Summer of gannets, takahē, giant wētā and more!

Gannet Safaris Overland, one of Hawke’s Bay’s premiere tourist activities, opens for its 2023/24 season this weekend, as thousands of the 20,000 strong gannet colony who call Cape Kidnappers home begin to arrive and nest.

The only operator providing tours to the world’s largest accessible gannet colony, Gannet Safaris Overland offers a new package this season – one that is bound to entice nature lovers to learn more about the restoration and regeneration of the Cape Kidnappers peninsula.

It has partnered with Cape Sanctuary to offer an exclusive wildlife experience that will sit alongside its hugely popular gannet tours, with Gannet Safaris Overland GM Sophie Phillips explaining that the partnership cements an existing – and thriving – relationship between the business she manages and the sanctuary.

“We’ve always had a close relationship with Cape Sanctuary,” Sophie says. “We were increasingly finding that when passing through it enroute to the gannets, visitors would ask questions about how they could support the amazing work the sanctuary does to nurture and protect native species. So, we set up an optional carbon offset programme, adding $4 to the tour fee and then established donation boxes, so there were mechanisms for our guests to have an impact on the special place they were seeing, many for the first time.”

The total raised over last year’s season – $3654.60 – was handed over to Cape Sanctuary in June and will go towards nursery production and planting of a further 70,000 trees.

Aimee Pitcher of Cape Sanctuary says the team were “ecstatic” to learn of the efforts to support the work she and her team does. “The sanctuary runs at huge deficit every year. Volunteer labour and donations like this are key to our longevity. It was wonderful to hear that locals and international visitors were happy to donate towards making a positive environmental impact on the peninsula.

“Some species like miro and matai require several years in the Cape Sanctuary nursery before they are ready to plant,” Aimee continues, “and it costs a significant amount to care for each tree – but being able to share these amazing trees with generations to come makes the wait, and the cost, worthwhile.”

Aimee says conversations eventually turned to other ways Gannet Safaris Overland could enable more guests to experience the wonder of the acclaimed wilderness area, and a partnership was formalised in early August.

The Cape Sanctuary Tour departs from Ocean Beach daily, dependent on demand. It uses luxury private vehicles to transport visitors to the protected site – the brainchild of its benefactors Andy and Liz Lowe, and American philanthropist Jay Robertson.

Over 3.5 magical hours, it takes in the nursery, the East Cape’s best preserved sand dune system, and the pest-free enclosure where guests have a chance to spot takahē, colourful kākāriki, tuatara, giant wētā and learn about the sanctuary’s expanding seabird project.

Of course, there are also plenty of gannets onsite, as their breeding season begins in Hawke’s Bay. Sophie says this year is set to be the busiest yet. “We’re looking at a record cruise season and high visitor numbers which is a huge relief for every local operator, after our efforts were cruelly cut short by Cyclone Gabrielle in February,” she says.

In fact, Sophie says the gannets may have acted as weather vanes. “We were stumped – our gannets all disappeared over a couple of days, way earlier than they normally do. We had to unexpectedly close our tours.  A few hours later, the cyclone struck.”

But with these transitory birds now back for summer and busily building nests, she says she’s “excited” to see how the summer pans out. As ever, daytime tours and the visually stunning sunrise tours are on offer, and the gannets, who exhibit plenty of personality on any given day, can even be viewed on Christmas morning – a very special treat for bird-lovers.

“Last season we were tracking to nearly 95% of pre-Covid numbers until the cyclone hit,” says Sophie. “With our existing tours already booking out, and our collaboration with Cape Sanctuary bound to be popular, we can’t wait to welcome visitors again.”

For booking information visit Gannet Safaris Overland tours.


Media Release: Gannet Safaris Overland