A whole new water world
Bigger stingrays, swarms of jellyfish and more time with the penguins are all on the cards for the new-look Kelly Tarlton's.
The Auckland aquarium has undergone a $5.5 million upgrade and will relaunch as Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium on Thursday.
Since work started in February, the tourist hotspot has grown to more than 30 exhibits teeming with more than 80 different species.
At the heart of the development are eight new themed zones, including New Zealand's first ever jellyfish display, the world's only display of Spiny Sea Dragons and some rather large stingray - one weighing more than 240kg.
The crowd-favourite penguins are also becoming more accessible, with the average time visitors spend with them set to jump from about two minutes to 25, thanks to the removal of the 18-year-old snow cat machines and the introduction of a themed, walk-through ice cave.
Changes have also been made to the famous Shark Tunnel, which will now be the site of a sunken 9m-long waka and Pasifika theme. The new Rockpool experience will let visitors hold a crab or touch a starfish.
It has been eight years since the aquarium's last major development and general manager James Thomas said the new additions are there to highlight the treasures buried within Kelly Tarlton's.
"We've adjusted lighting and sound effects. Even if the tank itself hasn't changed, everything around it has, so it's quite a different feel and experience for visitors.
"With an attraction like ours you've just got to keep changing and keep people interested each time they come."
The aquarium's parent company, Merlin Entertainment, is behind the multi-million dollar investment which they committed to when they purchased the aquarium in April 2011. The company is the world's largest aquarium operator with 40 attractions around the world.
Thomas said the international perspective had made Kelly Tarlton's take a look at their approach to the visitor experience.
"[Overseas] the attractions are heavily themed and you lose yourself, whether it is in a shipwreck or a jellyfish disco as they have in some of the aquariums.
"It is a completely different way of looking at things. Kelly Tarlton's has always been about what's in the tank and let's minimise everything else - black out the lighting, just focus on the animals."
Behind the revamp, Thomas said, education was still at the heart of what they do.
"Education is the primary reason why we function. And that was Kelly Tarlton's dream - let people come through and experience what they wouldn't normally see in their everyday lives... and educating visitors about the importance of conserving New Zealand's sea life, protecting animals and their habitats.
"[The refurbishment] just takes it to that next level."