Christiane Oelrich visits the world's largest aquarium, on Singapore's Sentosa island.

Singapore is a surprising nation of superlatives, where tourists can be thrilled by night-time Formula One racing, enjoy a trip on the planet's highest Ferris wheel, and even stay in a hotel overlooking the world's largest aquarium.

The SEA Aquarium is on the island of Sentosa, just off the coast of the central city. Majestic manta rays glide past your eyes, leopard sharks prowl and hulking goliath groupers meander through the sea grass, offering hours of enjoyment to adults and children.

Though the enormous main aquarium is a wonder to behold in itself, there are also many other tanks housing crabs, jellyfish and dolphins. There is also a touching pool where you can feel the different types of sea creatures.

The hotel rooms are offered by Resorts World Sentosa's (RSW) Marine Life Park, which has six hotels on the island. A deluxe room at the family-friendly festive hotel starts from $390 per night, and one of the 11 ocean suites with floor-to-ceiling windows over the aquarium, will set you back a couple of thousand.


"The suites are very popular," says RSW spokeswoman Linette Lin.

Much of the island of Sentosa has been converted into one large leisure area in recent years, with hotels, restaurants and a Universal Studios theme park and casino. A water park opened in 2012.

The SEA Aquarium is the largest of its kind in the world and has more than 800 species of marine animals. The 43-million-litre complex of tanks is home to about 10,000 animals, including manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, moray eels and more than 200 sharks.

The main acrylic panel viewing window is 36m long and 8.3m high. The pool is maintained around the clock by a team of 40 divers, with at least two at work cleaning the enormous tank at any one time.

There are smaller pools alongside the main aquarium where visitors can learn how baby sharks grow up to be like their egg-laying mothers. The glass is magnified in one section so it is possible to have a closer look at shark embryos developing in their eggs.

Not all sharks lay eggs. The great white gives birth to live young, as does its cousin, the sand tiger shark.

Another aquarium highlight is the jellyfish and squid pool, where tiny creatures less than 1cm long swim alongside majestic squid with tentacles of more than 1m.

The aquarium is colourfully illuminated with psychedelic music adding to the surreal effect. It boasts 49 separate biotopes from 10 oceans, stretching from Southeast Asia to Arabia. Asian visitors often recognise many of the fish from their local market stalls. "They often shout out how good they taste," says Lin.

"The wall panels highlight the devastating effects overfishing has on balance for biodiversity," she explains.

Singapore is also home to the Japanese spider crab, which has the greatest leg-span of any arthropod, with specimens reaching 3.8m claw to claw. Favourite culinary specialities include pepper crab and chilli crab.

Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies 12 times a week from Auckland to Singapore.

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