A forty minute long pleasant drive from Albany, through scenic farmlands and small vineyards on both sides, takes you to Muriwai beach with its black sand dunes, wind sculpted tall trees, flat rocks and cliffs lined with flax plants. Muriwai beach is one of the few places in the world where gannets nest on the mainland.
A smooth trail up the flattened rocks would take less than fifteen minutes walk and as you reach the raucous gannet colony, the viewing platforms help you get close view of the birds. Gannets are native to New Zealand. I find the Maori names for the native birds quite interesting as I feel that the names sound like the bird calls! There are Kereru (pigeon), korora( penguins), kaka, kea(mountain parrots), pukeko (swamp hen) and so on. Gannets are called ‘Takapu’ in Maori.
There are flat rocks and a flattened cliff below, where hundreds of gannets nest. Like most of the native birds, gannets too are fearless in human presence. The gannets look elegant while flying yet there is something comical about their gait. Is that a smile or a frown? Those clearly outlined beaks leave you baffled! Nevertheless the gannet in flight is magnificent, spreading their two metre wingspan, they glide and swoop wth grace.
A magnificent gannet in flight
It is pretty fascinating to know that gannet pairs bond for life. The female lays one egg, both male and female take turns in hatching the egg; they warm the eggs using their webbed feet. Gannets co-parent the young ones. When they are about four months, the young birds take off to Australia crossing the Tasman sea and after four years return to New Zealand to breed and never to go back!
The birds have binocular vision and have air sacs in their face and chest, under their skin, which help them while diving deep into the sea to catch fish. Their excessive eating habits led to the slang ‘gannet’ for a gluttonous person!
In the golden light of the setting sun the sight of hundreds of nesting gannets of Muriwai Beach was a splendid experience!