Sharks are magnificent creatures, gliding silently through the depths of the sea, while haunting some peoples innermost fears. But I love sharks. I think they are the oceanic kings and queens, and deserve our utmost respect when in their territory.
I have had the fortune to swim twice with sharks. The first was a scuba-diving experience in an aquarium, and although it was unforgettable the sharks were well-fed, aged, slowly creatures. Most people would be happy swimming with uninterested, geriatric sharks, but I felt it was lacking the fear-induced thrill I was expecting. So to resolve this, my fiancé and I thought we’d try out Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland. Lucky we did!
Kelly Tarlton’s offers Shark Dives (scuba diving required), but as that had already been ticked off my list, I thought the Shark Cage was the encounter of choice. After receiving our Shark Cage Participant pass and changing into the always-unflattering and firm wetsuits, we headed to the “Cage.” This turned out to be less cage and more string net with a Perspex base. I guess I was chasing a fear-induced thrill.
The extremely knowledgable and jovial guide provided us with one warning: do NOT put fingers through the net in an attempt to touch the sharks. That would seem fairly obvious but apparently bloody fingers have resulted from needless prodding of sharks. I have no words for those people except “don’t poke the bear” (or in this case shark). Literally, don’t.
Dire warnings given and snorkels distributed, we all jumped in the cage/net and the cage was submerged into the aptly titled “Predator Tank.” What followed was a fantastic and surreal 15 minutes of snorkelling with a variety of shark species – sand, wobbegong, and tiger sharks to name a few. These sharks weren’t of the geriatric variety either; they were young, lean and looked bloody hungry. They moved swiftly and were unpredictable. They were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Stingrays serenely drifted along, similiar to birds floating on air currents, and smaller fish swam about I’m guessing just waiting to be eaten.
Now we knew not to poke the bear (i.e. sharks), but we weren’t told not to make eye contact. In my defence, I was mesmerised by one in particular (can’t remember the species), and I caught its eye as it swam past. Visually caught its eye, not literally. Well, that shark did the fastest u-turn I’ve seen and approached mere centimetres from the cage. Being face-to-face with a shark with only a mesh net separating us was daunting. I definitely felt the thrill I was looking for but I’m no fool. I dropped eye contact and the shark continued on its merry way… probably looking for another dumb Shark Cage participant to try and stare it down. So to recap – do not poke the sharks, do not make eye contact with the sharks. Capiche?
The Shark Cage encounter is really worth the time and money. To be so close to these stunning but aloof creatures is rare (which is a good thing obviously) and the cage offers a safer way to experience such an encounter. No diving experience is necessary so even the most nervous Nellies can give this a go, unless you are nervous of wearing a wetsuit in public. Nothing can make that experience better.
There were so many interesting attractions at Kelly Tarlton’s besides the Shark Encounters and of course, popular Shark Tunnel. The Antarctic Ice Adventure was a fun way to get up close and personal with a King and Gentoo penguin colony. We took a cool (literally) ride around their home on a mini-train and saw penguins sleeping, swimming and eating their way through the day.
Besides, penguins there is also a fanastic replica of Captain Scott’s Antarctic hut. It really gave a glimpse into the life of the explorer while on the ice. Tweed clothing (wet, heavy, freezing), meagre food and medical supplies, the cumbersome, heavy exploration equipment that was shipped to Antarctica. But it also showed the ingenuity of Scott and his team, for example sewing seaweed into a quilt and placing into the walls for insulation. Clever! There is also a great time line of the exploration of Antarctica.
There is so much to explore and learn at Kelly Tarlton’s, and if all that doesn’t cut it, I know the Giant Squid will.