Let’s simply start off with “My goodness, now THAT’s an aquarium!”

uShaka Marine World

Seriously though, what an absoluty well built, well thought out experience Durban’s world famous uShaka Marine World is. Naturally this was number one of the tourist attractions that Chantelle and I were adamant to take in on our recent excursion to Durban and man am I glad that we did. Admittedly we weren’t quite prepared for the water world aspect of the park so I can’t really comment on there, but judging on what we saw going on, next time we’re in the area we will most definitely have our swimming trunks on! :)

(Actually that said, there’s a lot of fantastic stuff we just simply didn’t know about or missed, meaning that next time we’ll have to do a whole lot more planning not to be caught so unawares. But no worries, it just means that now we have a reason to go back!)

The whole ‘Marine World’ is split up into a number of zones, these being ‘Sea World’, the actual saltwater aquarium with both indoor and outdoor displays and exhibits, ‘Wet ‘n Wild’, the freshwater entertainment facility with all its slides and rides, ‘Village Walk’ which is the marine and village-themed retail, food and beverage outlets that surround the other main zones, the ‘Phantom Ship’ and its premier dining aboard the 1920’s era cargo steamer shipwreck and ‘uShaka Beach’, essentially a stretch of beach that the uShaka group has been mandated to operate and look after by the Durban municipality.

Now seeing that our main focus for the afternoon out was the fantastic ‘Sea World’ experience, the rest of the entry will pretty much focus on this aspect of this rather unique and fantastic tourist experience.

First off, it’s kind of reassuring to know that uShaka is one of the worlds’ four largest salt water aquariums. This pretty much ensures that you enter the brilliantly recreated cargo steamer wreck with a certain amount of expectations and boy are they soundly met. Huge amounts of attention has been paid to the environment, moulding, scuplting and decorating the interior such that you can’t help but wonder just what is real and what is fake. Clever ambient sounds and noises, murky lighting and attention to detail help enforce the idea of being deep within a shipwreck, under the water with only the denizens of the dark and cold sea waters for company.

Certain sections of the ship have been done up to indicate the damage taken to the vessel, the cause of its demise, and this is so well done that you really need to keep your wits about you as you move through sections of the ship that’s actually all upside down! However, if you can take your eyes off all of the man-made scenery for a moment, then you will immediately be lost in the world of what you’ve actually entered to see, the real stars of the show so to speak.

uShaka has created some of the biggest salt water tanks you would ever have seen elsewhere in an aquarium and packed it with some of the most interesting fish and rays you will ever come across, including a massive collection of sharks that pretty much seem to come and go as they please. I in particular was taken with the massive Rock Cods and Sea Turtles that dwarfed even some of sharks, but I assure you that there are more than enough species to enthrall even the most hardened of fish lovers.

Dotted around the main tanks are a number of smaller tanks with the usual different species display and once again uShaka have done an excellent job of fitting these into the display such that everything seems completely in place, a testament to the skill with which this indoor aquarium has been built. As with any other aquarium, there is a host of informational signage and assistance on hand should you have any queries, and Chantelle and I were most impressed with the friendly assistant right at the end of the whole structure who made great effort in engaging us and asking us about our whole experience.

A nice addition to all the sea life is the transport room of horrors, basically a cleverly built room packed with crates and such, and rigged with little surprises that are sure to make one jump pretty high if caught unawares. The crates themselve contain all types of nasties, including snakes, spiders and even venomous frogs, so just be careful where you step, okay?

Outside the sunken ship and back in the bright sunlight, there are a number of open exhibits to explore, including the turtle beach, ocean floor and even touch deck that allows you a little hands on experience with some of the inhabitants. The ground also contains a magnificent dolphinarium, essentially a huge auditorium where they put on the most fantastic of dolphin shows – something which Chantelle and I regrettably missed, having not known the showing time and opting instead for a quick bite to eat and a drink to quench our thirst! (I can’t tell you how annoyed we were to discover that we had missed the only show left for the day!)

However, we did catch the tail end of a very entertaining seal show that is guaranteed to have your young ones laughing out loud, so it’s all good I guess.

Admittedly the price is a bit on the high side, ringing in at R109 for a ticket just to the aquarium part of uShaka and then a further R80 or so to get into the ‘Wet and Wild’ section, so be sure to go only once your wallet is looking just that little bit fatter.

Oh, and on the way out, a refreshing scoop or two of Mozart’s ice cream is just the trick to beat the sticky heat! :)

Related link: http://www.ushakamarineworld.co.za/