Gannets still draw a crowd

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
Colin and Kim Lindsay have owned Gannet Beach Adventures for four years
EVA BRADLEY/Fairfax NZ
LONG JOURNEY: Colin and Kim Lindsay have owned Gannet Beach Adventures for four years and this week celebrate the iconic Hawke’s Bay business’ 60th year of operation.

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As a youngster Colin Lindsay watched tractors pulling people along the beach at Te Awanga towards the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers.

Years later, on returning from a stint overseas, he hopped behind the wheel and soon became addicted to watching people "marvel" at the the world's largest mainland gannet colony.

So when the business came up for grabs in 2008, he thought "let's give it a shot".

Gannet Beach Adventures celebrates 60 years in business this year.

It had been a business of evolution, Lindsay said.

It started with two local lads, Neil Burdon and brother Jack, taking friends along the beach on their old Model T Fords.

As demand grew, Neil decided to charge for the ride and in 1952 he established Gannet Beach Adventures. It soon grew into a tourist attraction. The old trucks and buggies first used were done away with, and Minneapolis-Moline tractors were introduced - the company fleet eventually growing to five tractors and 10 trailers. The vintage tractors are still going strong and between them can take up to 180 people to the colony.

In the early 1990s, Burdon sold the business to his nephew Rod Heaps, who sold it to Lindsay and wife Kim four years ago.

The business attracted 11,300 customers in the latest season.

An adult is charged $42 while a family of two adults and two kids are charged $118.

The gannets were the drawcard but, Lindsay said, there was much more at Cape Kidnappers.

On the four-hour trip, visitors are told how the cliffs were pushed up by tectonic plates and shown the strata layers of forest, mud, river flows and volcanic ash that make up the cliffs.

"It's like a cross-section of the earth," Lindsay said.

The hardest part of the business was coming to grips with the vagaries in the weather.

"There's nothing more frustrating than having a fully booked day and then getting a big swell or tsunami warning," Lindsay said.

The Lindsays employ eight casual staff during the season, which runs from October to April.

When the chicks leave, almost all the adults return to the sea for the winter months.

The tours, which are governed by the tide, attract more than 10,000 visitors each summer.

Most of their business comes from the domestic market but a good portion of visitor numbers are international tourists, who have either read about them in Lonely Planet travel guides or in a brochure from an i-Site, or learnt about the tour from friends.

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Along with capturing the tourist dollar, the tours often host educational school trips and the occasional work function.

The couple depend on good tourist numbers during the season to see them through the winter months. It required careful book-keeping, Kim Lindsay said.

"It's always a fine balancing act - it will probably never make us rich but buying the business was always more about the lifestyle."

- BusinessDay

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