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bioluminescence 2

I booked a night paddle for my husband and I with Atlantic Sea Kayaking during our holiday in West Cork.  We are both experienced white water paddlers and Ross is even a coach.  If it wasn’t for kayaking we wouldn’t have met.  Our sea kayaking has taken us as far as the Slate Islands in Scotland, to Devon, Wales and even Northern Ireland.  However the one paddling trip we still had to tick off was a night safari to experience the phenomenon that is ‘bioluminescence.’

It is a myth that you need to travel all the way to Thailand or the tropics to experience bioluminescence.  Lough Hyne was carved out during the last ice age and only has a narrow channel connecting it to the sea.  The Loch stays just warm enough to allow a whole variety of marine life to live in waters which would usually be too cold to support them.

We met the rest of the group at Reen Pier.  Ross and I had so much equipment between the two of us that the instructor said he would be happy to sit back and let us tow the rest of the group to Spain.  If ever the end of the world is imminent at least I know my husband will be prepared for it.

IMGP0033Strapped into our dry suits, buoyancy aids and spray decks we headed out as the sky darkened.  The sea was calm, the stars bright and the phosphorous began to appear. Every dip of the paddle brought flashes of blue light just below the surface.

The instructor explained that when plankton is disturbed, they think they are under attack, so they make the light to attract larger predators to scare their attackers away.  To be honest I didn’t really care why they did it.  Who in their right mind would want to take on the brain of a plankton, but the effect was extraordinary.

Bioluminescence needs total darkness so we paddled into a sea cave.  The walls closed in and within a few seconds it was pitch black.  I did a series of draw strokes and suddenly an entire galaxy of stars exploded from the tip of my paddle, sending fading constellations of pale blue lights swirling out in the black.  The only sound was the quiet splash of our paddle and the breathing of a nearby seal.  Our lives back home couldn’t have felt more distant.  Ross’ face was a picture.

This trip is truly one of the most magical experiences you can have anywhere in the world. Ross even went as far as saying it was his best present ever.  (Amazing wife strikes again!) I will never forget paddling back to Reen Pier and the way my bow wave looked as though it was on fire.

Cork was recently voted one of the top new destinations by Lonely Planet.  Just make sure when you go there you won’t spend the whole time examining the stars in the Guinness and get out on the water.

There is a whole host of marine life to see too.  Seals, otters, dolphins, porpoises, and sometimes even whales and basking sharks can be seen whilst sea kayaking.  The only sad thing about the trip is bioluminescence doesn’t come out in photographs.  But even more reason to get out there and experience it for yourself.

Reluctantly we had to abandon the magical nocturnal world.  In hindsight I wish I had done a few rolls in that starry water.  The one time a kayaker would be pleased to have to pop their deck and swim.

IMGP0044Just incase you catch any mackerel while out paddling here is a recipe for my favourite mackerel pate.  The beauty of this recipe is that with minimal effort you can have an impressive dinner party starter, or healthy lunch/snack that all your friends and family can enjoy.  Perfect for summer dining.

IMGP9879 Serves 4

Time: 12 minutes.


225g/8oz smoked mackerel fillets from sustainable sources (in season spring-autumn)

125g cream cheese

2 tbsp horseradish sauce

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

2tbsp fresh parsley chopped finely

2-3 spring onions chopped finely

Black pepper and sea salt to season

Fresh bread to serve


IMGP9877Preparation Method:

1) Remove the skin and any bones from the mackerel fillets and flake the flesh.

2) Mix the fish with the lemon zest, juice, spring onions, cream cheese and horseradish sauce.

IMGP98803) Add the parsley, pepper and sea salt.  Chill until ready to serve.

4) Serve with fresh bread or toast.  Delicious!