Formally known as Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, this aquarium is located in Auckland, New Zealand.
We first visited Kelly Tarlton's on the day we flew home from New Zealand on our January 2013 trip. Our flight wasn't until late in the afternoon, so we wanted to do to something in Auckland that morning to make our travel day more exciting. We were flicking through brochures and came across one that mentioned the aquarium. Now as you may have gathered I love sea creatures and therefore love aquariums. We were really convinced that this was the place to visit when we read that they had a giant squid specimen there.
So, with no other knowledge than this, we set off and arrived about an hour before opening time. This didn't worry us though as we spent the time walking along the waterfront in the sunshine admiring the harbour and the view of the city. It also meant that when we did line up to enter we were the first in line, and therefore the very first visitors into the aquarium (and yes, I may have raced a child to make this happen, but it was a claim to fame that I really wanted to hold once in my life).
Anyway, once inside we wandered through a recreation of Scott's Hut in Antarctica and a mini exhibition before coming to the King and Gentoo penguins’ enclosure.
Now seeing this exhibit was what first told me that this place was going to be good. First you view the penguins underwater as they zoom by with speed and grace, sometimes leaping out of the water like dolphins. I had never seen penguins seem so happy in an artificial environment but that's because this is as close to the real thing as you can get. There's real snow for them to wander around in and the temperature/weather conditions are simulated to match the current real weather in Antarctica. After viewing the penguins in the water, you walk around the corner and can see the rest of them chilling out on the snow, some even had babies. The snow looked so clean, cold and wonderfully fluffy. It's hard to tear yourself away from these adorable birds, but Kelly Tarlton's has lots more to offer.
Next, we came upon the main thing that had drawn us there. The Giant Squid! Eerily preserved in resin, tinted blue by the lighting, it looks just like it is swimming at the mysterious depths of the ocean. While some people exclaim "gross!" and walk right on by, it is worth pausing to view this strange creature to simply appreciate the size of it (especially compared to yourself). Try to imagine it when it was living, lurking in the deep sea, hunting prey and being hunted by gigantic Sperm Whales. Wonder what it would actually look like, living and fleshed out. Marvel at the thought that a healthy, living specimen has never been seen by any human on earth, ever!
SPINY SEA DRAGONS
The resident Spiny Sea Dragons are the only ones on public display in the world, meaning if you want to see them you've pretty much got to visit Kelly Tarlton's (unless you are able to go deep sea diving in Milford Sound). They are fascinatingly bizarre looking creatures vividly coloured in bright shades of pink, orange and yellow. An information video about how they were captured and brought to the aquarium can be viewed during your visit and is definitely worth the watch. There are also various other strange and beautiful creatures on display in this section, called Seahorse Kingdom.
So who is this aquarium named after? Finding this information out during my first visit to the aquarium is one of the things I loved most about it. I'm a sucker for a great story and Kelly Tarlton's is just that. Without giving too much of the story away, I'll just say that he was an extremely passionate and hardworking lover of the sea who created this wonderful place to share this love. His perseverance and determination brought about the creation of the first ever curved walk through tunnel at an aquarium. Yes, that's right, a feature of just about every aquarium now, was pioneered by Kelly Tarlton in Auckland. The engineering and construction behind this tunnel features in a video about Kelly and the history of the aquarium and is very much worth a watch.
Throughout the day various feeding displays and talks about the animals are held. If you don't mind joining the crowds they are worth a listen, even if you don't go to all of them, try to check out at least one. If there is something in particular you would like to see it is best to check out the times and days on their website for up to date information as not all sessions are done every day (especially the sharks).
I know this may sound strange but one of the main things I noticed on both of my visits was that the water and glass are crystal clear. I even saw a staff member cleaning fingerprints off the Shark Tunnel while we were there. A small detail, but one very much noticed and appreciated by me.
Not mentioned above, there are many other lovely sea creatures to view such as countless fish, giant lobsters, an octopus and of course clown fish just to name a few. They even have a tuatara exhibit. You can easily spend from a couple of hours to the whole day wandering around, looking at the displays and learning about the animals, conservation and the history of the place.
THE SECOND VISIT
A good test of whether an attraction is truly wonderful is to revisit. Sometimes we can be blinded by our first impressions and dress something up to be the best thing ever, only to return and realise it's not that great. This is most certainly NOT the case with Kelly Tarlton's. I returned four years later, in 2017, with my dad and enjoyed this wonderful aquarium just as much as I did the first time. It had just as many interesting exhibits and was still operated with the same passion and high quality as before. Another example of how the Kiwis just get things right!
If you haven't figured it out by now, it's that Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium is the best! I absolutely love it and would gladly visit again. It's a great place for all to visit, especially great for families. The kids will love the touch pool, tunnel and penguins, and there is plenty for parents and older kids to enjoy too. No trip to Auckland is complete without a visit to Kelly Tarlton's!
Have you been to Kelly Tarlton's? Or do you have a favourite aquarium? Let us know in the comments!