Tuesday, December 31, 2013

HKTrip13 - Day 1 - Ocean Park

This installment covers our visit to the Ocean Park theme park in Hong Kong. We only managed to spend an afternoon there (though at least there were no queues for most things - apart from the Cable Car and the Ocean Express to get back down the mountain). Nevertheless, it was a great place to visit. Personally, I particularly loved the Grand Aquarium, Goldfish corner, and the pandas.

The Park
Ocean Park is one of the major tourist attractions in Hong Kong. It is a theme park with a marine theme/focus, including many different live animal displays and shows, as well as various types of rides which can be found in other theme parks.

The park itself is divided into two parts - one is located down in Aberdeen while the other is located on top of a mountain - and has been in operation for many years.

The hill/mountain separating the two halves of the park. On the side of the mountain, they've gone and landscaped a giant seahorse onto the hillside. Sticking out over the top are the cable cars and the towers for them (more on this in a moment)

Since it is a major tourist attraction, it is also prone to the problem of long queues forming in front of popular attractions (or even at the gates!)  However, since we arrived mid-afternoon, for the most part we managed to avoid having to queue for anything (apart from getting up and down the hill).

Grand Aquarium
One of the first attractions I visited at Ocean Park was the Grand Aquarium, located directly in front of the gates. I must also admit that this was the first time I'd been in an aquarium before (and look forward to visiting a lot more in future).

Outside the aquarium, they have a large musical fountain, which would sporadically rumble and produce large eruptions of water in random places. At the time, they were playing Two Steps From Hell's "Heart of Courage" (aka the "epic trailer music" used for things like BBC's Frozen Planet).

The Grand Aquarium, as seen from the entrance to the park

 Some of the aquatic themed shops surrounding the fountain
 The fountain and the aquarium beside it
A clearer view of the fountain

The Aquarium
To enter the aquarium, you have to go up several escalators until you reach the top of the building. All around, there are heaps of winding dividers - obviously for the huge crowds which must be lined up outside for ages early in the day. Even then, the place was quite jam packed the entire time, with heaps of people and kids everywhere. Oh, and flash lights going off every 1-2 seconds. I kindof pity the fish housed there who'd get blasted with flashes all day long (for the record, I never used flash for any of the shots shown here - the effect you get from doing so is just far too ugly in general)

From there, you slowly walk downwards through various tunnels and displays, culminating in the wide viewing dome at the bottom. I'm still not entirely sure how the building is laid out, but it seems that there are 1-2 main tanks, with various views of this from different levels.

The rocky shore - This is probably the top of the tanks. All around the edges, there were various smaller tanks with many colourful little fish (like the razorfish, which are short grass-like critters which vertically stick out of the sand as if they were plants).

Small Tropical Fish
Around the start of the aquarium, there were lots of displays of various small tropical fish. The photos I took of these are some of my favourites from my visit.

Yellow fish - these look like the fish that used to be on my Windows XP wallpaper years ago. I'm not sure what they're called, but they're nice looking...

My favourite shot of these yellow fish

In the same tank, they also had some clownfish!

Some of the other nice shots I got of tropical fish around here include the following shots:
I'm not sure what this is, but I like it. 

These colourful little beauties were in some of the small tanks alongside the rocky pools. These would probably make some nice wallpapers; I've been looking for something like this for a long time!

They also had a tank of glowing blue fish:

Tunnel into the Darkness
Leaving the rocky shore, you pass by a tunnel, where water passes overhead (and a simulated eclipse occurs overhead). As we passed through this area, the water suddenly became murky and fogged up with what looked like white gas/mist...

These zebra-striped fish are well camouflaged here!

Invasion of the mist...

Left - Sea cucumber (it looks a lot like an awkward moon rock!). Right - some fish passing through the tunnel overhead.

Dark Dwellers
Left - Cuttlefish. It looks quite cute and docile just sitting there. Note that it was actually constantly waving/flapping those fin-like bits on either side of its body...
Right - A moody skylight overhead, with some silhouetted fish swimming past


A Nautilus! These things actually exist. And they can swim. Fast. By moving their little whisker things and just pottering around...

These spectacular zebra-striped specimens are Poisonous Fish. Wow...

Spider Crabs - Look at the size of the legs on those things... They're actually quite large too...

