Beach access to Cape Kidnappers goes through an active rockfall zone
Image: DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


After receiving a risk analysis of the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauae-a-Māui, DOC and Hastings District Council say people will be able to access the DOC track at the end of the beach later in the year – but warn that the risks are high.

Date:  15 July 2020

The landslide and rockfall hazard presented by the cliffs above the beach is significant, unpredictable, and potentially fatal, according to the final Quantitative Risk Assessment report (QRA). This technical report was commissioned after the 2019 landslide that seriously injured two tourists.

The QRA compares the risk for people travelling along the beach as equivalent to the risks faced by people undertaking mountain climbing.

“Mountain climbers are generally well-informed and prepared for the obvious risks they face – very different from most day visitors looking to walk this mainly flat beach walk. Many visitors are seeking a relatively safe and easy walk, not somewhere where the chance of serious injury or fatality is a very real possibility,” says DOC Lower North Island Operations Director Hayden Barrett.

“DOC seeks, wherever possible, to provide people with unrestricted access to conservation lands. While we can never eliminate all risk in a natural environment, we can set expectations and provide people with better information to help them understand these risks and make informed choices.”

The risk from the natural hazards at Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauae-a-Māui cannot be mitigated, but some controls to help manage the risk and avoid restricting all access can be put in place, says Hayden Barrett. This includes warning people of the risks, monitoring the cliffs, temporary closures where necessary and changing DOC’s management of visitor facilities.

In keeping with DOC’s management of other sites considered unsuitable for typical day visitors, DOC will manage its facilities at Cape Kidnappers/ Te Kauae-a-Māui like those at a remote site. This includes providing appropriate warning information at the site and maintaining the DOC track to a lower backcountry standard.

“Now that we understand the high level of risk, we cannot provide facilities – such as a well-groomed track – that might signal to people that the trip is safe. By aligning our management with that of backcountry sites, we aim to discourage people who are simply after a casual beach walk.”

Before the DOC track can be reopened, some of this work to address visitor risk issues needs to be completed. This work will be completed over the next few months, aiming to reopen the track in time for the gannet season.

Signs at the Clifton Beach entrance will be updated to note the risk, along with information on the DOC and Hastings District Council (HDC) websites. The walk along the beach will not be promoted.

“The Council and DOC will be co-managing the access to address the risks as one seamless journey, which includes the development of a joint Experience Management Plan. We will also be monitoring the entrance of the beach and if we’re still seeing visitors unaware of the risks, we’ll look at adjusting the information we provide,” says HDC Group Manager Asset Manager Craig Thew.

“Both DOC and HDC would like to acknowledge the many local businesses and residents, who have faced uncertainty about access and activities associated with the beach while waiting for a decision to be made.”

Before Gannet Beach Adventures can resume operation, they will need to update their safety plan to satisfactorily address the risks now identified in the QRA, DOC’s Hayden Barrett says.

DOC has provided Gannet Beach Adventures with the QRA and is working with them to ensure they understand the steps they need to take.

Anyone considering walking along the beach should make sure they understand the serious risks first and, if they are not comfortable, not undertake the walk. As with any walk in the outdoors, know before you go and only undertake a walk within your skill level.

An option for accessing the gannet colony without travelling along the beach is still available via another tourism operator.

Background information

Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauae-a-Māui 

Cape Kidnappers risk management – includes:

  • final Quantitative Risk Assessment report and accompanying hazard report
  • documents associated with DOC’s decision-making process.

Hastings District Council Cape Kidnappers information

Cape Kidnappers closure media release 2019

Actions to complete before the DOC track can reopen

Before we can reopen the DOC track, DOC and HDC need to complete some actions to make sure our approach to visitor safety is in place. These are:

  • GNS will review the HDC Landslide Operation Manual. The scope of this work is being discussed by HDC and GNS.
  • DOC and HDC finalise an Experience Management Plan outlining the management of the trip, including a hazards plan. This document will describe the intentions for the visitor experience at Cape Kidnappers, the facilities and information intended to achieve that experience, and the risk management approaches to be in place for the Landslide risk and the risk of being caught by the tide. It is due at the end of August.
  • DOC will engage with the Regional Tourism Organisation, concessionaires and other stakeholders to share an understanding of the risk so Cape Kidnappers can be marketed appropriately. This will start in July.
  • The DOC walking track be managed to the revised standard Tramping Track. Reclassifying the track can be done by the end of July, with future maintenance reflecting that standard. Information about track standards.
  • Information for the public about access to the Cape Kidnappers gannet colonies will be adjusted to reflect managing this access route as an adventurous high-risk site, making clear the high risk of fatal landslides associated with using the beach. This can be completed by the end of July.

Quantitative Risk Assessment report

Following the landslide in 2019 which seriously injured two tourists, HDC commissioned a QRA report which DOC has fully supported including providing 50% of the costs associated.

The QRA provides a profile on the level of risk from geological hazards (landslides and rockfalls) to people using the beach and the track to the gannet colony. It has been peer reviewed by GNS and TTAC (an international consulting firm specialising in risk management). The QRA is supported by a Hazard Assessment Report, which has been used as a reference for understanding and calculating the level of risk associated with the geological hazards on the beach.

The QRA states that although the risk levels are similar to some other active landscape areas in New Zealand, they are high compared to the level and type of risk that people would expect to face on an everyday leisure activity.

The QRA and supporting documents can be found on the Cape Kidnappers risk management page.


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