It seems a cruel irony that a magnificent bird such as the royal albatross, which can stay in the air for weeks on end, should make such an ungainly landing when it finally decides to come down to earth. But we can be thankful that it has chosen to do so at Taiaroa Head, the only mainland colony of albatross in the world. One-hour tours will show you the birds only; 90-minute tours add the tunnel complex of the old Fort Taiaroa and the last working example of an Armstrong Disappearing Gun. The best times to visit are January and February, when the chicks are hatching; in late afternoon, you'll see courtship displays. After 6:30pm, the sea breezes come up, and juveniles come in from the sea. It's important to remember, though, that this is wildlife and there are no guarantees. Sometimes you can see birds as close as 3.5m (12 ft.) away, sometimes much farther. But with binoculars and a telephoto camera lens, you're bound to get good results. During the mating season, the main observatory is closed, and viewing is from an alternative spot a little farther away. It's a 2-minute walk up a path to the observatory; mobile carts are available for visitors with disabilities. A souvenir shop, cafeteria, and wildlife displays are on the grounds.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2010