Muriwai Gannet Colony

Confession time: I am a HUGE nature geek. Always have been, always will be. As much as I love cities, nothing impresses me more than the natural world. I get lost in it. (If you’ve ever spent a day with me at a zoo, you know what I mean). So of course I had to check out the Muriwai Gannet Colony.

Fortunately for me, my road trip-mates let me do all the planning. I got to add in all the pit stops I wanted. #sorrynotsorry

Gannet soaring over the ocean at Muruwai Beach, New Zealand

You can hear the gannets before you see them. Above the general roar of the ocean is another layer of chaotic noise.

You can smell the gannets before you see them. Above the salty tang in the air is something that disrupts that disrupts that clean ocean breeze. That smell, my friends, is bird poop.

And then you see the colony, and it all makes sense. Over 1,200 PAIRS of birds live here with their chicks when the colony is most crowded. The controlled chaos in incredible.

Nesting pairs at the Muruwai Gannet Colony

There are hundreds of screaming birds coming and going in all directions. The fluffy white chicks are dependent on their parents – they call for them the whole time the adults are fishing. The grey adolescents, nearly as large as the white and gold adults, stretch and flap their wings to strengthen them before they try flying. They look like they would love nothing more than to leap off the cliff and soar after their parents.

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In the air, the gannets are completely graceful, soaring over the thunderous ocean on their 2-metre wings. Despite the hundreds of nests all just a few centimetres from each other, they usually make it home without causing too much carnage – although there are a few crashes from time to time.

Hundreds of identical-looking nests and chicks, and yet they always make it back to the right one. It boggles my mind.

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The chicks are born in November, and make their first big flight after about 15 weeks of growing. It literally is their “first big flight”. As soon as they make the leap off the cliff, the young gannets fly straight from the Muriwai Colony to Australia, and don’t come back for a few years. Talk about learning on the fly.

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When we were at Muriwai in mid-February, there were still a few fuzzy late chicks left. However, from what I’ve read, the best time to see the colony at its fullest is in December.

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Essential Info:

Cost: Free! (except transportation)

How to Get there: It’s pretty simple to get out to Muriwai from Auckland, just hop onto State Highway 1 and head West. We were coming from Piha Beach a bit farther south, and took the Scenic Drive (literally called “scenic drive”, and yes, it is gorgeous). You might be able to find a day tour to take you out there as well, depending on the season.

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15 Comment

  1. 1200 pairs of birds is A LOT! Looks like such a cool experience – you took some great photos!

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      SO many birds! And from what I’ve now learned, that isn’t even the biggest colony in the country! Thanks for reading, I’m glad you like the photos!

  2. neha says: Reply

    I love the picture of those hundreds of birds out there like tiny fluffy spots. Must be so wonderful to watch real time. I have never been to this part. Wish I get a chance to see it

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      It is definitely a moment that you wish you had Sir David Attenborough standing over your shoulder, narrating the whole scene. The amount of birds to look at, all doing something different is a bit overwhelming. I hope you make it to New Zealand soon to see it for yourself!

  3. I must admit, I am terrified of birds, so this would’ve been somewhat of a nightmare for me. BUT, I am a huge nature geek and love your photo of the lookout onto the water. Your trip reminds me of the time we drove along the coast in California and got some similar views.

  4. Katie says: Reply

    Wow so many birds! I am not a big fan of birds (or their poop!) but this has given you some fantastic photographs. Thanks for the post!

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      Haha, we escaped looking at the gannets poop-free! Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos!

  5. Deni says: Reply

    I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of birds, but it’s incredibly cool to learn that their families are in pairs! And you weren’t kidding about the baby birds having to learn on the fly! That’s quite the trek! (Also the little fluffy ones are super cute!)

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      They’re not usually my go-to for favourite animals, but there isn’t really a lot of other natural wildlife in New Zealand. So, I’ve become a bird-lover as a result lol. Could you imagine finally standing up as a baby and then being told you’ve got to go run a marathon?! I don’t know how they do it! And yeah, those little weirdo babies are super cute 🙂

  6. I have never seen so many birds in one place! They are beautiful and seem very happy in this natural setting. I haven’t been to New Zealand yet, but am going to the south island in January. I hope the next time I go I can include Muriwai. It looks very much worth the trip.

  7. Soraya says: Reply

    Interesting that there is like 1,200 birds that live here. I am quite similar to Diana where I too am quite terrified of birds, so I am not sure how I would have gone here. But I am a massive nature geek too! I am fascinated by nature and love seeing colonies of animals.

  8. Sarah says: Reply

    I’m also slightly terrified of birds, especially when there is a huge gathering in one spot! It’s so funny the way they line up in such a formation. If I ever find myself in this part of the world I will try to forget that I am scared of birds and pay it a visit anyway!

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      Yeah, they freak me out a bit sometimes too. But fortunately, these birds usually don’t come anywhere near the viewing platforms. They’re much more interested in fishing and caring for their young. So no worries about rogue birds coming at you!

  9. Ticking the Bucketlist says: Reply

    Such lovely pics… especially the overhead shots. Which is the best month to see these birdies? How much time should I budget if I leave from Auckland?

    1. Lisa Martin says: Reply

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos! These were all taken around mid-February, although I’ve read that its best to go in December for maximum amount of birds living in the colony. However, the trade-off would be that it is peak season and also maximum amount of other tourists. From the heart of the CBD, the colony is about 45 minutes one-way (providing Auckland traffic isn’t too bad). It is a beautiful drive for the most part, though. I spent about an hour walking between the different lookouts, and just watching the birds come and go. Your mileage may vary depending on how interesting you find the birds in person – hope this helped and you have a good time!

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