The Area

Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui is situated at the eastern tip of the province of Hawke’s Bay – famous for its Mediterranean-like climate of long hot summers and mild sunny winters, outstanding natural environment and some of New Zealand’s best food & wine.

In Māori mythology, Te Kauwae-a-Māui is the tip of the fishing hook that Māui used to pull up the North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui (‘the fish of Māui’) from the sea.

In 1769 it was named “Cape Kidnappers” by Captain James Cook, the famous English explorer, when local Maori attempted to kidnap his ships interpreters’ son, a young Tahitian boy.

Gannet Beach Adventures
Gannet Beach Adventures
Gannet Beach Adventures

The Geology

Four million years in four hours …

The stretch of coastline from Clifton to Cape Kidnappers is an area of fascinating geological history, dating back around 300,000 years at Clifton to approx. 4.5 million years at the Cape, which is visible in the dramatic cliff faces that line the beach along which we travel.  In places the cliffs tower above us, and the different layers of sedimentary material is easy to see – looking back along the beach as we travel shows how the land has slumped from tectonic movement.  View ancient earthquake faultlines, fossils, gullies formed by wind & water – you don’t have to be a geologist to enjoy this!

You will be amazed by the incredible cliffs and the stories they hold, but be aware they are often on the move with this seismic country of ours – the area is subject to unpredictable slips and rockfalls and is also in a tsunami risk zone.

The beach was closed by local authorities after a large landslide which injured two independent walkers in January 2019.  Along with a comprehensive quantitative risk analysis (QRA) report being completed, ongoing monitoring of the cliffs by geological experts and GBA staff ensures client safety as much as reasonably practicable.   The QRA was jointly funded by Hastings District Council and Department of Conservation.

Findings from the QRA:

  • The risk levels per trip associated with visiting the gannets are slightly less than those from eruption hazards when walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, without control measures.
  • The societal risk from visiting the gannets is slightly lower than people visiting the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.

One of the conclusions from the QRA report recommended people wishing to visit Cape Kidnappers along the beach route should ‘take advantage of the local knowledge, and reduced exposure time, by going on an organised tour’.  


Department of Conservation Reserve

The Department of Conservation (DOC) Reserve encompasses 13 hectares and is situated at the far end of the beach.  This area has recently been downgraded by DOC to a back country track, which means that it will be maintained to a lower standard than it was previously.

The rest shelter is well equipped with toilets and picnic tables located under shady trees. Also provided are interpretation boards on the area and gannets. We are the only DOC concessionaire operating in the area, and a percentage of each fare is paid to them for the preservation of New Zealand’s natural assets.

Note:  You must take all rubbish away with you as there are no bins provided in the Reserve.

Cape Sanctuary

The Cape Sanctuary is located on the Cape Kidnappers peninsula, running over several working farm stations and includes the famous Cape Kidnappers Golf Course.  It was established in 2006 and covers an area of 2,500 hectares.  The predator fence (the end of which can be seen from the beach) travels down to Ocean Beach to the south of Cape Kidnappers, covering a distance of 10.5km.  Along with bait stations & traps, this fence helps keep predators to a minimum within the Sanctuary.

The staff and volunteers are doing an amazing job of successfully reintroducing both forest & sea birdlife here – including kiwi and tuatara – which once would have roamed the area in abundance.

The area sits within the footprint of Cape to City, which is a ground-breaking and collaborative ecological restoration project in Te Matau a Māui/Hawke’s Bay.  Since it began in 2015, the project has developed and grown protection to native species moving from the Cape Sanctuary into into the wider landscape.