Both the Tropical and Temperate biomes are accessed via the huge restaurant area that sits between them both. The Tropical Biomes are to the left. You enter via a steamed-up sliding door that is dripping with condensation. Outside today it is barely above freezing; in here it’s at least 20C, making the removal of the leather jacket essential.
Guides are available at £2 per head, but I decide to go it alone. A pathway snakes its way around the inside of this enormous greenhouse, taking you past all the exhibits as well as, of course, the huge plants that are on display. The size of this place is staggering: 240m long, 110m wide, and over 50m tall. It has been positioned to make the most of the natural contours of the clay pit, although it didn’t stop there. Tens of thousands of tonnes of soil have been placed inside to landscape the interior, providing a walkway that twists and turns almost to the very top of this monumental structure.
The waterfall that cascades from the very top is entirely natural and is the water that drains into the pit from the surrounding land, albeit has been channelled to this one specific point to provide a spectacular centrepiece. The air resounds with the chirping of the bird population that has been encouraged to make the biome their home. There are enormous palms, swaying ferns, gigantic cacti, banana trees, coconut palms, and so much more.
The various exhibits are numbered from H.01 to H.25 and are Introduction to the Humid Tropics, Tropical Islands, Malaysia, West Africa, Tropical South America, Crops and Cultivation, Cola, Chewing Gum, Rubber, Timber, Cocoa and Chocolate, Palms, Rice, Coffee, Tropical Displays, Sugar, Mangoes, Bananas, Tropical Fruits, Bamboo, Pineapples, Pharmaceuticals from the Land, Spices, Cashews, and Tropical Dyes.
Scattered throughout the various exhibits are traditional dwellings of the indigenous peoples, reconstructed to a high and authentic level using traditional materials. These include a Malaysian rumah kampoor, an African rondavel, a bamboo house, and a Sri Lankan spice stall. Also on show are “Aziza,” wooden black spiritual figures said to know all the secrets of the forests.
After an hour or so, you reach the summit of the pathway. Down below you, the true extent of the biome can be seen, along with lily ponds, streams, and waterfalls. The only place loftier than this is the metal catwalk that leads to the very apex of the biome, where enormous panels can be opened to regulate the temperature and humidity. It is a truly fantastic viewpoint, and I linger for 15 minutes or so just to savour the magnificence of the spectacle before starting to feel the effects of the humidity and stifling temperature.