Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is not just for kids, although it is definitely a hit with children.
As an adult, I am intrigued by exhibits about the original Antarctica explorations, captivated by penguins, enchanted by the turtles, and impressed by the sheer engineering genius that created the shark tunnels. While children have different levels of fascination.
It’s a special place, and it doesn’t take long to understand why it is one of Auckland’s top attractions. In fact, the very first time we set foot in New Zealand, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium was the first place we visited.
Despite the jetlag, our then young children were super excited about penguins and riding a moving sidewalk through the world’s first curved acrylic tunnels allowing stingrays, sharks, and other southern ocean marine life to freely swim all around us.
It lived up to our expectations back then, and to my surprise, surpassed them on our last visit almost 20 years later.
Reduced daily capacity makes booking ahead more important.
As daily capacity has been reduced and frequently reached, booking in advance guarantees your entry.
What makes Kelly Tarlton’s special?
Unique in many ways, Kelly Tarlton’s is more than just a typical aquarium you might find in any major city. Some of the more noteworthy features include:
- A replica of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic Hut
- Not only can you watch Antarctic Penguins, but there is also an opportunity to get on the ice with them (advance booking and extra fee apply).
- The moving sidewalk takes you through the world’s first acrylic shark tunnel of its type.
- Adults can have an underwater encounter with the sharks (advance booking and extra fee apply).
- A strong focus on conservation.
- A touch pool to interact with starfish.
Highlights from our last visit give you an idea of what to expect at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Live
Captain Robert Falcon Scott lead the Discovery Expedition to Antarctica in 1901–04. Several years later he led a second expedition that reached the geographic south pole on 17 January 1912, 34 days after Norwegian Roald Amundsen became the first to accomplish this. Sadly, Scott and his team were lost in a whiteout blizzard in 1912 on their return.
The pathway through Kelly Tarlton’s allows us to experience the disorientation of a whiteout as we pass through a slowly spinning white tube. Stopping for a few moments and turning to the side enhances the effect.
Our southern journey starts with a walk-through replica of Captain Scott’s Antarctic hut and an opportunity to imagine life in Antarctica over 100 ago. This is followed by a viewing area overlooking New Zealand’s only colony of Sub-Antarctic penguins at play in their cold and icy environment.
We also had the opportunity to do a mini Polar Plunge. An actual Polar Plunge would involve jumping into the icy cold waters. Here we could stick our hands into the icy water, and that was enough to know the “real” polar plunge is not for me. Kelly Tarlton’s challenge is to keep your hand submerged for 30 seconds. (I can’t confirm that this is currently available.)
I love the shark tunnel! Honestly, where else can I be safe and completely dry while sharks swim all around me.
To date, we have seen similar tunnels all around the world. But what makes these shark tunnels so unique is that they are the original. The first curved aquarium tunnels in the world.
They represent some of the world’s largest aquarium sharks and include the endangered Sand Tiger Sharks, Broadnose Sevengill Sharks, and a Wobbegong Shark.
And, for brave adults who plan ahead, there is an opportunity to get into the tank with the sharks.
Turtles, stingrays and other special exhibits
I don’t know why I am so fascinated by stingrays, but I am. Kelly Tarltons has three short-tail stingrays, the world’s largest stingray species, on display. (If you are like me, don’t miss the opportunity to hand-feed stingrays in the wild if you get to Gisborne.)
There are also Eagle Rays (much smaller) that are located in the Shipwreck Discovery section.
More than just an opportunity for visitors to see some of the marine life, Kelly Tarltons is also a rescue centre. More specifically, Kelly Tarltons is the country’s only turtle rehabilitation centre. It is here that you can also get a peek under the current ocean as it laps against the window.
Plus, for kids, there are also touch pools with sea stars, an arts and crafts room for kids where they can watch their coloured creations come to life on the screen, and an indoor playground.
More fish to discover at Kelly Tarltons
If it lives in the Southern Ocean, there is a good chance you will find it at Kelly Tarltons. From colourful tropical species to unusual seahorses, be ready to discover something you have never seen before.
Visiting Kelly Tarltons – what you need to know
Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is located at 23 Tamaki Drive, along the Auckland waterfront about 6 kilometres east of the Auckland CBD. It is an underground facility, therefore doesn’t look like much from the outside.
The buildings at either end of the car park are the entrance and exit, so there are no bad carparks, however, the lot is often full and street parking is required.
Always check for discounts in New Zealand
We always check 100% New Zealand owned bookme for discounts before we visit any venues or participate in activities. They frequently feature different discounts depending on the day and time you choose for your activity.
Final thoughts on Kelly Tarltons
Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is good fun for young and old. Most of the more adventurous activities include entrance, so a bit of planning can save quite a bit of money.
If you love Kelly Tarltons, don’t miss the national aquarium in Napier.
** Kelly Tarltons is just one of many great Auckland museums and zoos and among the many fun things to do in the city.
Save on your NZ trip with these resources
These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or BookABatch (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Activity discounts: we check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on activities.
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
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Which is your favourite bit of Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium?
More from Auckland you might also like … starting with these 75 free and nearly free things to do in the city
Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary entry to aid in the writing of this page. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
Wonderful! We have a small SeaLife in Helsinki. My favorite part is the tunnel beneath the shark tank. Not sure I would go diving with them though.
