Friday, 13 February 2015

Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium, Auckland, New Zealand


Antarctica is at the top of my bucket list. I have a thing about penguins. The trouble is; David hates cruises and I get sea-sick on the Manly Ferry. Much as D indulges my every travel whim (see 'Wishlist' for the danger in this) I have to face it - Antarctica just isn't going to happen.

I've seen lots of Little Blue and Yellow-eyed penguins in the wild. I have been to King Island, in Bass strait and watched in total isolation while Fairy penguins come ashore by their hundreds - but I had never seen a large penguin.

Cue Plan B Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland has King penguins - lots of them.   King penguins stand about 90 cm (3 ft) tall.
Only Emperor penguins are taller. D isn't really a zoo and aquarium sort of person. However as luck would have it Kelly Tarlton's has a replica of Captain Scott's Base in the Antarctic.  D is a history person - and he has had a life-long fascination with the story of Robert Falcon Scott's tragic attempt to be the first person to reach the South Pole. With the Scott Base replica as a drawcard my trip to Kelly Tarlton's was in the bag. I'm not sure I told him about the penguins until we got there!

Penguins:


The entrance to the penguin area was like walking inside a glacier - a moving glacier! The walls were shaped and lit like an ice tunnel but the floor felt like it was swaying from side to side. It wasn't - I'm pretty sure. When D and I tried stopping in the middle and closing our eyes the motion stopped. The effect was achieved by rotating the walls but it was so real it made me sea-sick - briefly. If it was designed to suspend reality and make us believe, if only for an instant, that we were somewhere else (Antarctica perhaps) it did a pretty good job.


The ice-tunnel entrance - you have to experience it to get the full effect.

Out of the ice tunnel and into Antarctica! As soon as we were through the tunnel we found ourselves at eye-level with a penguin. He was swimming and diving into a glass sided pool. I'm pretty sure he was a Gentoo. Then around the corner there were several large groups of magnificent King penguins with their beautiful and distinctive yellow necks. They stood there looking aloof and enjoying the cold.  You couldn't help but be mesmerised by them. I think they knew how gorgeous they were.


King Penguins


King penguins

We were lucky enough to see them at feeding time. Each penguin was fed a single fish about 15 cm (6 inches) long. They gulped them down whole in a couple of swallows.  A few wanted more and tried pretty hard to look cute and cajole a second helping out of the keepers.  There was also a commentary and once it was finished the keeper held her microphone out to one of the larger birds. He took the cue, stretched out his neck and sang for us in a strong, guttural baritone.

Unsurprisingly the penguins were a drawcard. Many of the other tourists seemed to be from Europe. It hadn't occurred to me before but with no penguins in the northern hemisphere seeing one on a trip to Australasia would be a highlight.

Scott Base:


Captain Robert Falcon Scott was an officer in the British Royal Navy who commanded two expeditions to Antarctica. On the second expedition he led a party of scientists and explorers in an attempt to be the first men to reach the South Pole. They arrived at the pole on 17 January 1912 only to discover the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them to their objective by a few weeks. Scott and his men died on the march home. Their bodies were discovered by a search party in November 1912. Scott's journal contained the immortal entry -

"Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman." 
Scott's Last Expedition, Huxley, Vol 1, pp 605-607 

The display at  Kelly Tarlton's is a replica of the hut which still survives in Antarctica today. This was where Scott and his men spent the winter of 1911 before setting out on their fatal journey.

When it comes to history I tend to glaze over at facts and dates but I love social history - discovering the way people lived in earlier times. Scott Base is superb at this. It shows the food the expedition ate, where they slept and where they worked. The tins and packets of food in particular were fascinating.  Some were familiar and recognisable, but many were as foreign as if they came from another culture. The most surprising thing was the sheer volume of supplies the expedition had taken with them: huge trunks, bed frames, a sewing machine, two gramophones and even a pianola. Clearly Scott had never heard of today's travel mantra - 'pack light'.


Notice the sunlight soap on the top left shelf and the tins of Colemans Mustard - I'm pretty sure I have an identical tin in my pantry at home.

Scott's office space. Imagine lugging all those books from England. 

I am not sure I would want my wet underwear and mittens hanging in the kitchen at home.

Travelling light?

Imagine turning up to an airline check-in with this lot.

I can see the practical necessity of this but even so!

