Sunday, 22 April 2012

The best rainbow of my life

You know that moment when you really wish you had your good camera?

I missed a (high definition) photo of the eeriest and most beautiful sight I have seen for a long, long time. I was out walking at about 5.30 pm this evening in Cronulla, New South Wales, and to a Pom relatively inexperienced with the Australian weather, it seemed unseasonably warm and humid for Autumn. The ocean waves were roaring into Cronulla beach, and making huge breakers, even for here, and although it wasn't particularly windy, for some reason a thick soupy ocean mist was all around. I'm sure some of the surf-savvy locals could have explained these conditions much better than I can, but everything about the scene, including a rising tide, contributed to the filmic atmosphere. Colours appeared particularly deep and vivid and the horizon over the ocean was barely visible, the sky and the ocean the same deep, rich grey, blended together.

As it has a habit of doing on planet Earth, the Sun was setting to the west (from Cronulla this means inland, in the direction of the Sutherland Shire). As its rays found a gap through the clouds, they lit the whole scene with a golden light and before my eyes the sliver of a rainbow appeared, from my vantage point appearing to come from the headland of South Cronulla. The sliver grew and grew into the fullest, brightest rainbow I have ever seen. Each individual colour in the rainbow was clearly visible, as was the dark band and the second ring of colours, much fainter than the inner. The rainbow stretched all the way from the headland, over the Bate Bay sky and down to Kurnell. I'm lucky I even had it with me on this stroll, but my phone camera picked up at least some of the detail of the rainbow (the full arc was way to big to capture).

I'm sure that somebody out there has taken an even better photo, because almost everyone I could see in the surprisingly lively Cronulla Park had stopped what they were doing to admire the view, and for the risk of sounding cheesy, it was one of those events that makes strangers begin to talk to one another.

What had made the rainbow so beautifully bright was the sheer volume of water vapour in the sky from the ocean mist, coupled with the low angle to the Sun and the fact that from my vantage point, the rainbow was cast onto the entire empty ocean sky that reaches out east in the direction of New Zealand, so nothing got in the way. The whole thing lasted about 10 minutes before the Sun went behind a cloud again. I can't say everything went back to normal after that though, because of the mist and the churning sea (and the grin plastered across my face).

I am now contemplating making it compulsory to take at least my compact camera with me on walks down to the sea, if not my chunky one. I'm off now to read about the physics of rainbows and I might start here (Wikipedia at its brilliant best).

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