Hawke's Bay gannet. © annca

Cape Kidnappers’ Gannet Colony: the exhilarating sight of 20,000 gannets


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Some things harness and then reflect significant power over the visitor because of their singular majesty: mountains, iconic buildings, Tāne Mahuta.

Others impress by their sheer compression of large numbers into a restricted space. The gannet colony at the stunning Cape Kidnappers / Te Kauwae-a-Māui certainly falls into the latter category.

These garrulous seabirds normally nest on islands, but since the 1870s, they have called a spot atop these towering cliffs ‘home’ – from September to late April, before they head off for warmer climes.

So if you want to see all 20,000 in one spot, the little gannets (ganettes? Just a thought...) hatch in late November, so from then until February is the best time to catch their cry.

There’s a fab 8km walk to the white cliffs along Clifton Beach – you have to time it with the tides but there’s plenty of signage to help with that.

Kinda cooler, though, is to hook up with a local operator and bounce along on an old John Deere; ‘tractoring in to see the gannets’ you’ll insta and snapchat, excitedly, to which there is no easy nor obvious response.

The ride itself is wondrous, along the beach, across prime Hawke’s Bay farmland, along the cliffs. Indeed, you’ll be atop those barren cliffs and within feet of the immense sound and presence of the birds before you can say anything much at all.

It’s the largest mainland gannet colony in the world and it’s mind-blowing. It’s an amazing press of feathers and bobbing heads, and the views across the landscape are pretty panoramic too. This is a wild wildlife experience of which there is no equivalent. It doesn’t get better than ‘unique’ now, does it?

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