Auckland, New Zealand

Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World

This pioneering project transformed the modern aquarium design by removing previous viewing restrictions and allowing visitors to be submersed in the underwater world. This innovative design was an instant success leading to many international awards and a financial payback of less than one year.

Auckland, New Zealand
Year Opened:
Square meters:




Eyebrows were raised when the late Mr Kelly Tarlton and Mr Ian Mellsop had the idea to build an aquarium in the disused sewerage holding tanks under Auckland's waterfront.

But two years later, in January 1985, Kelly Tarlton's brainchild came to fruition when, after 10 months of construction, Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World was opened. The NZ underground project wasn't easy, but Kelly and Ian were was not to be put off by a challenge.

Never before had a 110-metre long, transparent acrylic tunnel been built so the design was completely innovative. Importing the prefabricated tunnel sections proved to be just too expensive, so they flew in enormous, flat sheets of acrylic from Germany. These were formed into the correct dimensions and then the one tonne sheets were oven heated and curved to the required tunnel shape. Before importing the sheets, Ian and Kelly tested this process on a small piece of the material in his home oven!

The sections were carefully lowered into the site in special order, through a hole in the footpath of Auckland's waterfront. After the tunnels were sealed, everyone took a deep breath as they were tested to ensure they were watertight…and with a sigh of relief… they found no leaks! This was a world first; a transparent, underwater tunnel from which the public could be face to face with Sharks, Stingrays and other marine creatures.

Skilled craftsmen constructed rocky reefs and caves from concrete and Ian and Kelly's staff carefully selected marine life from local coastal waters. Finally, the tanks were filled with filtered seawater and the fish and Sharks moved into their new home, The Underwater World.

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