“Look!” someone gasped. “The fish are glowing!”
Sure enough, a fish awash in brilliant blue swam past. Its eerie outline gave depth to the swarthy slab of sea and I wondered what else was beneath its surface.
Is this a good time to mention I’m scared of the sea? Sat in a kayak in the middle of nowhere on the blackest of nights? I bypassed the panic by chatting to the friendly Canadian tour guide instead.
“This is probably the best we’ve ever seen it,” she told me.
The seas of the Bay of Islands shine bright at night with bioluminescence. When disturbed, micro-organisms emit a ‘cold light’ through chemical compounds mixing together.
It was stunning. The sky was blanketed in cloud and everywhere was dark. All we could see were the twinkling of underwater stars, the sparkles from our paddles, and the glowing fish.
There certainly were a lot of fish.
I wondered how far we were from the boat.
“There was this one time I took this trip and we came across a pod of orcas,” the tour guide mentioned brightly.
Orcas? You mean killer whales?
“Yeah. They were really beautiful.”
Killer whales? You kayaked with beasts the size of my kitchen. On this exact trip. And you’re telling us this now?
“Do you guys remember ‘Free Willy’?”
A slick team of hunting machines that ravage seals, and things that look like seals. Like us. And you’re thinking about ‘Free Willy’?
“If you guys lie back on your kayaks, you can look up at the night sky,” the chirpy little girl continued. “It’s really peaceful.”
Shall I douse myself in salt and pepper as well? Maybe stick a flag up with a downward pointing arrow, just in case the orcas are lost.
Nervously, I leaned back. She was right – it was peaceful. The light rain misted on my face. I could hear it patter on rain jackets and splash into the sea. Beyond this a warm silence oozed.
Then something underneath knocked my boat.
I sat up so quickly I’m surprised I didn’t capsize then and there. Beneath us were hundreds of fish. Glowing ghosts that left trails like shooting stars behind them. Some of them were huge. I’m not talking orca-sized huge, but probably big enough to sink me and throw me in their path.
We paddled through them; the fat ones, the long writhing ones, the fast ones. They had little regard for our kayaks, knocking them gently as they coursed through the water. One struck me with more force than the rest. I giggled as he bashed me playfully, inwardly begging him not to thump any harder. Then he wriggled in front of my kayak and breached, sparkling bubbles cascading from him as he arced.
“I think I just had a Free Willy moment,” I told the tour guide. Only better, because this wasn’t a scary killer whale, it was just a fish showing off his skills and how brightly he could shine.
You can witness bioluminescence (and possibly orcas) with Rock the Boat. They put together a superb few days aboard a boat, where you can snorkel for sea urchins, AND THEN EAT THEM. You do other things too, but I feel it’s mainly about the sea urchins.
Bay of Islands, New Zealand, Nov 2013