Revisiting the same dive sites for a whole new experience
Goat Island Marine Reserve
The first time I visited Goat Island, I was thrilled beyond belief to witness 2 eagle rays gliding gracefully together under the waves. That however, was the last time for several visits that I saw them, despite them being one of the most commonly sighted animals around Goat Island. Nothing to do with the conditions or them being chased out of the area by dolphins (actually happened), but I was unfamiliar with the area, the layout, what animals frequent what depths, I was basically just unfamiliar.
It turns out, rays are pretty easy to find at Goat Island, and in fact almost any seaside location around New Zealand. Snorkeling or diving with them is one of the most peaceful experiences, the way they undulate through the water, it’s gorgeous. I’d recommend Goat Island and Stingray Bay in the Coromandel as 2 of the best places in NZ to snorkel with rays, the water gets deeper at a mild slope so you can control your depth fairly easily and the rays themselves swim and rest so close to shore that you barely have to get your toes wet to enjoy them.
As a side note, it might be helpful to know that I am very stubborn and also a little arrogant when it comes to the aquatic, I have been obsessed with the ocean for as long as I can remember and I tend to think I can manage anything on my own and know more than most people can tell me about the sea. Which as a type, I realise sounds incredibly dumb….
Testament to this being: one of the best experiences I’ve had at Goat Island was when I took a guided snorkel tour and the guide kindly located a Clown Doris nudibranch for me and let me use his weight belt to dive down and get a great view and some photos. The nudi was several metres down and was so tiny, no more than a few centimetres, there is literally no way I would’ve found it by myself. Moral of that story? Don’t pass up the opportunity to have someone who swims the area every day to show you around…
Another factor (one not to be ignored or underestimated) on any snorkelling experience though is luck. You can plan to the absolute best of your abilities and factor in geography, weather, seasonal migrations and recent sightings but at the end of the day, you cannot control what is going to show up on that day.
That’s half of the joy though, that’s why I love snorkelling and freediving, you literally never know what you’re going to see, and I adore that. One visit to Goat Island, I was slowly meandering back into shore and ready to call it a day when I came across a beautiful, peaceful, floating squad of squid!
Even the dive staff said I was lucky to come across them, and even moreso to be able to spend time swimming with them. They’re elusive and usually shy of human company, and you rarely come across them at such a popular tourist spot. But on this day they were bold, sitting just a few metres from shore, and I had a wonderful 20 minutes with them. You can’t plan for an experience like that, you just have to keep revisiting those old sites because you never know when you’ll have the best day ever.