Gannets, Marys, tractors and rocks

In Napier, on the east coast of New Zealand in the Hawk’s Bay region, we stayed in the same motel we were in last year.  It isn’t a high end motel (“flash” is New Zealand slang for upmarket). There are a lot of flash motels in Napier along the waterfront, but we like the British couple who run the McLean Park, and it is clean, well equipped and inexpensive.  Besides, I had to see the carpet one more time in case I had dreamed it.

Our motel's carpet

Our motel

Albert had told us we should be sure to see the gannet colony at Kidnapper’s Cove, so after we shopped at the Pak-n-Save for dinner makings (most motels in New Zealand have cooking facilities) and a bottle of wine, we went to the tourist information center by the sea to inquire. There were 3 possibilities.  We could walk the beach and climb the hill (20 kilometers round trip); we could take a bus.  Or we could take a “safari”– a van would take us to the beach access point; we would mount an open trailer pulled by a tractor (along with 20 or so other people) which would transport us down the beach. The driver would provide commentary on the wildlife and geology along the way.  After 10 kilometers we would climb the high hill and see the gannets.  Then reverse the journey.

Jerry was unenthusiastic about gannets; he was wandering around looking at travel brochures. I gave him the choice of bus or safari (I thought 20 k’s of walking plus the high hill would be a bit much for us).  He looked at the prices and immediately chose the safari because it was cheaper than the bus.

The next morning at 8:15 a van picked us up at our motel.  The trip was timed with the tides because the tractor could only get along the beach while the tide was low.  The driver, Colin, chatted with us on the 10 minute ride to the beach.  He was the owner of the “safari” company and he explained that the day before the trip had been canceled just after it started because of high winds and a recent rock slide from the cliffs above the beach.  Some rocks had been cleared away overnight.  He hoped the going would be better this time.  He was a good-looking young man in his late 30’s.  His business, though seasonal, was a good one.  He had been going up and down this beach all his life, on foot or by one sort of motor or another.  He loved the beach and knew every inch of it.  He had 4 employees and all of them loved going to work every day.

Riding down the beach on those trailers was the most fun thing we did in New Zealand.  Looking back I think that the best part of the trip for me was not the part that interested Jerry the most.  But we both had a fine time.

We both enjoyed the somewhat makeshift riskiness of the ride — as the tractors rumbled over big rocks and into the water around the rocks too big to ride over.

Riding down the beach at low tide

Riding down the beach at low tide

On the way out Jerry and I sat on the ocean side looking out at the sea, I didn’t think about the possibility of rock-slides from the towering cliffs on the land side.  Coming back I did think of that.

Seen on the trip out

Seen on the trip out

For Jerry the real interest of the “safari” was the geology and the tractors.

For me the highlights were the two Marys and the birds.

The cliffs were spectacular.

The cliffs

The cliffs

You could see fault lines, the results of earthquakes (Napier had a killer earthquake in 1931 and the whole city was rebuilt in Art Deco style).  There were rock formations from volcanic action, erosion, compression and the inexorable movement of tectonic plates.  Jerry and I decided that we had forgotten so much of our geology course that we should go through it again.

Rock patterns

Rock patterns

The tractors were Minneapolis Molines, dating from 1949! Colin told us that they were mechanically simple and easy to repair.  He was actually able to get unused parts and that he and his employees did all the repair work themselves.  I thought they were cute; Jerry was fascinated.

Colin with his tractor and his dog

Colin with his tractor and his dog

The two Marys were a lesbian couple in their 30’s.  They decided we needed to be looked after, and immediately took us under their wing, got us good seats on the trailer, worried that we didn’t have water, offered us apples and waited around at the end to see that we had a ride back.  I loved them.  The white Mary was from Maine, but living permanently in New Zealand and studying early education, writing a dissertation on language difficulties of young islander children in New Zealand schools.  She had a tattoo of Captain Cook’s vessel, The Endeavour, which extended from her knee to her ankle.  The black Mary was from Kenya, and was also studying at the university.  They had been on the aborted gannet trip the day before and had camped out on the beach an extra night to take the trip again.  I am really sorry that I didn’t get their last names and addresses.

Mary and Mary

Mary and Mary

The walk up the hill to the colonies was steep, and it was a hot day.  Jerry and I were probably the slowest walkers as we were certainly the oldest in the group.  But we got there.

Cows on the hillside we were climbing

Cows on the hillside we were climbing

The view from the top

The view from the top

The gannets were a wonder.  The colonies consisted of hundreds of birds nesting equidistant from each other.

