In less enlightened times, the vast underground chambers that are now Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World on Auckland’s Tamaki Drive were used to store the city’s sewerage before it was pumped to an outfall near the unfortunately named Browns Island.
Once sewerage treatment commenced at Māngere and Rosedale, however, the tanks lay idle. It took the vision of scuba diving legend, Kelly Tarlton, to see them transformed into an internationally renowned tourist attraction – destiny in motions.
Tarlton’s idea was to put something of the world he knew from his underwater adventures in front of people who were afraid to get their feet wet, let alone abandon their natural habitat and mix it with the fishes.
He designed a 110 metre series of transparent tunnels through the tanks, which he proposed to fill with a faithful recreation of the marine environment, complete with millions of litres of seawater and a cross-section of the critters that call it home. It hadn’t been done before, but Tarlton and his team just went ahead and made it happen.
A basic tour of Kelly Tarlton’s is fascinating enough. You can cruise along the walkways and lock eyes with everything from urchins and octopi to stingrays, sharks, turtles and that little fish with the big rep, the piranha.
You can also do the Antarctic Encounter tour, entering through a replica of Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s hut, boarding a Snow Cat (such as are used on The Ice) for a ride past the resident penguin colony, as they cool their heels in the three tonnes of fresh snow that’s made daily, just for them.
But if you bring your togs along, there are even more interactive tours you can join. No diving or snorkelling experience is needed. You can jump in a shark cage or they’ll kit you up in full scuba gear and put you in the water with the sharks at feeding time so you can see these beautiful creatures up close and personal.