Nature and conservation
Australasian gannets at Cape Kidnappers
The Australian gannet
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 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 kilometre Tasman Sea crossing. Two to three 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.
History and culture
The fish hook shape of the 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.
Know before you go
View of Cape Kidnappers
The cliffs along the beach are unstable and slips sometimes occur. If resting or picnicking, do so away from the cliffs.
Please 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.
- Please keep to the track through private land.
- It is illegal to take firearms into the reserve.
- Litter can be harmful to wildlife - leave only your footprints behind in the sand....
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.
Please note that public access to the gannet colonies is closed between July and October. This is to prevent disturbance to the birds during their early nesting phase.
What to take
Please take into account the hot and sometimes windy conditions. Suggested items to take are:
- Sunscreen, hats and drinks.
- Swimwear is sometimes appropriate - safe swimming is possible close to the rest area.
- In case of cool sea breezes take extra clothing, especially if you intend travelling by tractor/trailer.