Gannet colony

Gannet colony

They are big birds, mostly white with a soft yellow tint to their heads.  Their eyes, wings and bills are elegantly lined with black, and their feet and legs have green stripes that outline the shapes.



Gannets belong to the booby family.

A gannet, showing the green stripes on its feet and legs

A gannet, showing the green stripes on its feet and legs

Gannets live from 25 to 40 years.  They mate for life and lay one egg a year.  The minute the young bird learns to fly it leaves for Australia and stays there for 3 years.  Then it returns to New Zealand and finds a mate, never to return to Australia.

Parent birds with chick

Parent birds with chick

Their only real predator is sea gulls, which stand around at the edges of the colonies waiting to grab a newly laid egg or a newly hatched chick.

Riding back on the cliff side I thought about rock slides.  They often happen, and the rocks are huge.

Looking up on the way back

Looking up on the way back

The safari lasted half a day.  The two Marys made sure that Colin came to take us back to Napier, and he and Jerry chatted about tractors all the way.

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17 Responses to Gannets, Marys, tractors and rocks

  1. annie says:

    What a fabulous trip. Love all the stories. Happy New Year!

  2. dale says:

    Oh, New Zealand is a place I’ve been aching to go for forty years. I wonder if I’ll ever make it there?

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    Oh I’m so there with you, Anne! Lovely lovely photos and I see what you mean about the carpet!
    We have an amazing number of gannets in Newfoundland too and I never tire of visiting them each year, I love how the adult pairs never stop grooming and necking with each other.

  4. Rain says:

    Beautiful photos. I loved the bird ones. That’s how I am with going up hills– take it slower maybe but I make it. It looks like it was worth it. I love the sounds of seabirds.

  5. Marja-Leena says:

    I love those cliffs, rock formations and patterns! I’ve never heard of gannets, they are so beautiful. Such an interesting day you’ve had out there, thanks for sharing.

  6. Jan says:

    The safari sounds like the best choice, especially with someone looking after you. I love making friends for the day. I’d never heard of gannets, but they are quite spectacular.

  7. Brighid says:

    What a great day. Thanks for sharing your truly interesting trip. Wow that carpet is an eye exercise!

  8. pauline says:

    Accompanying you on a trip is always a learning experience. I’d not known about gannets – thanks for the tour!

  9. Tabor says:

    These are great photos and that whole trip would have met all of my needs for days! I did not know gannets only have one egg a year. Such a fragile reproduction formula.

  10. Loved every word of this, Anne! You’re a great travel writer-photographer. If you should decide to launch a travel business, I’ll be among the first to sign up.

  11. Hattie says:

    Wow, what a wonderful trip. You are so lucky to be fit and to have a good companion for these adventures. And I would love to have met Mary and Mary too.

  12. I am really enjoying your New Zealand adventure! The gannet safari sounds amazing.

  13. Freda says:

    What a glorious post with superb photos. As I’ve said before, it feels like taking the safari with you. The two Mary’s look good fun and gannets are always firm favourites with me. Keep enjoying your holiday. You certainly get a lot out of each day.

  14. Gannets are terrific but on each of our three visits to NZ we made a pilgrimage to the extreme tip of the Otago Peninsula to pay homage to the albatrosses. Not that we got within spitting distance of the birds since they are deservedly cosseted but occasionally we would see one in flight and that is virtually a spiritual experience. In the meantime there was entertainment to be found from the Disappearing Gun and, further down the peninsula, a wonderful aquarium which, although it is open to visitors, is in fact a government research facility. We were taken round by one of the scientists who was keen to demonstrate the rapacity of a miniature octopus. Which he did by dropping in an even tinier shrimp which the octopus took with lightning speed. Mrs BB had to wrestle with two reactions towards the O’s skill and the detached attitude of the scientist.

    You were wise to photograph the carpet in the Napier motel. Nobody would have believed you if you hadn’t.

  15. Love the photos! Love, love, love!

  16. Deborah says:

    What a gorgeous country! Well, I knew that already, but your photos show things the tourist brochures don’t. The tractor AND the gannets were all awfully cute – and I liked what your interest in the two Marys said about you.

    I really enjoyed finding out more about a country that pulls me towards it, but of which I know very little. WEll done!

  17. Lucy says:

    I love gannets, first saw them when I travelled to the Inner Hebrides, then visited Les Sept Iles colony here, then saw the southern hemisphere ones in NZ when we visited my sister. Such magical birds.

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