Or Adventures North of Auckland
We are sitting on a black volcanic rock, on the edge of a sparkling, black sand beach. Between us is spread a picnic of bread, cheese, hummus, and pinot noir. A stiff wind is churning the waves, making our hair dance and glow like restless halos in the sunshine. All round come the stiff haunting calls of gannets and terns. The beach and the surf and the sunshine all seem endless. Even the rock is comfortable! It is all so idyllic, I can’t believe it is real.
Muriwai Beach is on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It is surprisingly close to Auckland. In fact, for most of what we thought would be a pleasant country drive, we were locked in miles and miles of construction. Luckily, being Saturday, there was no work being done and we travelled quickly.
Our first goal was Oratia Farmers Market. Took some locating since even some of the locals didn’t know where it was. But, when one travels, one must remember that the journey is part of the fun. Right? From there we hit the country roads in search of gannets.
The drive to Muriwai Beach was lovely and very typical of New Zealand, which means two things: It is very windy and the scenery can change drastically in a ten minute span. The farther we drove, the brighter the sunshine got and the lusher became the colour of all the spring greens. It was like watching the super-saturated landscape scenes in Hawaii 5-0 (Mind you, my rosy dark glasses may have had something to do with that.)
You turn one last corner and, suddenly, the dramatic expanse of the coastline bursts into view. And right there, smack dab in the centre, is a veritable tornado of white seabirds. We have come to the right place.
As we hike to the gannet observatory lookouts, we soon learn that the white tornado is not actually gannets but white fronted terns, the “swallows of the sea.” Gannets, are much bigger and steadier fliers. It is a real sight seeing all those gannets lined up below you! Each nest is carefully placed just passed pecking distance from the next. They are very social animals but woe betide any one who steps out of line! In fact, while we were there, one gannet accidentally landed in the wrong spot. (I’m surprised that doesn’t happen more often. They all look the same to me and some of these gannets have been out to sea all winter!) He was immediately set upon by everyone nearby. Even as he squealed his apologies and tried to return to flight, he was pecked on all sides. One biddy in particular got really into it, hanging on to his neck as he scrabbled to leave. As soon as the miscreant left, everyone suddenly realized the old biddy had been pulled from her spot. Now she was the focus of attack!
Most of the greetings were nothing like that. In fact, every time one of a mating pair returns to the nest, there is quite the greeting ritual. The couple rubs necks, clacks beaks together, preens each other and generally has a good time! These birds mate for life and seem honestly pleased to see each other each time they meet. I think we can all learn a little from gannets!
Time to find a rock and do our own “reinforcement of our lifelong bond” ritual. Only for us that doesn’t include clacking beaks but sharing of food and wine in breathtaking locations.