Fluorescent jellyfish, sharks, stingrays and seahorses:


Once we pulled ourselves away from the penguins, or in D's case Scott Base, there was no shortage of other marine creatures to entertain and amuse us. My personal favourites were the seahorses, with the fluorescent jellyfish running a close second. The walk through shark tunnel was unnerving. There is something just a little bit scary about having such massive predators glide silently a few inches above your head. Right at the end, just before the seahorses, we even found Nemo.


Fluorescent jelly fish 


My favourite - a seahorse

No aquarium would be complete without finding Nemo. He was a shy little fellow, happy to come out and play but ducked away whenever he saw my camera.


Tips, tricks and things to know:

  • Buy your tickets on-line. The on-line prices are cheaper than walk-up. Click here for a price list.
  • Plan ahead so you can be there at feeding times. Click here for the daily schedule. Note that the sharks are only fed twice a week - now that would be something to see.
  • Kelly Tarlton's also offers behind the scenes tours. For the brave and adventurous there is the Shark Cage Snorkel or if you have nerves of steel - the Shark Dive Xtreme . For penguin lovers, like me, there's the Penguin Discovery where you get to rug up and enter the enclosure.
  • There is free car parking at the aquarium. We arrived about 10.30 a.m on a Sunday and had no trouble getting a spot but we cycled past the day before about midday and the carpark seemed to be full. If you come by car it is probably worth getting there reasonably early or being prepared to take your chances on finding a parking spot nearby. A shuttle runs regularly from central Auckland.

Note: David and I received complimentary entry.


46 comments:

  1. Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium seems like a great place. I love aquariums and we are very blessed here in California with many beautiful ones. I wouldn't give up Antarctica if I were you. Cruise ships are getting so much better nowadays. You can always choose one of those offered by National Geographic, but they are soooo expensive!

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    1. Hi Anda. I live in hope but if I never get there - oh well! I've been to some pretty amazing places - including Bodie, in California.

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  2. Great list of tips! And great pictures, too.

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  3. HI Lyn, such a coincidence that we're both posting about penguins in #TheWeeklyPostcards. I'm glad you came as close as you can to what Antarctica can offer. Your penguins shots are adorable. I hope you can brave the sea sickness as well as convince your husband to go to Antarctica someday. I'm telling it will be totally worth it. It's an incredible experience and there's nothing like seeing the delightful penguins in the wild.

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    1. Hi Marisol. I have been following your trip to Antartica and enjoying every post. I love seeing the penguins at Kelly Tarlton's but seeing them in their natural habitat must be awesome.

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  4. Adorable penguins, but my favorite is the seahorse as well! :D

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    1. They are amazing creatures - aren't they? When I was a child I thought they were mythical.

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  5. What a cool aquarium. I really adore those penguins! Hmmmm... I wonder how a piano ended up in Antarctica. I can't imagine playing the piano in frigid weather. My fingers wouldn't be able to move. We have a pretty decent aquarium in the city where I live, Atlanta, Georgia. But I think the penguins in the Georgia Aquarium are African penguins.

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    1. Hi jeepnjj. Apparently it is a pianola and Scott took it with him. He knew that his men would need some form of entertainment during the long winter while they waited for their chance at the pole.

      I think in this day of so much entertainment we don't appreciate what it must have been like before ipods, television and radio. I'm pretty sure the first piano came to Australia, for example, with the First Fleet in 1788.

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  6. What fun! My son just learned the work penguin and he was saying it a 1000 times just now. They really are so cute. Thanks for joining us for #SundayTraveler.

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    1. Hi SJ. We lived near Taronga Zoo in Sydney when my older son (now 22) was little and we practically lived in front of the fairy penguin pool he loved them so much. There is something about penguins which children find enchanting.

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  7. We love aquariums and this one looks great. Penguins and jellyfish are high on our "must do" list. We recently visited Hobart and experienced "Mawson's Hut". It looks very similar to Scott Base (which shouldn't be surprising) considering the harsh conditions in Antarctica.

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    1. Hi Cindy. The jellyfish were just amazing because they were fluorescent. We're off to Hobart next year - I'll look up Mawson's Hut and check it out. Thanks.

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  8. Looks like a fantastic aquarium. Love that you realize a ferry to Antarctica will be exponentially more seasick inducing than the local ferry.

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    1. Hi Charles. Later this year we are going on the Alaska Marine Highway - bit worried about that but I am told it is one of the calmest bodies of water in the world - mind you it is always people who don't get sea-sick who say things like that - lol.

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  9. What a fantastic aquarium. Your photos are great. I know I would get dizzy on the entrance to the penguin area, but what a great way to make you feel you are entering another place. The replica of Scott Base is a nice touch. I know I will never go to Antarctica. I don't know if I will ever make it to New Zealand, but there is a better chance of that and, if I do, will make a point to visit Kelly Tartan's Sea Life Aquarium.

