Gannet Safari

Gannet Safari

Te Awanga, New Zealand – January 31, 2018

I guess one could say Napier is our favorite city in New Zealand since we visited thrice.  One of our favorite spots to visit in the area is the gannet colony.  So, with my parents in tow, we drove from Napier to the Gannet Safari headquarters.  It is a short drive, maybe 20 or 25 minutes.

We departed headquarters on a bus at about 09:30. In less than one kilometer, the bus turned from the highway onto the private road to Robertson Lodges.  These are exclusive accommodations.  They range in price from around NZ$1,000 per night to NZ$13,500 per night.  The 18-hole golf course there is currently ranked as number 16 out of 100 by GolfDigest.  To play 18 holes is about NZ$495 for non-New Zealand residents.

Robertson Lodges is the brainchild of Julian Robertson, a hedge fund billionaire.  He bought the roughly 6,500 acres (2,630 hectares) at Cape Kidnappers for his lodge and golf course.  In New Zealand, instead of calling it a sheep farm or ranch, it is called a station.

As one approaches the lodges, one enters a wildlife sanctuary.  Robertson is working hard to bring back indigenous flora and fauna to the Hawkes Bay area of New Zealand.

Shortly after passing the golf course, the four-wheel-drive bus diverts onto dirt roads.  Manuka trees line the dirt road.  I had not paid attention before, but the manuka trees are the flowering trees from which bees ultimately make manuka honey.

At roughly the halfway point, the bus stops at an overlook.  Our driver/guide allowed us to disembark and view the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers.  One can easily see the various volcanic layers exposed in the cliff face.  At the overlook, one can see a danger sign, warning about the danger of the cliffs.  The “railing” is much different than the railings at the Colorado National Monument.  The fences at the monument are roughly one meter (3.2 feet) high.  The railings at Cape Kidnappers are a mere 25-centimeters (10-inches) high.  One does not want to stand too close.

Cape Kidnappers cliffs.
The cliffs at Cape Kidnappers. Napier is at the far shore.

Along the dirt road, the bus passed through numerous gates.  After all, we were driving through a working sheep and cattle ranch.  Since we sat near the front of the bus, I volunteered to open and close the gates.  That made it easier for the driver/guide.  He did not have to get in an out of the bus.  Instead, I got in and out to operate the gates.

A few minutes later, the bus made a U-turn and stopped atop the mesa inhabited by the gannet colony.  All of the tourists streamed off the bus and began snapping photographs of the birds.  These particular birds are the Australasian gannets.  The adults are white with yellow and black accents.  The birds’ wingspan averages 1.8 meters (5.9 feet).  The average weight is 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds).

The colony.

The noise is quite loud at the colony. All of the birds; the adults at the nest, the chicks, and the flying adults trying to find their nest, call out incessantly. Exactly how one finds another is a real mystery to me.

The birds make their nest using sea kelp and their feces.  Yes, that does lend itself to a rather strong odor at the colony.  When the young chicks hatch, they have very fluffy, white feathers.  As they grow older, the feathers take on a mottled gray and white.  The adult male and female gannets take turns at the nest and feeding.  The adult at sea feeds on small fishes.  When the adult bird returns to the nest, the chick uses its beak to knock at the adult’s beak to induce the regurgitated goodness that is warm, partially digested fish…yum, yum!

You lookin’ at me?!

The nesting sites are very arid. There is no source of freshwater.  The gannet adults and chicks get their freshwater intake from the fish.  Additionally, they have glands that help them shed the salt they ingest from their fishing and diving into the sea.

When the chicks take their first flight, it is a roughly 2,500 kilometer (1,553 miles) journey to Australia, nonstop. That is a fantastic feat.

Walking to the edge of the cliff, one can look down on yet another gannet colony. It is much smaller, but every bit as lively. Just beyond the gannet colony is a rock formation the driver/guide referred to as Sharks Tooth Island. It is easy to see how it got its name when one looks at the shape. I was surprised how visible the island was from the terrace at our motel.

Lower gannet colony with Sharks Tooth Island in the background.

Looking to the north, one can see an alternate way to get to the gannet colony. At low tide, one can pay to ride on a flatbed trailer behind a tractor. The tractor trundles along the beach, depositing passengers near a trailhead. The passengers can then walk up the trail to the gannet colony. I must say I am thrilled we opted for the bus.

An alternate method of getting to the gannet colony.

While we were at the gannet colony, the driver/guide made some tea and coffee. He offered that with some biscuits — a lovely gesture.

On the way back to headquarters, I was on gate detail again.

Then it was back to Napier to relax.  One of my favorite parts of relaxing was watching the spectacular sunrises from our terrace.

Dropping from the sky.
Searching…searching.
The drop or the plop.
“Teenage” calisthenics.
“Teenage” calisthenics 2.
“Teenage” calisthenics 3.
“Teenage” calisthenics 4.
An intense look for the nest.
Checking the wind.
A tired “teenager.”
Preparing to drop in.
Pre-flight check.
A gannet siesta.
The younger and the older.
Intent stare.
Gannets-eye view.
“Teenager.”
Young chick.
The youngest gannet chick on the day we visited the colony.
Cape Kidnappers cliffs II.
DANGER!!
Sunrise and fishing boat…version 2.
Sunrise and fishing boat.
Norfolk Pine trees at sunrise.
Seagull sunrise at Napier.
Readying for takeoff.
Final approach.
Searching for the nest.
A “teenager” exploring away from the nest.
Taking a snooze.
Hunting for their landing spots.
The landing pattern is always very busy.
The gannet colony. The young gannet at the center foreground looks dead. In reality, it was just sleeping soundly.
Final approach.
Gannet colony and some spectators. Take note of the two seated spectators.
Lower gannet colony with Sharks Tooth Island in the background.
Gannets everywhere.
Sharks Tooth Island as seen from our motel terrace.
Art deco corner.
The art deco Haynes building.
Negotiating the landing…
Gannet landing at the colony.
Searching for Dory!
Feeding time.
Little Blue penguins swimming at the National Aquarium.
Little Blue penguin.
Seagull diving at the sun.
Seagull sunrise.
Napier sunrise.
Sun’s first peek.

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