The Muriwai Gannet Colony

There are three Australasian gannet nesting colonies on New Zealand's mainland, one at Farewell Spit at the very Northern tip of the South Island, one at Cape Kidnappers near Napier, and this one, at Muriwai beach North West of New Zealand's largest city, Auckland.

Muriwai is one of Auckland's so-called "West Coast" beaches, with good fishing, strong winds and rough waves.  These conditions attract not only the gannets, but also surfers, who you can just see as small dots immediately to the right of the top of this gannet nesting rock.

gannet colony on an offshore rock

This colony was only established around 1900, with the gannets displacing the white terns which had previously nested here.

closeup of the gannet colony nesting rock

In 1975 the birds were out of space and started nesting on the mainland proper.   At the top left of this photo you can see one of the viewing platforms packed with onlookers which provide a good view of the birds while keeping people at a safe distance.  You can also get a good idea of how wild the coastline is in these parts.   In the foreground you can see the long stalks of the native flax, which provided materials for the native Maori people to build mats, bags and skirts, and whose flowers provide food for native birds like the tui.

mainland gannet nesting colony

You can often see the gannets soaring around the cliffs on the ever-present winds.   As you might expect of a maritime bird, they're very good at gliding, with wingspans up to 180cm (around six feet).

gannet gliding above stormy water

Gannets feed by diving from high up into a school of fish near the surface of the water.   Just before they hit the water, they hold their wings out straight and bend them so they're pointing completely backwards, so they don't get damaged when hitting the water at high speed.   They also take a gulp of air, which fills air sacs in their neck, providing cushioning just like an airbag in a car.

closeup of a gannet gliding above the water