professors, who appear to be gazing right back at you as they swim past.
It's a wonderful scene. There is space to sit down and take it all in, and I highly recommend you find some quiet time to do just that. Take your iPod, and put on your favourite band while you enjoy the visuals provided by the aquarium.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous, and if you are a qualified diver, you can even go for a dive in the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit. But be warned – the water is cold! Beginners are able to do a one-day course at the aquarium, and finish off with a dive in the I&J Predator Exhibit – that's right, your very first dive can be done with sharks! But the Kelp Forest is the realm of qualified divers only, and if you happen to be around when a dive is taking place, it's always quite a sight to spot a slightly out-of-place-looking human bobbing about in this fascinating water world.
Of course, there are plenty of other things to see and do at the Two Oceans Aquarium – there's the Sappi River Meander with its penguins, and other animals from the Frogs! Beyond The Pond Exhibit; there's the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean galleries; feeding time at the I&J Predator Exhibit; and plenty of entertainment for the kiddies at the Afrisam Children's Centre.
On your next holiday to Cape Town, find some time to escape the hustle and bustle of the city buzz, and come and see the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest for yourself.