Mermaid to create a splash at Napier's National Aquarium
An American mermaid has washed up on New Zealand shores and will soon be on show at Napier's National Aquarium.
Ashley Knight is as close as anyone is likely to get to a real mermaid, having worked professionally as a mermaid at aquariums and birthday parties in America before moving to Hastings with her family in 2015.
Now, she's bringing her show to the National Aquarium, with sessions featuring stories, a visit to the birds at Penguin Cove and a swim through the oceanarium.
"When I was five I saw the movie Splash and the moment I saw it I decided I was going to be a mermaid," she said.
Knight practiced swimming with her legs together, in a streamline motion, like Madison the mermaid from the 1984 film.
She said globally there was a large community of mermen and mermaids, including a handful in New Zealand who she met through social media.
"For most people it's a bit like Comic-Con and they just dress up for different occasions, so I was fortunate enough to turn it into a business."
After completing a degree in English and writing she wrote her first book called Fins in 2010, also about mermaids.
She wanted parents to bring their children along to the book tour, but worried they would find the event boring she convinced a friend to dress as a mermaid.
Following the success of the tour Knight had her own tail made and began hosting birthday parties.
Business grew until she was fully booked with aquarium visits; talking to children about the animals in the tanks and swimming in the shallow pools.
Her purple tail is made of dragon skin silicon which binds her legs together and weighs 20 kilograms dry and 34 kilograms wet.
It takes 10 minutes to put on and her husband lifts her in and out of the water.
Knight has two daughters, aged 6 and 11, but neither have earned their own tails yet.
She said anyone wearing a tail needed to be a very capable swimmer because their legs were bound together and they did not have the ability to stand up if they found themselves in trouble.
The tails could also be claustrophobic for wearers, she said.
Last week Auckland Council banned mermaid tails from its swimming pools after they were criticised for endangering children.
Before her own daughters were allowed to swim in a tail they needed to prove they could tread water for an extended period of time, not panic if a dangerous situation arose and swim lengths of a pool confidently.
Even after years wearing a tail Knight said she was still very careful at aquariums and her different appearances.
"The minute you start taking things for granted accidents happen," she said.
Knight will be at the National Aquarium in Napier on January 27, 30 and February 7.