Just when I think I’ve visited plenty of bird colonies in New Zealand (and around the world), I end up somewhere entirely new and extraordinary. You can never see it all!
You guys know how much I love birds, so watching this sunset over the gannet colony in Muriwai on New Zealand’s North Island BLEW MY MIND!! Yes, all caps. Multiple exclamation points.
One of the last stops on an epic road trip with my friend Sarah at the tail end of last year, it was so windy when we climbed up the hill to the Muriwai gannet colony. I had seen photos before, but my expectations were average. I was just hoping to see some birds.
Soaring home after several years at sea across the Tasman in Australia, these magnificent birds come home to New Zealand to breed. What have they seen on their journey? How do they know where exactly to come back to again and again and again?
Birds and their intelligence never cease to amaze me. With powerful navigational skills, the tākapu (Australasian gannet) is a white seabird with a meter and a half wingspan that lives in the Southern Ocean.
Pure white with a yellow head and bright blue eyes with neon webbing on their feet, the gannet is striking and an underrated bird here in New Zealand, in my humble birding opinion.
In addition, as a photographer, they are just so much fun to photograph.
A few years ago, I journeyed out the biggest gannet colony in New Zealand at Cape Kidnappers at the tail end of summer when the chicks were growing big and just about to depart the nest.
I had already visited large bird colonies in the subantarctic and Antarctica, and to get to see them in my home country was pretty special. There aren’t too many places left in the world where large bird colonies can thrive.
Between human interference, habitat loss, and climate change, the future for seabirds is pretty bleak unless we act now. After seeing the gannets at Cape Kidnappers, I knew I wanted to see more of them here in New Zealand.
Once the gannets return from Australia back in New Zealand, they stick around.
Usually, the gannets spend spring and summer at the breeding colony. During the winter months, they disperse to local coastal waters. Anytime between September until December, the gannets breed here, and by March or April, the fledglings are ready to migrate.
Pretty incredible to imagine that not long after they are born, the gannets jump out of the nest (not all successfully) and take flight for almost 2000 kilometers to Australia.
Cape Kidnappers isn’t the only place you can find a large gannet colony in New Zealand. For instance, a large number of gannets call Muriwai home on the west coast beaches an hour’s drive from Auckland.
It was chilly and gusting up a storm as we made our way towards the Muriwai cliffs in search of gannets at sunset. The moody clouds promised a potentially colorful display in addition to the Muriwai gannets.
A lone kitesurfer was ripping up the waves on the coast. Flying high in the air and close to the cliffs, it was impressive.
As we wound our way up the coastal path, the scent of seabird poop suddenly assaulted our senses. Getting excited, I couldn’t believe my eyes as we emerged overlooking the cliffs covered with hundreds of gannets.
As the sun began to sink below the horizon, and the skies turned pink, I lost my mind from happiness. Great views, amazing birds, good friends in new places, what more could you ask for?
Seabirds love big winds, and the gannets were able to hover in mid-air, almost like a helicopter. It was extraordinary to witness.
Now the real question is, how many times did I get poo-ed on during this adventure? The winning guess gets a gannet chick. I jest, DOC, I jest. We’re so lucky to have still bird colonies like this one still going in New Zealand – let’s keep it that way!
Have you ever been to a large bird colony before? The Muriwai Gannet Colony? Have you been pooped on by a gannet? Share!