The Old Fogies go to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland

When we decided to include Auckland in our trip itinerary, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium seemed to be one of the attractions that people recommended for a visit. So with blue sky up above and rucksacks on our back, we decided to walk the six kilometres (3.7 miles) from downtown Auckland to the Aquarium. The Aquarium does provide a free shuttle bus from Auckland but we wanted to see a little bit more of the waterfront as we made our way down to Tamaki Drive where the Aquarium is located.

Unusually for a major city, Auckland’s port is very close to the city centre and as we began our walk, we quickly began to come across the large Port of Auckland complex  which is full of wharves and storage areas (mostly for containers). Some of the wharves deal with the arrival of cruise ships which visit Auckland on a regular basis.

Once past the port, you then see an attractive view of the harbour and across the water is the ever-present Rangitoto Island.

Tamaki Drive is the coastal road which follows the contours of the Waitematā Harbour and is  popular with walkers, runners and roller skaters and cyclists.  As you approach Ōkahu Bay there is a marina, yacht club and small beaches where Aucklanders relax and enjoy the waterfront.

After a very pleasant walk and a sit on the beach, we finally arrived at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium. Above ground, the entrance did not look too inspiring with a couple of the distinctive Shark shuttle buses parked outside. However most of the attraction is underground and as you descend down to the box office it begins to look much more promising.

Probably very few people outside New Zealand have heard of Kelly Tarlton but he was an interesting larger than life figure who was a marine archaeologist, diver, and conservationist.

People thought he was mad, when he proposed building a large aquarium in unused storm water and sewage tanks on Auckland’s eastern waterfront but he proved them wrong with an innovative marine Aquarium that at the time was four times larger than any other in the world. One innovation that has been copied around the world was his pioneering use of curved acrylic tunnels that enable visitors to view sea creatures from below. Unfortunately Kelly Tarlton died only 7 weeks after the Aquarium’s opening in 1985.

The first section is the Antarctic area which includes a replica of the hut used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his tragic expedition to Antarctica and a colony of Antarctic penguins.

Signs asked visitors ‘Not to tease the Penguins’, we had visions of school parties dangling fish in front of the glass.

Stingray Bay allows you get a close view of the largest species of Stingray in the world in an open tank. Rather strangely you can have a coffee and look out of the window and see above and below the water outside in the harbour.

You enter the plastic tunnels and look at some of the world’s biggest aquarium sharks, including the Sandtiger and Broadnose Sevengill Sharks. This part of the aquarium is certainly large with the Predator Tank containing more than a million litres of seawater pumped straight from Waitemata harbour.

The tanks also features thousands of other New Zealand native fish, eels, turtles, crayfish, and octopus.

 The Seahorse Kingdom is filled with seahorses from around the world and featuring the world’s only Spiny Sea Dragons on public display.

As aquariums go, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is certainly one of the better ones and is located in a lovely location. As we came out of the exit the thought of a long walk back was not really welcome, so we clambered about the Shark shuttle bus for the ride back into Auckland.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

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The Old Fogies go to Auckland

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After the sunshine of Sydney, we arrived to the rain of Auckland and we got our first view of New Zealand. Auckland airport is some way from the city and has rather limited transport options. One of the most popular shuttles is the Skybus which we boarded and made our way into the city.

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Making our way to the Mount Eden area, we had the first view of the volcanic cones that are dotted around the city. It is easy to mistake them for natural hills, but the shape is rather unusual and quite steep. Auckland is built on a volcanic field that has been active for over 90,000 years, surface features include cones, lakes, lagoons and islands. Rangitoto Island, in Waitematā was formed within the last 1000 years is one of Auckland’s most iconic natural features.

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The first impression of Auckland is rather underwhelming, in some ways resembling some of the smaller British cities. However, although it does not have many major attractions, we looked forward to exploring the city at a leisurely place. When we were planning our trip, we had considered Auckland to be an ideal place to relax before we arrived in the United States.

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Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and many visitors to New Zealand pass through its airport. If the city often looks quite British, this is become generations of British people have made their home in here. However in the last 30 years, the city has become a more diverse and multicultural city, Auckland is now home to the largest Polynesian population in the world and a large Asian community.

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Auckland is often known as the ‘City of Sails’ and a walk down the waterfront provides evidence why, with long stretches of marinas with a large number of vessels from Super yachts to heritage vessels. The waterfront also allows you a view of Auckland Harbour Bridge in the distance, the bridge which opened in 1959 is always considered unfavourably with Sydney but provides an important link between the Auckland city and the North Shore.

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One of Auckland’s major tourist attractions is the Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium which is located some way from the city centre but on a bright clear morning we decided it would be a good walk. Once past the city centre, you have a long walk past the port area before the scene changes with nice views across the harbour and small beaches on the way down to Tamaki Drive. The Aquarium was developed by New Zealand marine archaeologist and diver Kelly Tarlton and built in disused sewage storage tanks, one of its great innovations when it opened in 1985 was the curved tunnels that visitors walk down.

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When you arrive at the Aquarium, there is very little to see above ground, but you quickly descend into the attraction. The first section is the Antarctic area which includes a replica of the hut used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his tragic expedition to Antarctica and a colony of Antarctic penguins.

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Signs asked visitors ‘ Not to tease the Penguins’, we had visions of school parties dangling fish in front of the glass. In the main part of the aquarium, we jostled with school parties to view the sharks, stingrays and other marine life. Not feeling inclined to walk back, we used the free Shark bus shuttle back to the city centre.

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The University of Auckland is the largest university in New Zealand and students are catered for in a number of cafes, bars and small restaurants. A walk around the campus is interesting with a number of old government buildings used by the University. The campus is also close to the interesting Auckland Art Gallery, the very attractive Albert Park and the Auckland Domain.

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The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park, and one of the largest in the city. It is built on the crater of the Pukekawa volcano. Walking past the tennis centre and bowling greens, you make your way through the park till you arrive at the Domain Wintergardens, with two glass houses full of exotic plants.

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The park is home to one of Auckland’s main tourist attractions, the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which sits on a ridge with extensive views of the surrounding area.

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We had limited time in Auckland and were undecided whether to visit one of the Islands in the Hauraki Gulf or to take the short ferry ride across to Devonport on the North Shore. The weather forecast was variable, so we went to Devonport.

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Devonport is very attractive small town with plenty of antiques, gift and book shops with a number of cafes and restaurants. It has a strong naval history and hosts a naval base and the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum. Towering over the town is Mount Victoria is the highest volcano on Auckland’s North Shore, a steep walk up its slopes are rewarded with stunning views of Waitematā Harbour, Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland skyline. For some reason there are number of toadstools on the peak and artillery emplacements with a disappearing gun.

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Like Sydney, Auckland has a strong bar and café culture which takes a pride in craft beer and quality coffee. Most of the shopping is centred on Queen Street and the Town Hall and Aotea Square are popular meeting places.

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Auckland is a very unusual place which manages to be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Its location gives it the feeling of being on the edge of natural wilderness which we equated with Norway in some ways. The volcanic aspects of the city add to the sense that it not quite like many other cities. However, for British people especially, the city may seem very familiar and quite old fashioned. It is this paradox and the interesting mix of people that make Auckland well worth a visit for a few days and counters the view that it is the uninteresting gateway to the rest of New Zealand.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.