Complete with a lighthouse and guns to protect New Zealand from invading Russians in the late 1800s, Taiaora Head is the only mainland breeding colony of the superb Royal Albatross in the world. With around the clock protection from predators, a few dozen breeding pairs lay a lone egg every couple of years hatching in January. For eight months, the lone chick sits in their nest awaiting the arrival of a parent ferrying food (which only happens every two to four days).
The photo shows a chick hatched in January around two months of age.
The Royal Albatross Centre hosts tours with a knowledgeable guide who leads to a glassed-in viewing hut equipped with telescopes and binoculars) overlooking the nesting sites (tours of the fort is also available). The centre has an excellent knowledge of the mating birds with decades of detailed lineage and ancestry of the birds. Several generations of birds are known to nest on the grassy headland. Only a couple of chicks are visible and they require a good long lens to photograph them.
While the explanations from knowledgeable enthusiastic guides are excellent, at best only a couple of chicks are visible (most are hidden on the other side of the grassy slope) and only the fortunate will see an adult fly in.
The best time is visit is during guarding season (January/February) where parents take it in turns to guard the young chick and mating season (October/November) when the ornate rituals of the parents (who mate for life) luxuriate in each other’s company and the superb wing span (of around three metres or ten feet) is so apparent. As for the rest of the year, I am dubious whether the experience is worth the entrance fee – watching the adult birds fly over the wind-swept peninsula is satisfying enough. Note that the nearby beach hosts a variety of other New Zealand wildlife including sea lions and penguins.
With their immense wingspan, Royal Albatrossare one of the world’s most spectacular birds gloriously skillful in flight zipping around on the thermals. With special adaptions to help them fly for months and years on end (their wings lock into place), little energy is expended sweeping over the ocean, and soaring upwards on the warm updrafts of air.
Note: More details can be found at the Royal Albatross Centre website.