For nearly the first two decades of my life I looked out across Hawke Bay from Napier to Cape Kidnappers and told myself "one day..." It took living overseas for a while and a husband who'd heard all about it for me to realise that dream.
With over 20,000 nesting birds, Cape Kidnappers is home to the largest mainland colony of Australasian Gannets in the world. They mate for life and have a lovely courtship ritual, with the mated pair crossing necks and tapping beaks when they meet at their nest.
The young gannet takes its first flight and leaves for Australia, returning permanently to its birth colony three years later. The adult gannet has a wingspan of 1.8 metres (5' 11") - that's as long as I am tall - and while they're all grace in the air, they're somewhat less elegant on the ground, particularly during take-off and landing. My bird at the top of this post gave me a lesson in patience as he debated for some time before finally lifting off and rewarding me with a series of flight images.
Word to the wise: go as early in the day as possible. By the time we got there at around 8:00am, things were already warming up and while there was a nice coastal breeze, there was a distinct whiff of bird poo. Luckily I promptly forgot it about in the excitement of just being there. But I'm not sure I'd want to experience it later in the day, when the sun has had a chance to heat things up.
But that's the cherry on top of the ice cream. The thing about going to Cape Kidnappers is how you go to Cape Kidnappers. Sure, you can take the overland bus and for some that is a necessity, but if you are able, you can't say you've been to Cape Kidnappers unless you take the tractor ride.
There's nothing quite like bouncing around the rocks, dodging the outgoing / incoming tides on a trailer pulled behind a tractor - but not just any tractor; it's a 1949 Minneapolis Moline. And it's not just the ride; it's the educational and entertaining banter from the tour guides that makes the journey magic.
For instance, we're all aware that New Zealand gets a lot of earthquakes. Thankfully, many of these are on the smallish side, releasing pressure and (hopefully) preventing "the big one". My grandmother lived through the 1931 Napier / Hawke's Bay Earthquake, which raised large areas of land while it razed buildings.
You realise just how much movement an earthquake can cause when you see formations such as this one, which has a 2 metre (6.6 feet) upwards shift in the land. There was a similar formation further along the coastline, with a 9 metre (29.5 feet) shift.
But aside from the geological history, the beautiful scenery, the gloriously sunny day and the 5:30am start to the day, the biggest thrill for me was sitting almost within touching distance of the gannets. Oh - and seeing the little island off the tip of the Cape from an angle I'd previously only seen in photographs. So of course, I took my own.
Click on images to view larger.