Gandering at the Muriwai Gannet Colony

One of the first places I remember visiting in New Zealand was Muriwai Beach. It was just over twelve years ago, (although I’ve been back many times since,) and my mum, my little sister and I had just got off the plane, and my dad, (who had already been in New Zealand for six months,) was eager to show us all the wonderful sights our new home had to offer. The ten-year-old me was quite impressed with Muriwai. It had the luxuriously soft black sand that was still a novelty back then, (and still is, frankly,) but what made it special were the breathtaking views of its massive gannet colony.

Muriwai’s only a forty-minute drive from Auckland City, on the wild west coast. It’s a good surfing beach – I’ve done a bit of boogie boarding there myself – and there’s a campground right next to it, complete with powered sites for campervans. It’s also a good fishing beach, which is probably why the gannets like it too.

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The gannets can be seen from viewing platforms on the cliff above them. They really are beautiful birds. They’re streamlined like arrows with golden heads and electric blue eyes. And there are shedloads of them. It’s amazing to watch the couples dancing about their nests, taking it in turns to fly out to sea, dive into the waves and return to feed their chicks. Even if you’re not someone who likes bird watching, you’ll be entranced by this.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the blowhole. It’s rather exciting waiting for the water to spurt geyser-like up from the round hole in the flat platform of rock. I remember begging my mum to stay for “just one more big one” and wanting to get as close as I could to it. My parents were right to be cautious though – I don’t know how many people have fallen down it and died, but the most recent one was last year.

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If you’re travelling around New Zealand, Muriwai Beach is definitely a location for your must-see list. I recommend taking a warm jacket, as it’s really windy on the cliff where you watch the gannets and you’ll want to linger awhile. Writing about it now is making me want go there again. Well… summer is practically here – it was boiling today… and my boyfriend’s parents do live out west…

Kiwi Houses

One of the most notable differences between England and New Zealand is the housing.

I grew up in a small, terraced house in the North of England. The lounge was less than half the size of our lounge now, here in New Zealand, and we had a tiny bathroom that had been partitioned off from the upstairs front room – there were still the remnants of an outdoor toilet, which we used as a shed.

We had little yard, completely concreted over, and a drying green we shared with the rest of the terrace. When we bought a house in New Zealand, it was the first time we’d actually owned our own garden with grass.

Our street in England was a Victorian street. Every house was the same: two-storied and skinny, just wide enough for a big bay window and a front door. There were no grass verges. Cars lined either side of the road, turning it into a one-way street.

And the next street was the same. And the next.

When we moved to New Zealand, I was astounded at the simple fact that, on our street, every house was different. And most of them were single-storied. It was hard to get used to not having stairs.

Every house had a luscious, green garden in front of it, and the pavements had wide borders of grass.

The houses had space in-between them. Returning years later to look at our old house in England, I had definite, unexpected feelings of claustrophobia, and I couldn’t believe how grey the world seemed.

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Space is what defines New Zealand housing, the space to build whatever you can dream. There’s a bit of a problem with some older houses in that, since New Zealand is generally quite warm, they weren’t built with proper insulation and heating – hardly any houses here have built-in radiators – and that isn’t so good when it gets damp in winter.

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There’s a lot more outdoor living in New Zealand. Decks are a must-have when it comes to kiwi houses, but lots of kiwi families like to do some outdoor living away from the home. Campervans and caravans are very popular, but not as iconic as the kiwi bach.

A bach is a holiday home by a beach. Traditionally, they’re really basic – practically sheds with beds in, built out of second-hand materials – but I recently visited a friend’s ‘bach’ in Coromandel and it was the fanciest place I’ve ever been in, far flasher than any house my family’s owned. I thought retreating to the bach was supposed to be about leaving the modern world behind, along with all of its electronic distractions, so you could get back to nature – well not this place!

I think I prefer holidaying in a campervan. I’m one of those people that needs encouragement to get outdoors, and this bach was so luxurious I didn’t want to leave it. Mind you, the view from the deck was fairly all right.

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