One thing I never take for granted about New Zealand, after more than four years of living here, is how accessible the sea is. Most Americans have to make a bit of a trek to get to a beach -- and unless you live in a really temperate place like Florida chances are much of the year it's not a swimmable sea.
But Auckland, as I've written about before, has a million kinds of beaches all within a short drive from home. One that I haven't been to we finally visited yesterday, Goat Island Marine Reserve. It's a beautiful spot about 90 minutes north of town where like few other beaches in New Zealand, fish don't worry about being caught and their populations have exploded into life.
And the fish -- huge fish all so tame they'll swim right by you unafraid of being eaten. Blue maomao, gorgeous striped red moki, bulge-eyed cod, little bewhiskered goatfish feeding on the bottom of the sea, and giant snapper. The beach is studded with rock formations that make deep canyons when the tide comes in, and as you float on the sea looking down you feel like you're observing entire hidden cities. I only wish I'd had an underwater camera to capture the sights, but here's a few online pics of fish I spotted.
I realized that I've never really properly snorkeled before. I've worn one but never in a place where the water is clear as glass and so many tame fish come up within inches of you -- one gigantic snapper who seemed to be the size of my torso scared the hell out of us all. Water magnifies, of course, so each of these great mouthed fish seemed like a dinosaur, hugely confident in their environment.
The snorkel takes away one of the big hard parts of swimming, the whole having to breathe thing. With a snorkel I could float, like a spaceman, above the undersea world. It's very peaceful and calming, visiting this other world in the ocean like that.
And so I float.