Gannets at Muriwai

Gannet in flight

morus serrator (Australasian Gannet, takapu)

There are a number of gannet colonies around New Zealand, 3 of them on the mainland: Muriwai, Cape Kidnappers (near Napier), and Farewell Spit (northern end of South Island). Cape Kidnappers is the largest, where visitors can come extremely close to the birds, whilst Muriwai is the most accessible site (especially if you live in Auckland!).

I have made many visits to the Muriwai gannet colony: to enjoy the rugged scenery, to take photographs of the birds, and to let the wind blow the cobwebs away. This website wants to share some of the experience, and in a small way pay tribute to the Auckland Regional Council who administers Muriwai Regional Park which incorporates this bird refuge.

A website about the Kumeu District informs about the region.

Paul Hafner

A diary of observations

14 July, 2002: visited Muriwai in glorious sunshine, although the wind was cold. There were just under 40 gannets on Motutara Island, just under 30 on the southern point, a few in the air (and none on the northern point). A seal, less than 1 m in length, was sleeping near the gate by the entrance to the beach.

Over a period of time (October 98 to January 99) I made relatively frequent visits to Muriwai and documented my observations here.

130 gannets (late afternoon sun)
130 gannets      (more photos)

A question

From time to time people write to me with questions or comments about gannets. Here is one of the questions which I found very interesting, but I have no clue as to an answer. If you can contribute anything (a reference, a story, use of symbolism - whatever) please contact me at (paul AT hafner.co.nz). Thanks.

Do you know anything about gannets in legends or folklore, or symbolism related to gannets? (It does not have to relate to Australasian gannets, any kind will do.)

History of the gannet colony

On the island of Oaia off the coast of Muriwai (NW of Auckland) a gannet colony established early in the 20th century. Since around 1975, birds began nesting on the cliffs of Muriwai due to overcrowding on the island (first on Motutara Island, spilling over to the mainland at Otakamiro Pt in 1979---originally only to the southern point, then also to the northern point, and now possibly spreading further).

In 1979 the Auckland Regional Council (then ARA) established the Takapu Refuge with the help of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.

In September 1995 concern was raised about a sudden inexplicable reduction in gannet numbers: in just 6 weeks the Muriwai gannet population had dropped from about 1400 down to 226. But equally mysteriously, the gannets returned shortly after (cf. New Zealand Herald, 23/9/95), and, if anything, are set to expand their nesting sites on the mainland.

For a shorter period (October/November to January) the ledges of the cliffs below the gannets are inhabited by white-fronted terns. These birds are smaller than gannets, flying rather like large swallows. (The terns were in fact displaced from the high ground when the gannets started to colonise Motutara Island and Otakamiro Point.)

Gannets fighting (late afternoon sun)
Gannets fighting      (more photos)

Some data about gannets

I have only once seen a juvenile bird cruising around the colony amongst the adults. This bird did land on Motutara Island, eventually. All other juveniles (3 or 4 only) that I observed taking off headed west in a straight line, and I lost sight of them in the end.

Other web sites on gannets

Please let me know (paul AT hafner.co.nz) of any other sites about gannets in general or Muriwai in particular. Thanks.  
Gannet, yawning

Tips for visitors

More gannet photos from Muriwai       (Click on the image)

Floating on air


[1] Along the paths and on the viewing platforms at the takapu refuge there are generous info stations providing interesting details in beautiful presentation on glazed tiles (text by Louise Mara, illustrations by Mavis Wong).
Between the Waterfront Cafe and Bar and the beach there is also a nice information pavillion.

[2] Ewen Cameron, Bruce Hayward and Graeme Murdoch, A Field Guide to Auckland. Exploring the Region's Natural and Historic Heritage. Godwit Publishing, 1997 (ISBN 1 86962 014 3). Front cover and pages 31, 150-151. (A treasure trove! Highly recommended. I wish the authors would have included an index!)

[3] Alexander Guy Carton, Human impact on the behaviour and breeding success of gannets (Morus bassana serrator) at Muriwai. Report prepared for the Auckland Regional Council Park Service, April 1993. ARC Parks Technical Publication Series Number 1. (ISSN1174 0221)

[4] Brenda S. Green, Increase of gannets (Morus serrator) at Muriwai, Auckland. Notornis 46: 423-433, 1999.

[5] Bob Harvey, Untamed Coast Auckland's Waitakere Ranges and West Coast Beaches. (Photographs by Ted Scott) Exisle Publishing, 1998 (ISBN 0-908988-11-7). (Takes a wider perspective, but is full of information about the history of Auckland's West Coast. Of course, this book could benefit from an index, too.)

[6] J.B. Nelson, The Sulidae: gannets and boobies. Oxford University Press, London, 1978.

[7] C.J.R. Robertson, The Gannet Sanctuary, Cape Kidnappers. Compiled by the Cape Kidnapper Bird Sanctuary Board 1964.

Gannet in flight

All photos © Paul Hafner     

Look at my photos of white-fronted terns.