Monday, November 29, 2010

Exploring New Zealand's National Aquarium

Staying in a private room last night instead of a dorm room was glorious; it was the first time I have slept in a room by myself in over a month, and it was wonderful to not be awakened by snoring, talking, or drunken stumbling. Instead I was awoken to the crashings and bangings of the recycling truck outside the window noisily smashing glass bottles at 7am, but at least that isn't roommate-related. Tonight I am at the same hostel, but now booked into a female dorm room; so far it looks like me and a bunch of (six, to be exact) Germans, so we'll see how that works out.

Today was a very special day for me; I got to spend it with my uncle Stefan and cousin Harrison, down here in Napier visiting Fay and Frank (Stefan's parents). I met up with them at the National Aquarium at 9:30am; Harrison spotted me first, and then Stefan gave me a big hug; it was so nice to see a familiar face. We then spent the morning wandering around the aquarium; they have a main tank that is 24 metres long, 30 metres wide, 3 metres deep, and takes 1 500 067 litres of water to fill. The coolest part is being able to walk through and under the tank via a 50 metre-long tunnel, so the fish swim over and above your head as well as around you. The tank is partioned into several sections, including one with sharks and stingrays! It is surreal to see such huge fish swimming over one's head.

The neatest part of the main tank, however, was feeding time; we stood in front of the main glass window of the tank and watched as a scuba diver descended with a bucket and proceeded to break little chunks of fish up in his hands and release them into the water while the fish swarmed around him in a feeding frenzy. Also cool was watching him feed the crayfish: I now understand why New Zealand crayfish are so expensive to eat; they are huge! For some reason I was picturing the crayfish that live in my aunt and uncle's pond, and look like miniature lobsters. In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, "crayfish" refers to a saltwater spiny lobster, and these things are not shrimps.

From the main tank we left to explore to rest of the museum, being rebels and starting at the end of the suggested tour and ending at the beginning (as Stefan said, "we are upside down down under!"). We saw everything from a giant squid (not as big as the one at Te Papa in Wellington, however!), to turtles, to geckos, to koi, to clownfish, to eels, to seahorses, to dinosaur fossils. My favourite exhibit, however, was the kiwi bird. Yes, I saw my first real live kiwi bird today! It was located in a dimmed room (Kiwis are nocturnal; I suspect they turn the lights on at night to trick the birds and keep them on a schedule opposite to actual daylight hours… the birds are on London time and don't know it!), and it was furiously digging for grubs with its long beak. Kiwis are one of the only birds with a keen sense of smell, and the only bird with nostrils at the end of their beak. Though slightly odd-looking, one can't help but  love this fluffy, flightless bird, and I can see why New Zealanders have chosen its name as their demonym.

After leaving the aquarium we wandered down Marine Parade to the fountain of Pania, a beautiful sea maiden who legend says married a Māori chief, Karitoki, but was eventually drawn back to her sea-people and left Karitoki heartbroken. The sea-people petrified her body into the reef just off Napier's breakwater, now known as Pania Reef. There is a bronze statue of Pania by the fountain that apparently was kidnapped and held for ransom a few years ago! Fortunately, the statue was returned, no worse for wear.

For lunch we went to an Irish Pub, and Harrison devoured an order of fish and chips; indeed, I would have to agree with Stefan that New Zealand does have some of the best fish and chips in the world. Then we walked over to my hostel here, where I picked up my dirty laundry, and then to the Countdown, where we bought fish and potatoes for tonight's dinner. By midafternoon we were walking down Nelson Crescent, heading for Fay and Frank's; while I am well-used to walking for long distances now, Harrison was tired, and flopped down on his bed on the floor the minute we walked in the door; the poor guy is still suffering jetlag from his flight. He perked up a little, though, when he and I were looking through a stamp collection album given to him by Fay (it belonged to a deceased neighbour); Harrison is going to take it home to Canada and see if he can find out what some of the stamps are worth.

Stefan's dinner was delicious, and the presentation amazing (and I don't just say that because I've been living off of rice and salads). We ate in the living room, as Fay and Frank's kitchen table would have been awfully cramped with the five of us trying to squeeze around it, and watched the news on TV, which is the first that I have done so since arriving here in New Zealand. I try to catch news by reading newspaper headlines when standing in supermarket lines, or going online to the CBC website, but I do admit I am not as up-to-date on the news as I should be or would like to be.

Stefan very graciously dropped me back here at the hostel (with my clean laundry, courtesy of Fay and Frank's washer) around 7:30pm, and late tomorrow morning we are going to go out to a sheepskin outlet, then perhaps to a golf course (Harrison is keen to play). It's so nice to be spending time with people I know from home!


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