Hiking New Zealand – Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colonies

We usually opt for a fair bit of structure when we go on vacation. We plan some sort of excursion, hike, museum visit or tour most days, leaving an open day every 5 or 6 days to allow for extra rest, to deal with any urgent business that crops up back at home, to do laundry or to take advantage of local gems that we didn’t uncover during our pre-trip planning. This kind of approach doesn’t work for everyone, but we find that traveling with two teenage boys, it’s an effective way to overcome the incessant lure of the screen.

Cape-Kidnappers-GannetsWhen the third leisure day came up on Day 19 of our extended New Zealand trip, we were staying at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers just outside Napier. Over breakfast, we discussed a few options for the day before deciding on a morning walk across the property to the Black Reef Gannet colony, followed by an afternoon at the pool.

Appropriately provisioned with light snacks, water, cameras and a map showing the way to the Gannet colony, we hopped a ride on a shuttle to the trailhead and set off a little after 9 o’clock. The sun was already high overhead, so hats, sunglasses and high SPF sunscreen were essential.

Cape Kidnappers is home to the largest, most accessible mainland colony of Australasian Gannets in the world. Sized midway between a sea gull and an albatross, Gannets are web-footed, have sharply pointed bills, black eye markings, pale gold crowns, long wings and wedge-shaped tails. They are make spectacular plunging dives for fish. They nest here from September (when they build their nests, lay a single egg per mating pair and wait for the chicks to hatch in December and January) through early May (when they migrate back to Australia). Aggregate population estimates for the four Cape colonies range from 20,000 to 25,000.

The route to the Black Reef colony was fairly straightforward: a somewhat meandering gravel farm track, some sheep trails and a little bit of cross-country exploration carried us to our destination in about an hour and a half.

We spent the next hour transfixed by the sounds, sights and smells of approximately three thousand nesting Gannets!

Once we were all satisfied that we’d created at least a few excellent photographs, most of us were ready to head back to the lodge. We’d consumed about half the water we carried with us and the temperature continued to climb. Thoughts of lunch and a dip in the pool beckoned.

But as often happens when the GeoKs are out and about, Mr. GeoK expressed the desire to go “just a little further” – maybe to check out the larger Plateau Gannet colony. And, as often happens, the rest of us (somewhat begrudgingly) went along. He was determined to go and we were determined not to abandon him on the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers!

So off we went, along a farm track that traversed riverbeds, broad rolling pastures, stands of native bush, descended steep gullies, ascended breathtaking inclines and through a paddock where fat, black cattle eyed us over as we walked past. In addition to keeping a sharp eye on the cows, we started watching our water consumption, well aware that each of us was down to a single 350 ml bottle. At one point, we were passed by a Gannet Safari air-conditioned bus. That really got the boys grumbling about the pointlessness of carrying on.


But carry on, we did, eventually reaching the Plateau colony where approximately four thousand Gannets almost overwhelmed our three senses of sight, sound and smell! After a short interval for photography, even Mr. GeoK was ready to head back to the lodge for fresh water, food and a cool swim.

We opted for a different route on the way back, one that incorporated part of the walk up from the beach access point used by Gannet Beach Adventures. The best part? A Department of Conservation site down by the shore gave us access to toilet facilities and potable water, which made the rest of our return trek a whole lot more bearable!

So for us, a day “at leisure” turned into an 18 km (11 mile) trek under the blazing sun to get up close to thousands of Gannets and to photograph a truly spectacular landscape…immediately followed by a deep-tissue massage and a swim in the pool. How do you like to spend your “at leisure” days when you’re on vacation?

IF YOU’D LIKE TO VISIT THE PLATEAU GANNET COLONY please keep in mind that the approach we took was only possible because we were staying on the Cape Kidnappers property. Public visits to the Plateau Gannet colony between September and May can be booked through Gannet Safari or Gannet Beach Adventures. A third option, for the truly adventurous, is to visit on foot. Safety and route information is available in this Department of Conservation brochure.

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