Gannets at Muriwai
morus serrator (Australasian Gannet, takapu)
There are a number of gannet colonies around New Zealand, 3 of them
on the mainland:
(near Napier), and
(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!).
Over the last few years 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, as does this Kumeu Coast and Country site.
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
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
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
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
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.
- wingspan up to 180 cm
- overall length 90 cm
- a single egg is laid around September/October/November
- incubation time about 44 days
- chicks stay in the colony until February/March
- the birds then migrate to Australia, returning after 2-6 years
- it is said that (after weeks of furious flapping of wings on land)
the first flight of the juvenile birds takes them to their destination
more than 2000 km away.
Other web sites on gannets
Tips for visitors
- In my experience, the best viewing conditions are
in a good breeze: the birds will fly higher than in calmer conditions,
often on a level with the
viewing platforms. Also, it appears that there is greater flying
activity when it is windy. Of course, when the wind is really strong,
it will be difficult to hold your camera steady; you may then
just have to experience the environment and come back for photos
- It pays to bring binoculars; you will see much, much more.
- Photographers will be wary of the harsh and bland light between, say,
11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; visits in the morning or later in the afternoon
provide better light (if it's sunny).
- Don't forget to look down into the water:
occasionally one can see
Maui's dolphins feeding in the sea,
quite close to the shore. Sometimes there are
NZ fur seals basking on the rocks at the foot of Motutara Island.
Most of the time you will see surfers
taking advantage of the waves, both at Muriwai Beach (North),
as well as at Maori Bay (south).
You may also see some gannets skimming the waves, or just resting on the water.
If you are lucky, you will see a gannet dive for food at high speed,
from up to 30 metres in near-vertical flight. (I have seen gannets dive, but
never at Muriwai.)
- Go down to Maori Bay to take a look at the
in the cliffs above (these are lava flows that originated under water).
- For a complete change, take a bush walk on the Quarry Track
(on the other side of Waitea Road). This passes through
groves with big gnarled
and leads to a lovely lookout. (Quarry Track leads to Lookout Track, forming a T-intersection: branch to the left.)
- Apart from watching birds in the breeze, you can often also watch
model airplanes being flown from spots along the access path to the colony.
The slopes down to Maori Bay are also popular as a launching site
- If you need your fix of coffeine or other sustenance, pay a visit
to Sand Dunz (bottom of Motutara Rd,
just before the beach carpark).
- For information ring the ARC's ParksLine: 09-303 1530.
 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.
 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!)
 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)
 Brenda S. Green, Increase of gannets (Morus serrator) at
Muriwai, Auckland. Notornis 46: 423-433, 1999.
 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.)
 J.B. Nelson, The Sulidae: gannets and boobies. Oxford University Press, London, 1978.
 C.J.R. Robertson, The Gannet Sanctuary, Cape Kidnappers. Compiled by the
Cape Kidnapper Bird Sanctuary Board 1964.
All photos ©
Look at my photos of
Paul's photo page.