Ananenomes... Anmemomes... Anemones -  These dark blue-green-purple things are quite freakishly beautiful in their own ways. And Nemo's right - it's really hard to spell and pronounce their names!

Jellies are cool and pretty. Except when they try to sting you.

There was an area where they had several tanks of these in different coloured lighting. Which one looks the best?

Side viewing tunnels
About midway through the aquarium, there was a tunnel where on either side, there were large viewing windows for looking out into the tanks. These had a strong green colour, and included various sights including various medium sized fish, as well some a large turtle resting on the side, and some sharks. Oh, and some more stingrays/manta-rays for good measure.

One side of the tunnel. Notice how the glass is angled and multi-faceted, allowing a wider field of view?

 Some sharks having a rest on the sandy bottom...

 Some of the medium sized fish...

This large beast would fill many dinner plates. And it seems that there's a blue tang here too...

Another view of the green-ish tunnel views

Milk Fish
One of the mesmerising displays at the aquarium was the milk fish tank. This floor to ceiling cylindrical tank was located in a dark room. Along the side wall leading up to it, they had little peep holes filled with mirrors, which reflected the light into interesting patterns.

Milk fish - These are quite dazzling as they swim around in a dense pack, randomly darting around.

The school of milkfish as seen through one of the peep holes

While we were there, they briefly disappeared before reappearing again. Apparently this was because they had all gone chasing after the bucket full of food/bait that was being dragged around the tank to keep them active.


Tunnel of Grand Skylights
Nearing the end, there's a tunnel where you pass under several large skylights. Looking up, you're greeted with stunning views of large numbers of fish, and many many stingrays / manta-rays both large and small...

Behold - this is what it's like being a fish underwater...

 It's smiling at you...

A stingray

The Finale
The climax of the aquarium is the wall-sized viewing panel - an iconic part of any aquarium. Inside, there were some divers feeding the fish from a bucket.

It was quite amusing watching this, as there were a few sharks and rays which kept nuzzling up to the diver to be fed. Note the size of some of the animals swimming around in there... Apparently this is one of the largest tanks in Asia, at some 6.5m diameter (the acrylic viewing window itself is some 67cm thick!)

Posing with a little fishy treat - the diver dangles a small fishy treat for one of the massive rays in front of the window by holding it above its head, allowing the audience to get a good view of it (and a nice photo op too).

Ocean Park has 4 giant pandas in total - 2 in one enclosure, and 2 more in another. Of the 3 or so I saw, they all seem to have different personalities. Although this was not the first time I've seen pandas (last time was at a zoo in China when I was 6), it's the first time I've really been able to observe them (since last time, the panda was asleep at the back of a dark, dingy, and dirty little cell). Seeing them in these environments (with no notable stench) was quite nice.

The big enclosure - Inside, here was also a Sichuan Golden-Haired monkey (Hu Hu), who just stayed hidden in a corner with its back to us. I'm not that fond of monkeys TBH.

An An
An An was one of two housed in the "Sichuan Golden Treasures" exhibit. He was also quite aggressive, and impatiently paced around from side to side up near the top of his enclosure (probably waiting to get back inside his den, which from the looks of things had been blocked off).

 An An pacing around - the sign on the glass window on the enclosure bears his name and critical stats

On the prowl

The entire enclosure - note how it's quite hilly terrain, and that there's a TV screen showing the inside of their den (so that we can still see them if they've gone inside to hide)

Jia Jia
Jia Jia in comparison was quite friendly and quite camera savvy. Every once in a while, she'd just pause in mid motion, as if to strike a pose for the waiting visitors and their cameras.

 Jia Jia emerging from her den. From the tv screen, we can see her tail end, while we can also see her looking out from the doorway.

Jia Jia stepped out from her den, then paused a few steps away like this for people to take photos...

She then gingerly walked down the slope, as if somehow afraid to trip and stumble...

 Pausing for another photo op...

 Once she got down to the bamboo, she just sat down, and posed with this cute expression...

And a slightly different pose this time...

The Other Panda(s)
In another (newer) enclosure, they had some more pandas. Apparently 2 giant pandas (though I only saw 1), and a red panda. These were donated by China following the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Just dozing off... Apparently as a kid, I did this quite a bit - at the dining table, and on my little red car.

Burrppp! That was such a good lunch... Zzzzzz...

