Kelly Tarlton was a man of legend in our childhood. We used to holiday up in Paihia and visit the old ship housing a museum of artifacts, wreck debris and stories about sunken treasure, blustery sea storms and the man who dreamed of an undersea aquarium. Then once it was actually opened, I remember being wide-eyed and full of wonder as we slowly rolled under the clear glass tube, sharks and all manner of fish swimming overhead. Now, to be honest – when I was a kid, the conveyor belt was itself enough of a thrill to make the trip worthwhile! It seemed like hours and hours of enjoyment.
Nowadays – Kelly Tarlton’s is iconic on Auckland’s waterfront, almost as iconic as the Shark Bus that shuttles between downtown and Tamaki Drive each day. But the thrill is just the same so I bundled off the bestie’s kids for a day out in the school holidays.
We planned for a day out in the sun, so packed the scooters into the back of the car, a few snacks and a plan for a takeaways lunch (just cos it was a treat day!). We headed to Kelly Tarlton’s first in the morning, queued for only about 10min to grab our tickets and get in, then started the adventure! We emerged an hour and a half later, imaginations fully engaged. Of course – I had taken four boys aged 6 – 10 years. Girls may have had a slightly longer attention span!
The Numbers: At $77 for a standard family pass – it’s not a cheap day out, so it pays to plan to make the most of it. Start by purchasing your tickets online, year round you’ll save at least 10 – 15%, plus see all the specials, including late passes, seasonal info and cool offers.
The Food & Drink: If you’re taking the kids – pack a backpack with snacks and treats. Then a picnic lunch at Mission Bay is great excuse for a walk to stretch the legs or for the scooters and bikes to take advantage of the handy bike lane. Otherwise, Mission Bay has plenty of fast food and cafe options. Take your pick! Otherwise, expect to pay theme park prices at the cafe/servery inside the aquarium.
The Educational Element: Kelly Tarlton’s has a few distinct sections. Firstly the Penguin Encounter, where you load up into a ‘Sno-cat’ for a tour through the ice. The penguins are very cute! It pays to grab the info brochures, or have a little Wikipedia read (I cheated and used an iPhone app) so that you can ask questions, or answer the tricky ones the kids come up with! Next up, the Antartic walk-through. The older the kids, the more they’ll enjoy it – but help them out by asking them to imagine what the hardest part of Antarctic life might be.
The Sharks: The conveyor belt comes with handy stools for the little ones and I reckon, you might as well get your money’s worth. Let them go around and around that thing. Name the sharks, look for scars and go eel spotting in the dark crevices of the aquarium. Such fun! Make sure to save plenty of time for the stingray pool and the crayfish – those things are monsters and a really fun way to get up close and personal!
Getting There: Kelly Tarlton’s offers a free shuttle from opposite the downtown ferry terminal – perfect if you want to catch the bus or train to Britomart first! 7 days a week, the shuttle runs on the hour, every hour, from 9am until 4pm, with the final pick up from downtown being at 4pm.
All in all, Kelly Tarlton’s still lives up to the hype, I reckon. I won’t be taking them every school holidays – or even every year, it doesn’t change as often as the Zoo but it’s right on the waterfront and it’s definitely an icon. For me, the highlight is looking at all the photos and story of how it even came to be there. What a legend.
www.kellytarltons.co.nz | 23 Tamaki Drive, Orakei, Auckland.