Unique Gannet Bird Colony eco-tour re-opens

One of New Zealand's favorite eco-tours will be re-opening this week after beach access to the Gannet bird nesting sites having been fully restored. Located close to the North Island town of Napier, this experience gets visitors close to the largest land-based Gannet colony in the world. Read more for amazing facts about the Gannet, like it's amazing ability to dive into the sea at over 60 MPH!

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STOP PRESS - WE HAVE JUST BEEN ADVISED THAT ONGOING ISSUES WITH THE ACCESS ROAD TO THE GANNET COLONY HAVE FORCED THE COMMENCEMENT OF THESE TOURS TO BE DELAYED UNTIL OCTOBER 2020. WE WILL KEEP READERS POSTED.

Gannet Beach Adventures operate daily from late September or early October through to late April each year. As the tour is by beach access, departure times are tide dependent and change each day.  There is only one tour per day.  

This is a unique, fun eco-experience tour, situated on the east-coast of the North Island in the sunny Hawke’s Bay region. The tour is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, with personalized service and guides who point out the natural and geological wonders of the area. 

With over 67 years’ experience, Gannet Beach Adventures provides a 4-hour adventure, traveling along the majestically rugged coastline from Clifton to Cape Kidnappers.  During the tour guests will:

  • Spend time with and get incredibly close to the majestic gannets in their natural habitat;
  • Discover how nature has shaped and formed the towering cliffs of the Cape Kidnappers coastline;
  • View ancient earthquake fault lines & fossils, and see gullies formed by wind and water;
  • Enjoy a memorable tour experience while travelling on our iconic vintage tractors.

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Getting to the bird colony

A favorite feature of Gannet Beach Adventures is their unique way of getting to and from Cape Kidnappers - by lovingly restored vintage tractors!

Model T Fords, old trucks and buggies were first used to transport people along the beach, but as a result of the corrosive effects of the harsh environment, tractors were introduced around 1969.

Their fleet of six Minneapolis-Moline tractors are true vintage classics, most of whom have been working hard on the beach for around 35 years. Each unit consists of two trailers, which are purpose built for comfort, safety & maneuverability.

This is a locally owned and operated family business who take pride in offering an experience you will never forget – whether it be because your tractor got stuck, your feet got wet, you saw a penguin or orca that day, you gagged on the smell of the guano, or were just amazed at how much there was to learn! We often have people coming back time and time again, bringing their children then grandchildren along to experience our unique adventure.

Their family of drivers include a wide range of personalities, all of whom have a passion for the Cape and the local area in general. 

The Gannets of Cape Kidnappers 

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Gannets were not mentioned by Captain James Cook during his coastline visit in 1769 which leads us to assume that they have not always been present in this area. Gannets were first noted at Cape Kidnappers in small numbers in about 1850 by Henry Hill, a NZ naturalist.

The Australasian gannet (Takapu) is one of three species of gannet which belong to the booby family.  The Cape now accommodates over 20,000 gannets at peak time, spread over four main nesting sites – the Plateau, Saddle, Whalebone Reef and Black Reef colonies.  Gannets are found in other areas around New Zealand, and around the globe (usually on off-shore islands) but Cape Kidnappers’ claim to fame is that it is the largest mainland nesting site in the world!

The gannets are present at the Cape from August to April of each year for the sole purpose of breeding.  At the age of around 15-16 weeks, the chicks will take their first ever flight – a solo instinctive migration of around 2,800km to Australian waters.  The mortality rate is high with around 70-80% perishing before they have a chance to return. Those that do survive will return to their birth colony at around 2-3 years old, complete with their beautiful adult colouring.  They will then spend the rest of their lives in this area – on land to breed, and New Zealand sea-waters for the winter months.

Gannets are an impressive sight with their defined markings, colouring and their superb elegance in flight.  A diving gannet is a sight to see – they can hit the water at speeds of over 100km/hr! You will see gannet pairs rub their heads and beaks together, preen each other and bow and call to each other – this is done during courtship or when one partner returns to the nest.  Gannets normally mate for life.

Their tolerance towards visitors allows us to get very close without causing disturbance.

A visit to Cape Kidnappers is just one of the attractions of this region, a part of New Zealand that is too often overlooked by visitors. It's the oldest and one of the biggest wine growing regions in the country, it boasts the unique art-deco city of Napier and has some of the best outdoor adventure options to be found.

We include the Hawkes Bay region in our 17-Day 'Amazing Contrasts' suggested itinerary and we can also include it in any tailor made itinerary we create on your behalf.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Dec 19, 2019