Located in the Hawke’s Bay region
The journey from Clifton along the beach to and from the Plateau colony is subject to periodic landslide, rockfall and can only be attempted around low tide. High tides and big seas will block the beach access.
Following a recent 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. With the beach access closed you’ll need to use a commercial tour operator, who run daily tours overland via the private farm, to access this colony as coastal access is closed. See commercial operators to find out about tours to the colony.
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 track 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.
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.
Getting to the Cape is half the fun. You can either walk via the beach at times of low tide or use the various means of commercial transport along the beach. Access by beach is undertaken by commercial tourism operators licensed by the Department of Conservation.
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.
Information on the tide times can be obtained either from local newspapers or at the information centres mentioned below.
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 – do not attempt to climb the cliffs. Do not picnic on the beach where there are cliffs nearby. Keep your distance from the cliffs.
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.
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.
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.
Conitions can be hot and windy. Suggested items to take are: