Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Singapore's mind-blowing S.E.A Aquarium

An aquarium of 100,000 creatures shows off sharks, eels and an acrobatic manta ray, writes Nicholas Jones.

One of the huge tanks at Sentosa's S.E.A Aquarium in Singapore. Photo / Supplied
One of the huge tanks at Sentosa's S.E.A Aquarium in Singapore. Photo / Supplied

A "don't know how lucky we are" moment comes near the end of our visit to the aquarium in the Sentosa resorts area of Singapore.

The small group of journalists is ushered excitedly by the resort rep to the front of a curling line of schoolchildren. Before us is the world's most unfortunate creature and a sinner on a grand scale in a past life — a small starfish that is stroked and prodded by each punter in the ever-replenishing queue. Injury is added to insult as each child diligently applies hand sanitiser after their turn.

The "touch-a-starfish" experience aside, the Sentosa S.E.A Aquarium is an astonishing place that is the highlight of my trip to Singapore.

In the Sentosa resorts complex — think the Gold Coast theme parks but on a $7 billion scale — anyone with fond memories of Kelly Tarlton's should set aside at least half a day.

The complex is home to about 100,000 marine animals and counting. Some tanks are themed — Caribbean, Southern China, Java, Andaman, Arabian — and others, such as the shark tank dissected by a curved walkway, are straight crowd-pleasers.

Schoolchildren — of which the complex seems to contain thousands — lose their minds as hammerheads glide over them. Well, most of them — one girl checks how a selfie turned out, oblivious to a shark twice her size eyeballing her only inches away.

Another crowd forms around a tank filled with pots, out of which moray eels float, their upper bodies hanging upwards like silk puppets, heads the shape of a baby dolphin's, but without eyes.

Globefish, Southern Maori wrasse, old wives, New England blue lobster, fluorescent sea jellies that change from pink to blue — it all leads up to the Open Ocean, the centrepiece of the complex.

The biggest tank in the world when the complex opened, the bright blue of its waters project like an Imax screen behind a 70cm-thick single piece of acrylic that curves a mind-boggling 35m end to end.

Inside swim no fewer than 50,000 creatures.

Terraced platforms ensure the view is never blocked, despite a line of people with noses pressed flat to the spectacle. Others sit and gaze in silence.

At the back of the tank, windows can be faintly made out. They belong to 11 $3000-a-night hotel suites (windows are tinted so guests don't add to the wildlife display). In one corner of the tank, three goliath grouper lazily float, looking as big and content as Brodie Retallick.

There's a final show as we ready ourselves to leave — the crowd oohs and aahs as a huge manta ray backflips in a jet of bubbles sent up from divers below.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies daily from Auckland and Wellington. Flights to Singapore from Auckland (daily) and Wellington (four times a week) after February 1.

Accommodation: The Grand Park Orchard is metres from Orchard Road.

- NZ Herald

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