There are three major 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 Hastings, and this one, at the Gannet Rock, Maori Bay near Muriwai, less than 60 kilometres to the North-West of Auckland. The Muriwai colony was only established around 1900, with the gannets displacing the white terns which had previously nested here. Out to sea, the colony continues on two vertical-sided islands. About 1,200 pairs of gannets nest here from August to March each year.
Of the three mainland colonies, this one is the most accessible, as it takes only a short walk to the nesting area.
The nests are just centimetres apart. In the aviation world it would be an air traffic controller's nightmare, but somehow the birds have it under control. Those Gannets coming in to land must glide over the squawking raised beaks of their neighbours - so getting it wrong can be painful. The mature birds have a wingspan of two metres, and their mastery of the onshore updrafts is impressive to say the least.
Each pair lays one egg and the parents take turns on the nest. The chicks hatch naked, but within a week they're covered with fluffy down. As they mature, they grow juvenile feathers and begin to exercise their wings in preparation for the one-shot jump off the cliff. Once airborne, the young gannets leave the colony and cross the Tasman Sea to Australia. A few years later, surviving birds return to secure a nest site at the Muriwai colony.
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