Since I’m in between jobs and have started making money again, I decide to go splurge and do something with my day. I toss a few ideas around before finally deciding to go give Auckland’s Sea Life a look.
This place isn’t in the CBD, and takes at least ten minutes by bus to reach Ohaku Bay. Thankfully, well aware of this, the centre offers a free shuttle bus that runs every 30 minutes from the harbour. It’s very hard to miss, and works as a great advertisement.
The centre itself is mostly underground, and the only way I realized we were there was the sign above a tiny building we had to walk through. It costs about $30 to enter, although if you’re a backpacker there are plenty of deals around to get a cheaper entry. They also have a few experiences you can pick from which hike up the price a big – I chose to go Behind the Scenes which cost an additional $20.
Opened in 1985, Kelly Tarlton’s might seem like every other aquarium on the planet, but it actually has huge significance for sea life centres all over the world. This is because it was on this site that the very first underwater tunnel exhibit was created. Tarlton wanted to create a feature that could give people the illusion of diving underwater, and experimented with dozens of materials before managing to create a method of acrylic shaping that allows the tunnels to exist. It was such a revolutionary idea, that aquariums all over the world were vying for the method before the centre even opened. Had it not been for Kelly Tarlton, the biggest attraction of most sea life centres would never have existed.
However, the tunnel is the last feature you visit in the centre. First up is walking through an exhibit regarding Robert Falcon Scott’s trek to Antarctica , before entering the penguin exhibit. I got there just as the penguin presentation was ending, but did get to admire the baby penguins in all their fluffy glory.
In the main area, there’s a giant tank which weird, shiny coloured sharks, and next to it giant rays (two of which – Molly and Penny, have been at the centre for over 25 years) – both of which get fed throughout the day. Its here I wait for the Behind the Scenes tour, and get to go into the back area.
It’s very similar to the Sea Life centre in Mooloolaba (owned by the same company, so that’s no surprise). There are tanks for quarantine (many of the fish on display come from the Auckland harbour, and they work on a catch and release system where fish are kept on display and then returned to the ocean after several months), several tanks to help rehabilitate turtles (currently there are two recovering in the back), and several animals who have been injured and are kept off display (there’s a moray eel recovering from surgery on his tail, and two hyper aggressive fish who have to stay out of displays for the safety of other fish). We also get to see the top of the water tunnel, and feed the fish that come to the top to greet us.
Once the tour’s over, I finally head to the water tunnel. There’s two sections here – one with a shark motif and another more generic and hosting a multitude of fish. The biggest draws of the shark tank are their sandtiger sharks, and their wobbegong, which can be hard to spot – takes me 3 loops to hunt him down.
Once you’ve walked through the tunnel, the gift shop is on your left, but to the right hosts the tropical fish and sea horse exhibits. I was just in time to catch the last half of the fish feeding, and got to watch the octopus get fed – the only animal in the building who has to have a locked lid as she keeps getting out (fascinating creatures – they also have one that learned how to take photos in another tank), then head over to the ‘Nemo’ tanks that host most of the fish that starred in the movies.
The sea horse exhibit hosts the centre’s biggest success in recent years. Spiny sea dragons can be found at Milford Sounds – although they also exist in the ocean throughout Australasia, are hard to find elsewhere. The centre obtained several from the wild (there’s a video showing just how painstaking and difficult the process was) and brought them here for study. Recently they managed to breed the seahorses – the first time this breed has ever bred in captivity.
All in all this was a pricy place to visit, but the number of presentations and quality of displays makes it worth it. Especially when you take into account it’s important to Sea Life Centre’s throughout the world – as someone who used to love going to the one in Scotland as a child, this was a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.