Coo Coo for Penguins at Kelly Tarlton’s

Do you remember the ad, “Coo coo for Coco Puffs.” I could not help but think of that when I listened to my reaction to the penguin exhibit at Kelly Tarlton’s in Mission Bay, Auckland.

Maybe it was too many days of squinting to see penguins in the wild. Maybe it was the penguins’ joy in swimming. I was a little kid again.

Our little friend interacts with us through glass
Our little friend interacts with us through glass

The five months I lived in St Heliers Bay I must have passed Kelly Tarlton’s Sealife Aquarium 5 times a week and I never visited. People gave me mixed signals. On the one hand, people were proud of Mr. Tarlton’s inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit building a unique facility ahead of its time. On the other hand, people suggested it was a little cheesy.  And then there is the whole objection of zoos or aquariums in general keeping animals in captivity.

I enjoy a good zoo. Sometimes it is the only way we can observe species and appreciate the tremendous variety in creation. While I hope to get to Antarctica someday, it may be awhile before I can see gentoo and emperor penguins in their native habitat. What a thrill to observe them here.

The admission price is reasonable ($36 NZ per adult; discounts on-line and with coupons) and there is much more to see than my funny penguins.

Royal looking emperor penguins at Kelly Tarlton's
Royal looking emperor penguins at Kelly Tarlton’s

I met Diana at the entrance. She is studying in NZ on a scholarship and we were introduced through our mutual friend Deb. We bonded over this curious gentoo penguin who seemed genuinely interested in us. We giggled and ooohed and ahhhed through the rest of the aquarium exhibits, and lingered longest with the penguins.

There is a great deal of useful information offered in each exhibit, and plenty of interactive displays for those with short attention spans. You experience the main aquarium by either walking “through” it or riding the conveyor belt around–always surrounded by the aquarium. The sharks are menacing. (How is it that even those of us land-locked all of our life have an almost innate fear of sharks?)

We both were drawn to the stingrays. They are graceful and exude calm. Yet, like so many paradoxes in the sea, they still have the ability to seriously hurt or kill you.

There is a great tidal pool exhibit and a window where you can look out directly into the bay. The entire aquarium is like a giant optical illusion as it is built below the parking lot and you are below sea level the whole time.

It was a fun afternoon and anyone with an ounce of curiosity and a smidgeon of child’s heart will enjoy Kelly Tarlton’s.

Beautiful stingray swimming by at arms distance
Beautiful stingray swimming by at arms distance
Photo bomb! at tidepool.
Photo bomb! at tidepool.

One Reply to “Coo Coo for Penguins at Kelly Tarlton’s”

  1. I LOVE that place! I still tell stories about how it’s the coolest aquarium I’m ever been too. When I was there the first time in 1985….it was revolutionary. I can still remember how absolutely mesmerized I was. I too struggle with the animals in captivity and I know for me, as a 14 year old, seeing all those creatures up close and personal gave me a much deeper appreciation for their conservation.

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