It’s absolutely amazing. I had no idea that you could get so near to them.” Gary, from England, was astonished. “So close they’re touchable!” he said. Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve was the main reason he had come to Napier. Already his trip had been worth it. It was great to witness to his enjoyment in one of my favourite places.
Face to face these birds are amazing. With a wingspan of 1.8 to 2 metres, these members of the booby family live in the world’s largest, and most spectacular, mainland nesting colony. Their pale honey-gold heads and Cleopatra eyes are impressive singly, however when multiplied by 15,000 it’s spectacular and watching them fish as they swoop and dive from great heights is wonderful.
“Whew, it smells like a zoo” said one of my companions when we arrived at the Black Reef colony. It was early in the nesting season and most were sitting on eggs. A few newly hatched chicks were visible from under the protective feathers of the parent, little bundles of white fluff oblivious to the pungent odour. Over-head, parents are gliding, soaring, hovering and bringing gifts of seaweed streamers as well as fish to feed the youngsters who have to develop before they to fly to Australia in a few weeks. When the adults land, we watch as they greet each other, necking and preening as they reunite
Those companions on this sunny summer day are: a sculptor from The Netherlands and a bird watcher from the South of England, were staying at the same backpackers as I. An early morning start had us arriving three hours after the tide had started to ebb. Rex, our shuttle bus driver, gave us five hours to complete the sixteen kilometres walk and be back at Clifton for him to return us to Napier before the tide trapped us for the night.
Some of the other visitors to the three colonies which make up the Gannet Reserve were; a Canadian woman who had arrived by quad bike; a ten-year old, visiting with his class, tells me ‘It stinks’; while a young Australian woman puffed ‘It’s well worth the climb’ as she reached the main Plateau Colony, a twenty-minute walk up from the beach. Awarding winning artist, Wellingtonian Rosemary Mortimer, was there to revisit the dramatic landscape. Her exhibition “Journey to Cape Kidnappers” concentrated on the cliff fault-lines. She said Cape Kidnappers is unique, with different elements combining into powerful images. Sitting on the ground, enjoying our picnic, we agree with her.
For those who enjoy walking, it’s a sixteen kilometre walk along the beach. Shaun, also from Rotterdam thought the walk under the towering cliffs was really great, “People need to know how good the walk is, I really loved it’ he told me. It’s the best part of the day, even better than the birds.”
Quad bikes are popular for adventurous people! It’s fun to slowly carve your way over and around the rocks while dodging the waves that lap at your feet. For about forty years a tractor and trailer journey along the beach has been a fun way to visit the colony. A recent visitor from New York thought it a highlight of her visit to NZ. The driver, a local with many years experience, stops along the way to explain some of the physical features as well as information about the birds. An ex army vehicle called a unimog is a quick and easy way to travel under the beautiful cliffs on the way out to the Cape. A taped commentary tells of the earth’s movements that created this scene. Like the tractor option, the unimog will also pick you up from the Napier Visitors Centre or you can meet at Clifton. The fourth option travels overland through native bush and rolling pastures to within a few feet of the birds. As no walking is involved this way is particularly suitable for those who cannot or don’t wish to walk. An advantage is that this trip is not tidal dependent so it leaves at a regular time daily unlike the others which change daily to accommodate the tide.
December to April is the best time for viewing these special dual nationality birds.