When you see some of the marketing for Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium, you know you’re in for a treat! Just take a look at their shark shuttle bus and USB stick!
I spent a morning diving with sharks at Kelly Tarlton’s as part of the Shark Dive Xtreme experience.
This includes an introduction to SCUBA diving (or a refresher if you’re certified already), a skills session in a shallow pool and a dive into their tank full of sharks, short-tailed sting rays and species of fish from New Zealand’s coastline.
GETTING TO KELLY TARTLON’S
The experience runs daily at 10 am and lasts approximately 2.5 hours, including a briefing before and after. They will take up to four people into the tank, so it’s a good idea to book ahead if you have limited time. You can take the shark shuttle bus from the ferry port in central Auckland at 9:30 or hop on a public bus outside the Britomart Transport Centre.
You are greeted by your dive instructor and photographer, both of whom will accompany you on your dive. My instructor was called Teschna and she went through all of the essentials of diving, including safety instructions, technique, equipment and hand signals. There are diagrams and videos to make everything clear and put you at ease.
Pay attention because, in addition to filling out a health questionnaire, you will be asked to take a short quiz to make sure you understood the instructions!
One thing they make clear from the start is that the experience will not lead to a diving qualification. However, you can ask that they send evidence of your dive to PADI so that it counts towards certification in future.
With all the paperwork complete, you are then taken to some changing rooms, where you have as much time as you need to struggle into a thick wetsuit and rubber boots. You attach a weight belt and then climb into the ‘recovery pool’.
Teschna made a point of explaining that this pool is where they allow new sharks to recover from being moved around, before they’re released into the main tank. Apparently, a number of people had mistakenly thought it was there so that divers could recover from the trauma of swimming with the sharks!
In the recovery pool, you put on your buoyancy control device, or BCD, as well as fins, a hood and a face mask. Make sure that the hood is free from your mask. If there isn’t a tight seal, it will leak.
For me, getting into the pool was by far the hardest part of the experience. They have to keep the water temperature cool to keep the sharks and rays happy. The wetsuits keep you pretty warm, but nothing quite prepares you for the first trickle of ice cold water seeping down your back.
In order to dive, you have to first complete a few basic safety skills.
1. Take your regulator out underwater and put it back in
2. Take your regulator out and let it float behind you, then retrieve it with a circle of your arm
3. Half fill your mask with water and clear it by tipping your head back and breathing out through your nose
These can feel quite unnatural and some people do panic. If you relax and concentrate on your instructor’s advice, you should be fine.
DIVING WITH SHARKS AT KELLY TARLTON’S
There’s a rope to help you get down into the tank. Your instructor will signal when it’s ok for you to descend because they don’t want to risk you kicking any sharks with your fins! As you go down, you should equalise the pressure by squeezing your nose and breathing out through it.
If you’re a bit apprehensive, just remember they wouldn’t let you in if it wasn’t safe. If you do accidentally knock a shark, they won’t attack you. Instead they will swim away in fear and probably bump their noses on the tank wall. To reduce the chance of this, they’ve modified the fins so that they’re shorter and better for walking across the bottom of the tank.
Going over the viewing tunnel is a bit of a technical challenge. You have to hold on to suckered handles and leapfrog without scratching the surface. Once you’re clear, you can kneel to the side of the tank and watch the marine life/wave at small children in the viewing tunnel to your heart’s content!
Your photo guy will get you to pose with sharks swimming over your shoulder so you might want to think of some awesome poses beforehand. The ‘thumbs up’ sign is out because in diving language, it means you need to go to the surface. I definitely overdid the diver’s ‘OK’ symbol in my pictures. But take it from me, posing with just your hands is hard work!
After your dive, you can take a very welcome hot shower and get dressed in the changing rooms. You might want to bring some soap and shampoo with you. After all it takes about 10 minutes just to get the wetsuit off, so what’s another couple of minutes freshening up?!
When you’re ready, they take you on a short behind-the-scenes tour of some of the tanks, where animals are recuperating or being housed separately from other species. Then they take you back through to the briefing room to answer any questions you might have and show you a slide show of your photos. It’s worth buying the photo package as the images are totally unique and you can make all your friends jealous of your new shark-shaped USB!
As an extra little touch, they give you a voucher for a free hot beverage at the café. Chances are you will be pretty hungry by this point and there is also a good selection of sandwiches and pastries, as well as deserts. Why not explore the rest of the aquarium when you’re done? The penguins near the entrance are a treat to watch, and the feeding and discovery sessions are really informative.
Shark shuttles back to town are at 20 minutes past the hour. You’ll probably be able to make the one at 2:20 after a dive and a leisurely look around.
SHOULD YOU DIVE WITH SHARKS AT KELLY TARLTON’S?
The Shark Dive Xtreme may not be one of the cheapest activities in Auckland, but it’s definitely worth treating yourself if you’re looking for a unique experience. You will rarely have the opportunity to get up so close to these amazing creatures. The small groups and expert guidance make for an enjoyable dive and you’re guaranteed to keep grinning for the rest of the day. What’s more, if you’re new to diving, this is the perfect way to get a feel for it in a shallow tank (approximately 4 metres). It could ignite a new passion in you and open doors to some fantastic dives in the future.
GETTING TO AUCKLAND
Many people arrive in New Zealand via Auckland’s international airport. If you’re already in the country, Intercity Buses provide services to and from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Paihia (4 hours); Hamilton (2 hours); Rotorua (4 hours); Taupo (5 hours); and Wellington (11 hours). Click on the link below to search for day tours in Auckland and to book onward travel.
I was a guest of Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater Experience. They did not request that I write a favourable review and all of the opinions expressed here are my own.