A Spectacular Night Dive at Baxter’s Reef

Baxter’s Reef in South Bay of Kaikoura, New Zealand, is an Aquatic Gem and one of my
personal favourite sights to dive. It is a sight that is great diving for both beginner and
advanced divers. With an abundance of marine life during the day, my buddy Dom and I
thought we would go have a look after dark, camera in hand. As many divers know, diving a
sight at night is a completely different world, and Baxter’s is no exception. While we had
dived Baxter’s reef at night before, we had never done so specifically for photography and
with no time restrictions except the air remaining in our tanks. There was no doubt we were
in for a treat.

We swum out to the “school” which is a large open area with a sandy bottom at the edge of
the reef just after the sun had disappeared and a large moon was on the horizon. We
descend and enter the reef. The first thing I come across is a large crayfish walking about,
not a care in the world and something I would usually target, however not this time. With
the use of a red light, the cray was not worried about me and seemed to be almost
oblivious. As I got closer, I noticed he wasn’t alone. He was with a small Terakihi, and they
seemed to almost be playing. This was something I had never seen before, a crustacean and
a fish wandering and exploring the reef together under the cover of night. After a while the
cray seemed to get a bit wary of me and partially hid under a rock with the small terakihi
not leaving his side. I decided to move on and let them be, but not before snapping a couple
of photos.

What I came across next was something I had only heard about a couple of weeks prior
after studying some of the marine life that we have on offer here in New Zealand, a Walking
Sea Anemone. Little did I know, I had seen them during the day dozens of times before and
taken little notice of them thinking they were some form of eggs. During the day these
creatures turn themselves inside out and have the appearance of a ball of eggs, however at
night they open up and bloom into a beautiful anemone swaying in the surge like a flower in
the wind. As I take a good look around, I notice quite a number of them starting to open up
and “walk” around the reef on their slug like foot. This being how they have earned their
name. Seemingly wandering around the reef in search of a place to find food and a calm
place to settle for the next day. Some had found themselves in amongst the weeds flowing
in the surge up to a meter either way and others on more solid ground, again moving back
and forth in the current attempting to catch food in their tentacles.

Swimming on from there I came around a rock only to find a beautiful large Butterfish
sleeping in the kelp, vertically. I had seen fish sleeping before, but not like this. The
Butterfish had its pelvic fins “wrapped” around a stalk of kelp about 2 metres up, holding on
so it wouldn’t get swept away by the current and surge. It didn’t take much to wake the fish
and it simply let go and gracefully drifted down and out of the kelp in search of a new perch
for the night after being rudely disturbed. I decided not to pursue and to see what else
could be hanging around in this area as it seemed to be a little more protected from the
surge with smaller, less harsh water movement. I found more large Crayfish just walking about, massive Hermit crabs fighting, anemones waving about, and as I look more closely around and under rocks, I find a large snail. At first thought snails seem rather boring, but when you look closely, they are pretty cool creatures with stunning patterns on what I would call their head. Seeing it almost completely out of its shell sucking on the rock was amazing to see as snails generally keep well within their shell for protection during the day. As our tanks begin to get low, Dom and I start heading back towards the “school.” Just as we think it couldn’t get any better, a local Stingray graces us with its presence giving Dom a hell of a fright as it swims overhead and down right in front of him and off into the distance. I
come across a baby Octopus the size of my thumb, who seems to be just as interested in me as I in it. However, in the blink of an eye, its gone. As we get back to the school and surface, Dom and I can hardly contain ourselves and are blown away by the incredible dive we just had. And to top it all off we lay on our backs for the surface swim back to shore and observe the glittering night sky.

It was amazing to see how the creatures we see being very cautious and wary during the
day seem to drop their guard and open up, almost becoming curious of something they
would otherwise run from. It was an amazing experience to passively observe a marine
environment and how it can change under the night sky and gain a new respect to a sight I
already appreciated. Night dives will never be the same.


By Matthew Robinson:

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