I am with you, outside the sharks enjoying them from the tunnel.
What a fun adventure! Tweeted it…
This is wonderful! The colors re so amazing. I’d love to do this! (Though I’ll leave the polar freeze to other hands and won’t be swimming with sharks any time soon! lol) Thanks for all the awesome pics! 🙂
The polar freeze isn’t that bad, simply remove your hand if it’s too cold. The sharks, wouldn’t be as easy to get away.
Wow, already 12 years in NZ!! Despite the lack of light (I had the same feeling in london’s sea life), the pictures are great!
Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields
We went to Kelly Tarlton’s in January this year and like you really enjoyed ourselves. My favourites were definitely the penguins, in fact seeing them was the main reason we went. David, a history buff, loved the Scott memorabilia. I remember the story behind the creation of Kelly Tarlton’s was quite interesting too.
I debated whether to include the history here, maybe I should have.
That seems a great place to visit. I love a good aquarium. I know I can’t remember all that I’ve visited. I remember Seattle, Vancouver, Baltimore, Victoria, and maybe Boston. I have a certain fondness for penguins and the way they walk, wearing tuxedos.
In the US, Monterey Bay was always my favorite, in New Zealand it’s Kelly Tarltons.
Awesome aquarium! The tunnels are usually my favorite part, too.
Both my girls have had the chance to sleep in them overnight. Cool opportunity.
Aquariums are fun, and this one looks really great too!
You are right on both counts.
This looks amazing! Much better than our sea life centres! x
LOL – and to people from the Southern Hemisphere, yours probably seem pretty cool.
Clairejustine oxox (Clairejustineoxox)
Oh wow, you got some beautiful shots here, looks a great place to visit 🙂
It is a place worth visiting.
What an incredible experience! Gorgeous photos! I know I will never get to New Zealand so its so nice to get to see things that are worth seeing through your blog!
Happy to share my world with you.
Merlinda Little (@pixiedusk)
Wow amazing! What amazing creatures. We have an aquarium here too but none as awesome as this one.
Much of the sea life in the southern oceans is different from that of the north. Even saying that, Kelly Tartlton’s has a large number of unusual creatures.
What a cool place to visit. I want to go. I love the penguins the very best.
Have a fabulous day Rhonda. 🙂
You need to live in the Southern Hemisphere to see more penguins, or at least come for a visit.
Wow, what great photos. What a wonderful place to spend a day.
Amazing, simply amazing! I’ve never seen anything like that, but would love too. Seeing that water against the glass very scary. Claustrophobia may not bode well in those tunnels. 🙂
Actually, they are really light and open. I get claustrophobic in airplanes sometimes (not to flash for a travel blogger), but not a drop here.
That cafe that’s party under water…is it weird that I want to live there?! I can’t imagine anything more peaceful and beautiful 🙂
I think living in the cafe would get old after a while, but they do have sleepovers in the tunnels, and yes, they turn off the moving walkways.
What a great tour!
And it is self guided, so you can spend as much time as you want watching your favorites.
Teresa from NanaHood
Amazing and super cool! Wish I could take my grands there! Have a great week, Rhonda!
Your grandkids will love it. There is a big playzone, with quite a subtle educational focus.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Amazing photos. Those aquarium tunnels are really cool. Next best thing to being underwater.
I will pass on the plunge though.
The tunnels are fascinating. They are in a loop, with entrance/exit on either end. I have been known to go around a few times, each time spotting something new and interesting.
Love your photo especially that one of the seahorse. We visited the Acquarium 10 years ago, and remember how cool it was to see the penguins.
They no longer have that vehicle that drives through the penguin exhibit. Now everyone walks through it.
Nice photos. We used to visit the aquarium in Galveston, TX a lot when we lived there. It was one of Drama Teen’s favorite places when she was little.
Kelly Tarlton’s was a favorite of my girls when they were little also.
This looks like an amazing aquarium! Wow!
Yes, it is an amazing place, both the aquarium and the Antarctica exhibit.
Well I thoroughly enjoyed this Rhonda fab shots & close-ups love the shark tunnel 🙂
Have a jawstastic day 🙂
That looks like a real adventure in photography. It would also be fun to see the penguins up close like that.
It was much more challenging than it appears. Everything is behind thick plexiglass, loaded with fingerprints and smudges. You don’t notice it when you look at the display, only when you go to take photos. And it’s dark, with lots of artificial lights as it’s underground.
Hi Rhonda – what a wonderful experience … how very interesting and it looks so well done. Love all the photos and the ocean waves, and then the icy water – not for me … is Sarah’s hand still with her?! Incredible place … I’d love to visit – one day … cheers Hilary
It is really well done, laid out well and easy to move along without missing anything.
this tunnel looks interesting!
It’s really cool. As you walk through the fish, rays and sharks swim all around and pass overhead.
Margaret Birding For Pleasure
Loved seeing all the creatures you found and photographed in the water.
Beautiful tour underwater! Joining you from Our World Tuesday.
We love aquariums that we have an annual membership to Monterey Aquarium.
I also love the Monterey Aquarium. I haven’t been there in years.
I’ve been to aquariums and water parks, but I’ve never seen anything like this. The footbridge alone looks surreal. Your pictures turned out great. Thanks for the tour.
Kelly Tarlton’s is pretty cool. We had annual passes for the first several years after we moved here to New Zealand.