Cape Town - I’ve had just about as much of small children as I can handle – we visited one of the top attractions in Cape Town: the Two Oceans Aquarium.
It was the first time I have been there with a child, or in peak school holidays. A very different experience, to say the least.
“You’re lucky, you’ve come on a quiet day because it’s not raining,” said Renee Leeuwner, who works there. Seriously? The place was swarming with small humans, and they just kept on coming.
This time I had not only Bella Buckland, but her mother as well, for whom I was very grateful. It was a day filled with giggles and squeals, and one dodgy moment when Bella almost pushed her mom into the penguin exhibit. Even that was fun from where I was standing. Oh, how I laughed.
Our first stop was the Afrisam Children’s Play Centre, where there are thrice-daily book readings hosted by Marguerite Venter, author of I Love Turtles, and her team. This is followed by a puppet show which, judging by the delighted shrieks, is very popular. Children get a tiny cup of free hot chocolate, and can colour in, draw, and play in the sandpit as well. On the way down to the play centre we – okay, I – got sidetracked by the giant “fridge magnet poetry” on the wall. All I’m saying is, they shouldn’t really let someone like me play with that. There is also a magnetised map of the world, which Bella rearranged. “I always said she would change the world,” commented her mother.
Apparently it’s turtle stranding season, so that’s why the story-telling, puppet show and crafts revolve around these creatures at the moment, and create awareness of what to do should you find one washed up somewhere. Other structured children’s entertainment includes the Fishy Flipper show, which runs from Tuesday till Friday in the predator exhibit daily at 12.30pm. It’s “an interactive, spontaneous and playful storytelling show, about a little boy who finds a lost penguin on his doorstep. The clowns invite the audience to explore the shores of their imagination as the little boy and the lost penguin set off on an adventure in search of home, only to find it within each other.” Duration is about 45 minutes.
Not something I would recommend for young children with limited attention spans, but a good way to enjoy an in-depth and detailed first-time visit to the aquarium is to join one of the guided tours which take place at 11am and 2pm every day throughout the holidays.
There is a huge construction project going on at the moment, which is due to be completed by the end of the year. It’s going to be pretty awesome, but it does mean that some of the exhibits have been closed for a while. There used to be a circuit to follow where you begin with the famous “Nemo” – or clown fish – tank, and finish in the predator exhibit. We did it all back to front and against the flow. Perhaps a guided tour is not a bad idea after all.
One place that is a must-stop for little ones is the touch pool, where they can stick their hands in and fiddle with starfish, anenomes and seaweed. Bella declared the predator tank and the sharks to be her favourite, with the penguins and the ongoing frog exhibit a joint second. We managed to be on time for the penguin feeding, but didn’t stay for the predator feeding, which is at 3pm every day. By the way, you can scuba dive in there too. Just saying.
My all-time favourite place in the aquarium is the kelp forest, but definitely out of season when I can sit quietly and contemplate in peace. It’s very restful then. There, feedings are done on Wednesdays and Saturdays at noon.
You don’t need to remember all these details; there is a programme of events posted at the entrance, and announcements are made over the PA system.
With all these feeding frenzies going on, we decided to feed ourselves at the Shoreline Café. Somehow it seems necessary to eat fish and chips while at the aquarium, so we had that – a very tasty battered piece of hake. We also had lovely tender calamari, and Bella got stuck into a decent-size children’s “mini” beef burger with cheese. If that’s the small one, I’d love to see the grown-up version.
But what I’m sure you would like to see is the photograph of Bella and Mom sharing the huge ice cream sundae.
Prices are very reasonable by Waterfront standards – our bill, with drinks, came to just over R300.
While we’re talking prices, entry to the aquarium is R125 (R112 online) for adults, but for a limited time – and this is without doubt a fantastic offer – you can get an annual membership for only R260. Even at normal price (R305), you’d be foolish not to take advantage, because it gives you unlimited visits for a year, as well as other member benefits.
l Two Oceans Aquarium, Dock Road, V&A Waterfront, telephone 021 418 3823, www.aquarium.co.za. Open daily from 9.30am-6pm.