“It was like seeing something unreal,” the woman told the New Zealand Herald. “I thought my eyes are playing a trick on me. I had to ask my partner if he sees the same as me.”
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“So I asked him to pull over so I could take a photo.”
As it later turned out, a New Zealand resident on the beach near Mount Maunganui saw an optical illusion called Fata Morgana, otherwise known as a mirage.
Fata Morgana mirages significantly distort the object or objects on which they are based, often such that the object is completely unrecognizable. A Fata Morgana may be seen on land or at sea, in polar regions, or in deserts.
The optical phenomenon occurs because rays of light are bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion where an atmospheric duct has formed.
A thermal inversion is an atmospheric condition where warmer air exists in a well-defined layer above a layer of significantly cooler air. This temperature inversion is the opposite of what is normally the case; air is usually warmer close to the surface, and cooler higher up.