'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!
|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.
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.
"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.|
|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.