Australasian gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers

Image: Antoine Hubert | Creative Commons


The reserve is home to gannet colonies where you can see nesting gannets and get spectacular views over Hawke’s Bay.


The beach from Clifton to the Plateau colony is subject to landslides and rockfall. The risk from landslide is equivalent to that of someone mountain climbing. The walk can only be attempted around low tide and high tides and big seas will block the beach access.

Following a significant landslide, access through the DOC reserve, which includes the access track up to the Plateau colony, is closed to the public. DOC is waiting for the completion of a risk assessment by experts to determine how dangerous the trip along the beach is.

The best place to view the nesting gannets is at the Plateau colony which is on private land. A lower-risk option for accessing the gannet colony without travelling along the beach is still available through a commercial tour operator, who run daily tours overland via the private farm. You will need to use this operator to access this colony at this time as coastal access is closed. See commercial operators to find out about tours to the colony.

Map of Cape Kidnappers beach access and DOC reserves (JPEG, 752K)

Place overview


  • Toilets
  • Information panels


  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Walking and tramping

Find things to do and places to stay Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui Gannet Reserve

About this place

Nature and conservation

Australasian gannet/takapu

The Australasian gannet/takapu is one of three species of gannet which belong to the booby family. They are usually found in large colonies on offshore island around New Zealand and southern Australia and have been nesting at Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui since the 1870s.

Numbers have steadily increased to 6,500 pairs, which makes it the largest and most accessible mainland colony in the world.

The gannets average lifespan of between 25 to 40 years has a remarkable start. The 16 week old chicks, which have never been airborne before, take on a 2,800 km Tasman Sea crossing. 2-3 years later, the young birds return from Australia to undertake tentative mating. However, it is not until they are five years old that they nest in earnest, after which most spend their life around the coastal New Zealand seas.


The towering cliffs are made up of sandstone, conglomerate, mudstone, river gravel, pumice and silt, as well as glimpses of petrified wood and lignite. Fossilised shells can be seen in the sandstone near Black Reef.

The Cape’s coast, cliffs and dunes provide habitats for native vegetation and wildlife. Birds here include the white-fronted tern/tara, variable oystercatcher/tōrea, reef heron/matuku waitai and Caspian tern/taranui. Little blue penguins/kororā nest around the Cape.

The offshore reefs are rich in marine life, including the sandmason tube worm that constructs sand tubes on the rocks.

The geology of the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers influences the nature and frequency of landslides. The type of landslides at this beach can’t be predicted. Although there are some events that make them more likely to happen – such as earthquakes or rain – there is no obvious trigger for many of the landslides. Periods of hot, dry weather and temperature changes can lead to the rocks expanding and contracting, which can cause cracks in the rock that can eventually result in a landslide or rockfall. Coastal erosion also contributes to instability of the cliffs.

The area sits within the footprint of Cape to City – a collaborative, landscape scale restoration project that is working to ensure our native species thrive where we live, work and play. 

History and culture

The fish hook shape of Hawke Bay coastline adds to the imaginative legend of Cape Kidnappers origin.

Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga, a famous mythical hero, was fishing with his brothers, and decided to show them his supernatural powers.

He chanted his prayer, broke his nose and smeared the blood onto a magical jawbone. With it, he fished up the North Island or as the Māori name it, Te-Ika-a-Maui, the Fish of Maui. After Maui departed, his brothers attached the fish with their weapons, hacking it into pieces and helping to form the mountainous terrain of the North Island. The sacred jawbone used as the hook was left to form what is now known as Hawke Bay.

When Captain Cook visited the area in 1769, a group of Māori in canoes came out to the ship Endeavour to trade. They took aboard the canoes a Tahitian boy. Shots were fired at the retreating canoes resulting in some Māori being killed and the boy swimming back to the ship. Cook then named the area where this occurred as Cape Kidnappers.

There have been three serious injury landslide events reported in the past 50 years, and large landslides with the potential to be fatal happen every year.

Getting there

From Scotmans Point at Clifton allow at least 5 hours for a comfortable return walk along the beach. This can only be down at low tide, with the best times of departure being no sooner than three hours after high tide and departing from the Cape no later than 1.5 hours after low tide.

Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui tide timetable 

The beach is the riskiest part of the walk, with approximately 7 km being underneath areas of cliff subject to significant landslide and rockfall. This has been equated with the risk level people undertaking mountain climbing face. A lower-risk option for accessing the gannet colony without travelling along the beach is still available through a commercial tour operator, who run daily tours overland via the private farm.

Know before you go

Anyone considering walking along the beach should make sure they understand the 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.

If you decide to make this trip, you should be aware of the risks. The cliffs along the beach are unstable and landslides and rockfalls frequently occur and have caused serious injury in the past. Do not attempt to climb the cliffs. Do not stop on the beach or picnic where there are cliffs nearby. Keep your distance from the cliffs.

Find information about risk management at Cape Kidnappers

If you encounter rockfalls or landslides

If you come across a fresh rockfall or landslide that blocks you way forward (a mound of rubble that looks like it has recently dropping to the beach), do not try to cross the fresh rockfall debris.

You should turn around and go back if the tide allows. If you have to cross rockfall debris then do so as fast as practical. Report any new rockfalls to Hastings District Council.

Hastings District Council is monitoring for landslides and rockfalls. If there is new activity, or there are conditions that might increase the chance of landslides or rockfalls (eg heavy rain and earthquakes), the council will temporarily close the beach while the risk is considered to be heightened.

Respect the gannet colony

Treat this reserve as the gannets' home. As it is one of the most easily accessed gannet colonies, special care is needed to ensure their continued presence here.

  • Nesting birds don't like disturbances such as loud noises and fast movement.
  • Keep behind the barriers or a minimum distance of five metres from the nesting gannets.
  • Dogs and horses are not permitted.
  • Motorbikes and vehicles are not permitted off the beach into the reserve.
  • Fires and camping are not permitted.
  • Keep to the track through private land.
  • It is illegal to take firearms into the reserve.
When to visit

The best time for viewing the gannets is between early November and late February. Nesting commences in mid-September and continues through to mid-December. The first chicks hatch in the first week of November and the last chicks depart the colony during May for their migration to Australia.

What to take

Conditions can be hot and windy. Suggested items to take are:

  • sturdy footwear such as tramping boots
  • food and water
  • sunscreen and hats
  • extra clothing in case of cool sea breezes, especially if you intend travelling by tractor/trailer.

Notify someone before you go. 


Ahuriri / Napier Office
Phone:   +64 6 834 3111
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   59 Marine Parade
Napier 4110
Postal Address:   PO Box 644
Napier 4140
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