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    1. Hi Donna, If you get a chance to go to New Zealand, grab it. It is a really lovely country and very easy to travel in. The only downside is that it's a bit pricey.

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  10. I also love penguins - and I would also love to go to Antarctica, but can't quite imagine being on a ship on some of the roughest ocean in the world. We travelled the east coast of Argentina all the way to Ushuaiha in 2008, and visited a Magellanic penguin colony at Cabo Dos Bahias on the way. They are not quite as majestic as the King or Emperor, but bigger than the fairy penguins I am used to seeing in Australia. And we could walk amongst a huge colony of them. It made me feel better about not getting on a ship when we reached Ushuaia!
    Great story and great photos. I'll put this on my list for when I go to New Zealand.

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    1. Hi Yasha. Ushuaiha is on my bucket list. We've been to Argentina and Chile a few times but only the northern bits. The closest we came was Chiloe - there are penguins there but it was a bit of a trek to see them and we didn't have masses of time.

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  11. What a fascinating exhibit! I'm particularly taken with the Scott expedition dwellings. I'd encountered another article in the last day or so on the restoration of similar huts on site in Antarctica. Evidently, they've had to install non-permeable coverings and reroute melting waterways to maintain the dwellings. I can't imagine the effort it must have taken to haul a piano and all the other supplies! Very interesting post.

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    1. Hi Betsy. The piano things is amazing isn't it but I do think we see things sometimes through 21st century eyes. I'm pretty sure that the first piano to arrive in Australia came with the First Fleet in 1788 - its hard to imagine a piano on a sailing ship.

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  12. What a cool glimpse into Antarctica, especially the old outpost. Oddly, the only penguins we have seen were at the equator in the Galapagos.

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    1. Hi GypsyNesters. Wow! I didn't know that the Galapagos had penguins. That must be about as far north as they go.

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  13. Hi Lyn,

    What shots! The penguins don't even look real, with their coloring, and heck, their "neatness" of attire. It's as if they are wearing a tux, really. They seem to be natural performers too.

    Fun day at the aquarium. Thanks much for sharing!

    Ryan

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    1. Hi Ryan. You're right, they are very neat looking little fellows - although some of them were moulting and not looking quite so chic.

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  14. Oh, I would love to go to Antarctica too but I don't know when / if that'll happen. Penguins are just too cute! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

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    1. Hi Adelina. They are gorgeous aren't they.

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  15. I love visiting aquariums and I love even more that you got travel wanderlust out of it. Antarctica would be amazing!
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust

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    1. Hi Malinda. Antarctica would be fantastic but I can't see it happening for us.

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  16. We didn't have time to visit Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium when we were in Auckland. I enjoyed visiting it with you just now and it is now at the top of my list for next time.

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    1. Hi Carole. It is well-worth a visit especially if you want to see penguins.

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  17. This is amazing! I'm loving it! These penguins are gorgeous - I've only ever seen the tiny little jackass (or african) penguin, but these, wow they really wear their name well!

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    1. Hi Camila, They are super cute aren't they.

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  18. Sounds like a great way to learn about penguins closer to home! :-)

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  19. My son loves penguins and what a unique way to see them in a replica of the Antarctic plus a bit of history at the same time.

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    1. Hi Sally. My son loves them too - always has and still does even though he is 22 now.

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  20. Looks great. I'll be in Auckland in a couple of weeks so I'll have to put this on my list of things to see.

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    1. Hi Karen, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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  21. Oh my gosh the penguins are so cute!! And I've been to many aquariums before but none of them had such an innovative entrance to the penguin exhibit!

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    1. Hi Michelle, It was really weird going through it.

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  22. Wow I didn't realise there are no penguins in the northern hemisphere. Aren't we lucky! We have been to Antarctica and it is totally worth the sea-sickness. I would go again in a heartbeat. The natural beauty and wildlife is incomparable. The crossing from South America was rough and takes a day or two, so we were confined to our beds for most of that (as long as I was lying down I felt fine!). But once you get there it's so completely calm the seasickness disappeared.

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    1. Hi Kirralee, Maybe one day I'll get there. I've never heard anyone say it is tremendous fun.

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  23. We are headed here today so glad I got to read this first! Kids excited now :-)

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    1. Hi Selims, I hope you are enjoying New Zealand. I look forward to your blog post on Kelly Tarltons. It is a lot of fun for children.

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