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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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