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Published: March 8th 2011
Definitely an 'aah' moment
We hope this little chap makes it
Wednesday 2nd – we woke to a clear blue sky and, although we had not made any specific plans, the day began to develop quite nicely. We had spotted a couple of interesting sculptures on our “duck” tour which had also travelled passed the aquarium so we made the sculptures and the aquarium the focus of our morning. The main sculpture we wanted to see represented the sunrise as Napier is the second city in the world (3 seconds after Gisborne) to witness a sunrise each morning and, of course, to experience New Year celebrations. This particular sculpture was erected to commemorate the millennium and was a pretty impressive, though simple construction.
The Aquarium was virtually next door so was an obvious next stop and what a good stop it was. Just as we arrived and paid our entry fee, a feeding display had started involving a diver behind a glass screen which gave excellent visibility for the kids to enjoy. He was a bit of a comedian but his session was most entertaining. Although it didn’t involve any of the “large” or ”dangerous” species, it included large numbers of crayfish and other lobster type shellfish which were huge. After
Marking the exact spot where the sun rose to mark the new Millenium
that we wandered through the underwater “walkway” – the oceanarium - where all the big stuff was on display. Sharks, beautiful sting rays and numerous other large fish were all swimming around freely putting on a fascinating display. It would have been easy to have spent all our time there just watching the reactions of the kid’s, but there were numerous other sections to visit. There were lots of colourful tropical fish, native geckos and turtles but strangely, (or maybe not) in a complex that mostly dealt with fish, there was a kiwi enclosure. Kiwis are rather strange but fascinating creatures – they are the size of a chicken, are flightless and lay just one huge egg. Oddly they are related to emus and cassowaries (just think they are cousins of Sydney (with a y) from Cairns) who was a wonderful gift from travellers and bloggers Kangaroo Jack to our daughter and hubby, The Wallaby Wanderers). As kiwis are mainly nocturnal, very shy and endangered (a bit like the Aussie cassowary) we knew we were highly unlikely to see any in the wild so it was lovely to see a couple here. There was only dim lighting in the enclosure
but we were able to watch them for a while. We spent a couple of hours wandering around and took time out for some lunch in their café.
Whilst there, I rang a company who provided safaris with a difference to see if we could get on a 3 hour trip to Cape Kidnapper. The trip was due to leave at 1:30pm and was about a 20 minute drive away. Luckily they still had a couple of vacancies so we made haste to find our way to Te Awanga from where the trip would depart.
On arrival at Te Wanga we were greeted with the sight of three “off road coaches” capable of travelling virtually anywhere and each capable of carrying about 20 passengers. We learned later that two of the coaches were assigned to carry passengers from a cruise ship which had berthed in Napier and were just about to set off for the cape. Our coach, with about a dozen on board, set off about 15 minutes later and almost immediately turned off the main road onto a private estate which was owned by an American billionaire. Fortunately, he was a billionaire with a passion for
wildlife and although he was busy developing the estate – golf course, lodges etc – he was anxious to preserve and protect a major ornithological feature. This is quite easy to do when you have 5000 acres of rugged coastal property to play with. The property, which has ocean boundaries on two sides, includes sheep and beef cattle stations as well as commercial forestry activities. But for us, its main feature was the largest and most spectacular mainland nesting place in the world for GANNETS – about 20 thousand of them! This safari was the only way one could get to see them and involved an hour’s journey traversing river beds, broad rolling pastures, steep gullies and breathtaking inclines – hence the special off-road coaches. There was one stop on the way – a spectacular cliff-top with panoramic views of Hawke’s Bay across to the Mahia Peninsula. But the subject of the visit, the gannets, only came into view in the last few seconds of our journey when we negotiated a steep climb and rounded a sharp bend. And there they were – thousands of them – lots of youngsters and a continuous flow of adult birds returning to feed
Most people might think that once you’ve seen one gannet that’s the end of it and you might wonder why we made all this effort to see them. The reason is that most gannet colonies are on islands and are almost impossible for the likes of us to get very close to. They are one of the largest sea birds and are very distinctive with their yellow heads. Gannets mate for life and they perform elaborate greeting rituals at the nest, stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping bills together. It was a real thrill to watch the birds fly in, greet their partners and eventually get round to feeding their offspring. The female only lays one egg and there were young birds of varying ages scattered around. Some looked almost ready to leave the nest while others, obviously a second attempt, were very young and vulnerable looking. Amazingly, in a few weeks time all the birds fly non-stop to Australia where they spend the winter. Sadly, not many of the youngsters make it but those that do only return to Cape Kidnappers when they are mature at about five years of age when they look
for a mate.
These tours have been taking place for about 30 years and so the gannets weren’t at all bothered by our presence. We’d seen many TV programmes about gannet colonies and so it was a real privilege to get so close to them and see their rituals for ourselves. Our 45 minutes with the birds ended all too soon and we were back on the coach making our way across the rugged countryside. Back in Napier we strolled to the centre of the city and got a take-a-way from a Noodle Bar.
What a full day it had been and a great way to end our short stay in Hawke’s Bay.
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