Muriwai Gannet Colony

Muriwai Gannet Colony (3 of 13)

Anne and I took our first full day in New Zealand to drive to Muriwai and visit the gannet colony there. There were some pretty spectacular photos in various blog posts that we both saw, and since it was close to Auckland where we had a couple days to get adjusted, it felt like a perfect day trip.

Muriwai Gannet Colony (3 of 3)

I’d seen gannets before in Iceland, but I’d not visited a proper seabird colony since Anne and I cruised the Galapagos. Colonies such as this are vivid because of all the sights, sounds, and smells (a caution here, the smell isn’t pleasant if you happen to be downwind).

Muriwai Gannet Colony (1 of 13)

This colony is situated above Muriwai beach on a very photogenic bluff and sea stack. The birds naturally form evenly spaced nests to ensure they are out of nipping distance from their neighbors, which creates nice symmetry.

Muriwai Gannet Colony (1 of 2) 

(photo by Anne Archambault)

The birds are constantly coming and going, and in this case flying past the view point sometimes as close to 5 or 6 feet. These birds aren’t particularly shy, probably due to the sheer number of visitors on a daily basis. Conditions on the day we visited were overcast and rainy and we still saw close to 40 people.

Muriwai Gannet Colony (5 of 13)

Gannets mate for life and come back to the same spot year after year to raise their young. When the young gannets get large enough to fly, they head to Australia where they tool around for a couple years before returning to the colony to find a mate, secure a nesting spot, and rear their own young. Parents take turns with the chicks, and when a mate returns the pair does what can only be described as a small reunion ceremony of head bobbing, beak tapping, and nodding.

Muriwai Gannet Colony (8 of 13)

Most nesting pairs we saw had eggs, and a small number already had chicks. Others were gathering supplies for their soon to be nests.

Muriwai Gannet Colony (7 of 13)

Like albatross, gannets aren’t very well coordinated on land. On more than several occasions, birds taking off flopped through other nesting birds, receiving pecks along the way until they could throw themselves off the side of the cliff and take flight. Landing was slightly more graceful with birds landing almost directly atop their nests. Gannets at the edge of the cliff must have held prized nesting spots because these were easy to both land and take off from.

Muriwai Gannet Colony (2 of 3)

It’s hard not to be captivated by these birds. Their yellow head with blue eyes make for a striking image. One particular gannet landed quite close to the viewing platform and proceeded to preen itself for 15-20 minutes, frequently looking at us with those dramatic blue eyes.

Muriwai Gannet Colony (2 of 2)

(photo by Anne Archambault)