Red Pandas

These are very fast moving little critters. Their fur has such sharp colours!

I love goldfish. One of the exhibits at Ocean Park is an area called "Goldfish Treasures" within the Chinese animals area (accessible from where the newer pandas and red pandas are kept).

Goldfish Lanterns

Some more goldfish lanterns, and the entrance

Here are some of the varieties which I particularly liked. It was a challenge to get some nice shots of some of these, since they moved so quickly that it was tricky to get good shots of them without blur, focus issues, or annoying glass reflections.

These two were cute - fat, round, and playfully nudging each other...

Fat and round... Not that keen on the black tail though...
More cute little fatties without a dorsal fin

One of my favourites

So pretty...

Some other goldfish - IIRC, these were closer to plain carp/comets...

Outside, they also had a few other cuties in a ancient-Chinese tank:
 This little guy looks a bit tired...

Hard at work

This is another nice shot

Old HK Street
Another one of the attractions in the lowlands is the Old Hong Kong Street. This area tries to recreate the look of how Hong Kong used to be in the 50's and 60's.

Left - the merry go round, Right - the cable car terminal

A live food vendor...

 Left - An old style gate. Right - A chef making Cheung Fun

Old-style creates of soft-drink/milk bottles

 Retro advertising

Replica clock ferry clock tower and street scapes - these look quite authentic from what I've seen

An old-style traffic-police booth. In the background, a ding ding tram

Market and Bird Street

These birdcages are quite interesting, and designed in the style of traditional bird cages that old men used to take with them to yum char restaurants. Each cage features a different, intricately created bird.

Cable Car
The cable car system is a 10 minute or so ride which takes you from the first part of the park to the other. Each cab seats about 6 people, though it's a bit cramped, so fewer may end up fitting in there.

 The cable cars

Entry to this is via the Old HK Street - specifically, the old clock tower at the end. This ended up being the only thing that we ended up having to queue for, waiting quite a while to slowly inch up the ramp. While we were waiting, it was funny to observe a pigeon in coming up the ramp behind us, chased on by a group of people joining the queue. The funniest part is that the pigeon even seemed to know how to follow the road (instead of taking a shortcut under the barricade!)

The pedestrian pigeon/quail

Before boarding the cable car, they get you to take a group photo, which you can then collect/buy at the summit...
Boarding the cable cars

Once you're on board, the cable cars slowly glide out across the forecourt, slightly swinging in the breeze. There was a brief nervous moment though when the cars paused for a few seconds at one point...

Then it was straight up the mountain. This was a near vertical climb that took ages... For those with an aversion to heights, you might not want to look down (or try coming down from the summit this way!)

Once you reach the top of the mountain, the track goes downhill for a while, growing eerily quiet (compared to the slow rumbling/grinding noises before on the way up).

During this time though, if you look left, you'll be greeted with an unimpeded view of the surrounding bays - deep blue water, and rolling green hills...

Finally you're at the summit. This is the cab we were in...

The Summit
By the time we got up to the summit, it was already quickly approaching dusk... Up there, there were various rides and a few shows (though we arrived too late to watch the last session).

 Dolphin and seal sculpture in front of the 360 degree viewing tower ride

 Christmas decorations

While waiting for the Ocean Express, I caught a stunning sunset, looking out across the bays...

Ocean Express
To get back down, one of the most efficient ways is to take the Ocean Express. Given the time of day, it seems that many other people had the same idea.

This is basically a 2-5 minute journey where you're in a little rail carriage which goes straight up/down the hill, while you're treated to a multimedia show inside that makes it seem like you're diving under the ocean.

The overhead lights turn into panels showing various nature scenes...

One of the steampunk mascots at the bottom terminal

Leaving the Park
Although the park closes at 6pm, a lot of people started to leave around 5-5:30. That's due to rush hour commuting problems, which make it troublesome to get anywhere if you only start at 6.

At night, the fountain is more spectacular, as the light effects can be seen more clearly...

 A fountain on one of the walls in Aquacity

At the taxi stand, there was quite a bit of a wait, with many people queuing to get on a taxi. Some groups had to wait for several taxis, as various taxi drivers (about to call it a day) refused to do a cross-harbour trip that they wanted. While waiting, I got ample opportunity to take some shots of the dolphin hedge-art that I'd wanted to take some shots of earlier.

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