Friday, January 25, 2008

New Zealand Road Trip - December 25, 2007 (22)

December 25

Merry Christmas!!!

True confessions: it didn't seem like Christmas - no snow, not cold, not at home...

The tour bus was still running, albeit with a skeleton staff and only the main loop, but that was good enough for us. We "hopped on" at our motel, and went right downtown. It started off as a rather cool, overcast day and just got worse after that.

Our initial plan was to go to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter (as that was one of the very few things opened on Christmas Day), "hop on" the bus again and go down to the harbour front, then "hop off" and wander around the Auckland harbour. However, as the day progressed, the rain simply increased. As I have said before, I'm a fair weather person, and the guys weren't too keen to slog around in the pouring rain either, so we stayed at the aquarium until the last bus back downtown and caught our shuttle back to the motel.

Let's get on with Kelly Tarlton's, shall we?

Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter

Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World is an aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand. It is all underground and within the walls of Auckland City's sewage holding tanks, unused since 1961. It opened on January 25 1985.Kelly Tarlton, an avid diver, treasure hunter and undersea explorer, was responsible for the Underwater World concept and construction.Construction took 10 months and cost $3 million. Kelly Tarlton died suddenly of a heart attack on March 17, 1985, seven weeks after the Underwater World opened.Large sharks, stingrays and 1500 fish of forty different species may be viewed through a 114 metre-long underwater plexiglass tunnel in a figure-of-eight shape. The plexiglass is 7 centimetres thick.


As the note says, the place was built underground in an unused water treatment plant, which I think is brilliant. Aside from the sign, the parking lot and a door, it cannot be seen from the road. We went through the door, paid our admission and ventured forth.

The complex has six feature areas. The first area is like a museum dedicated Robert Scott's expedition to the South Pole. We whizzed through that - sorry Robert.

The second area is the "Frozen Wonderland," which houses two types of Antarctic penguins: King and Gentoo penguins.

King Penguins are the ones with the yellow and orange colouring, Gentoo are attired in the more traditional black and white only with a touch of red.

A few words about the Penguin Colony. I'm sure when the place was conceived and constructed back in the early to mid-eighties, it was really "cool" (pardon the pun!). But to us, the set-up seemed rather corny - sort of like a low budget Universal Studios ride. To see the penguins, they put you in what is supposed to be a "snow cat." Without going into a 2000 word essay to describe the ride, I'll just say that the thing runs on tracks, circles the penguin enclosure, involves a very unrealistic "white out" (wind blown snow), and a lunging killer whale.

The penguins are fine, but if I were advising the KT folks, I would suggest that they get rid of the lame theatrics, expand the penguin space (which would be easy if they got rid of all that snow cat track and the theatrics) and put a huge picture window across the front where they already have a few very tiny porthole type windows. This would give the penguins more space and visitors would be able to see what's going on a lot better. It really needs to be modernized. So if anyone from KT's is reading this -take this back as a suggestion to the management!

The third main area is "Sting Ray Bay." This is a newer feature and is really nice. It's a very large tank that ranges in depth from about 3 feet to maybe ten feet (1 to 3 m). As the name suggests, it is home to a variety of sting rays. These fish are really interesting to watch as they "fly" through the water. The staff periodically feeds them and this is fun to watch as they come in for their snacks.

We found that the lighting conditions (low light) and the continuous movement of the fish made it difficult to get any good still pix, but Joe discovered he could get some decent video using the video feature of our camera. The following pix are single frames from video clips, so they are not as high quality (in terms of resolution, that is!) as our other pix.

Stingray Bay.

The fourth area is the "Underwater World." This was probably our favorite part of KT's. The concept is that the visitors traverse a tunnel under the water. Check the Kelly Tarlton's website for details relating to this - it's really neat. There is a conveyor belt that you can stand on and it moves through the tunnel. There is also a walkway, so you can walk at a speed that suits you if the conveyor belt is not to your liking. The idea is that the fish swim beside and over you.

The tank is divided into a number of sections, the first one holds the sharks! They are local sharks and I think it may be a sort of catch and release system - at least for some of them. None of them are extremely large or particularly scary, although I imagine if I didn't have some Plexiglas between me and them I might feel differently! They have School Shark, Sevengill, Wobbegong and, Bronze Whaler sharks. I'll leave it to you to check the website info on each type.

The other tank sections house a variety of fish and sea turtles. Again, I'll let you check out the details.

Lunch time! Again we were amused by the antics. The turtles, especially, were quite demanding!

The fifth area is the "Sea Creatures" section. This is a series of relatively small tanks to display smaller fish. Most are really interesting. We didn't get pix of all of them, but here's a sample.

Lion Fish.
Puffer Fish and Lion Fish.

Crayfish - like lobsters but without the big claws.


Moray Ell.

And the sixth area? That would be the gift shop, of course! No tourist place would be complete without one!

As I mentioned, we spent most of our day at the aquarium. This was not a hardship for me - I've always been a sucker for fish and water. Christmas is a good day to go - it wasn't crowded! I think it would have been a lot less fun on a busy day. Notwithstanding my comments regarding the penguins - the place is worth a visit if you like that sort of thing.

We were disappointed that we didn't get to spend some quality time in downtown Auckland as we had planned, but it was just too wet.

We had dinner at the restaurant in the motel visiting with some other travellers, which was quite nice. I was disappointed that the motel restaurant didn't have a special Christmas dinner - just their regular menu - but aside from that we weren't suffering!

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