As an Alberta Girl living in New Zealand, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a few unique experiences in this little country in the middle of nowhere. And one of my favourites was visiting the Muriwai Gannet Colony located about an hours drive from downtown Auckland.
Gannets are fascinating birds. They’re about twice as big as a seagull, and amazingly adept at catching fish. They can dive at speeds over 140km/hr to catch their prey!
Now, I had never seen a gannet before. I’m pretty sure we don’t have them in Alberta as they’re more of an ocean bird, and there’s not much ocean in the middle of the landlocked prairies of Canada.
But Auckland has a vast amount of ocean (two different ones in fact), and the gannets residing here fly over 2700km from Australia to get to their breeding site at Muriwai Beach. Around 1200 pairs of gannets nest on the cliff face, and it is truly spectacular.
We visited the colony in November 2020, which was a perfect time to go as there was a huge range in the ages of the babies. All sizes were represented from newly hatched chicks, to those just starting to get their adult feathers. What was most surprising was how close you could get to the birds, which made for some great photos! The backdrop of Muriwai and the Tasman Sea on the rugged NZ west coast brought it all together.
The day was blustery and the clouds were dark, threatening to open up and soak us with rain. Apparently this is perfect surfing weather because the little parking lot was full of vans and wagons with surf boards strapped to their roofs, the owners strategically changing into their wetsuits in the open air.
As we strolled along the walkway, every so often the brisk breeze would settle and the air was filled with the aroma of thousands of birds. It wasn’t exactly pleasant so I was thankful for the strong breeze carrying most of the scent out to sea.
Watching these birds go about their business was like seeing a David Attenborough documentary unfold right before your eyes. When a person just stops, and takes the time to let nature do its thing, without human intervention, is when you see the really amazing moments.
There were the birds returning from sea, bringing back food for their hungry chick, and greeting their mate with a private dance known only to the two of them.
There were the birds cuddled in their nest with their fledgling, keeping them warm from the harsh ocean winds, and safe from any predators stalking the nests.
And then there were the lovebirds, shy at first then losing themselves in the throws of passion. Ok, maybe it was just a bunch of squawking and one jumped on top of the other only to be done 10 seconds later, but you get the picture I’m trying to paint here.
The Muriwai Gannet Colony is a very special place, and one of the few remaining spots where you can still see nature in its raw natural state. It is one of those places I hope will be around for years to come, and future generations to enjoy!