What do we need to be aware of (especially regarding safety and COVID-19) before booking a tour?
Our tour operates in an outdoor environment which can change daily from the tides and weather, and as with any outdoor activity, there is risk involved. We travel under some pretty amazing cliffs that are prone to unpredictable slips and rockfalls, and following a slip in January 2019 which injured two independent walkers, these majestic but temperamental cliffs have been scientifically monitored like never before. The beach track is also in a tsunami risk zone, like all of the NZ coastline.
Rest assured our guides are experienced and extremely familiar with the area – we have been safely transporting visitors for almost 70 years – and as we travel the beach almost every day during the summer we are always observing and noting changes. Our activity is also independently audited by an external auditor – this is a requirement for our DOC concession but also gives us confidence that we run a safe and effective operation.
Ensure you read through our safety information before booking a tour. If you need to clarify anything please give us a call first – the safety of all passengers is our biggest focus.
COVID-19 Protection Framework:
We are open and operating under Government and Public Health guidelines. Our region is currently operating under the Orange level of the new COVID-19 Protection Framework and we require all visitors (over the age of 12 years 3 months) to provide proof of vaccination with a Vaccine Pass (or an exemption) on arrival at our ticket office. Please check our cancellation policy for details on Covid related refunds.
A bonus with our tour, in this Covid world, is that we operate solely outdoors – Covid doesn’t like fresh air!
When is the best time to visit, and do you operate all year round?
Any time is a good time to visit! The adult gannets are all back in full-force by the time we open, however the chicks start appearing from mid to late November (we generally see the first chicks of the season at Black Reef), and they will leave the colonies at around 15-16 weeks of age. As the adults start to leave once their chick has fledged, bird numbers do get low during the latter part of our season (late March/April).
We are a seasonal operation and generally run from late September/early October through to the end of April but this can alter each season. Tours operate most days, although we there are some days we cannot run due to tide times (these occur more often at the beginning and end of the season), and we are closed on Christmas Day.
What time do the tours depart?
As we travel along the beach and rely on the tides, our departure times are different each day, and we only run one tour per day. Please refer to our departure schedule. You will need to arrive at Clifton at least 20 minutes prior to departure time for check-in.
Where do the tours depart from?
Our departure area is located at 475 Clifton Road, Clifton, Te Awanga (opposite Hygge at Clifton Bay Cafe) – this is approximately 25 minutes’ drive from Napier, Hastings or Havelock North. Our ticket office is located on the left-hand side of the road and there is plenty of free parking on the roadside. Public toilets are also available here.
Is it necessary to book or can I just turn up?
Bookings are essential – not only do we need to know our numbers in advance (so that we can organise our drivers for the day) but we also need to know that you are prepared for the tour before you arrive and booking in advance ensures this.
How do I make a booking?
It’s easy – just select any of the ‘book now’ buttons you see on our website! This will take you to our booking site, and a confirmation email will be sent once your booking request is received. Gift vouchers can also be purchased through this system and have a 12 month validity.
Do you operate a pick-up service from town?
As there is no public transport to or from Clifton, we do operate a transport service from town and this service can be selected at the time you make your online booking. There is a charge of $50.00 for one person, or $35.00 each for 2+ passengers (prices quoted are for the return trip).
Pickup is generally one hour prior to departure time, from one of the local I-Sites, but we will contact you the day prior to clarify the exact time.
How many people can you take and do you have a minimum number?
For the 2021-22 season, we anticipate that our capacity will be approximately 100 people. Obviously each day is different with regards to visitor numbers, so please contact us directly if you are concerned about how busy it might be. A tip: our early morning tours tend to be quieter.
Tours may be cancelled if minimum numbers are not met – if this happens, we will contact you to either arrange a different date or a refund.
Please be aware that the beach track is classified as a public road, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Hastings District Council, and there will likely be other beach users present (eg. other vehicles / walkers). Under their Operations Manual, HDC can also close the beach if certain conditions are present.
What happens if the weather is unfavourable?
We tend to go whatever the weather (unless it becomes a safety issue) so we ask that people come prepared for the weather on the day – and yes, it does rain sometimes in Hawke’s Bay! We advise you to check the forecast and if the conditions appear that they may change during the course of the tour, please come with the necessary gear – it can be exposed on the beach and at the upper colony.
There are times that we will cancel due to weather or sea conditions – please appreciate that cancellations can be made at the last minute so it is essential you provide accurate contact details with your booking. Please also note that the Hastings District Council can close the beach if certain conditions are present. Cancellation notifications are generally made by text message.
If the weather is doubtful and we decide to still go but you would rather not, that is fine – all we ask is that you give us a quick call and we can cancel your booking. We still have to organise our drivers so as much notice as possible is appreciated in these circumstances.
Are the trailers covered?
The trailers are not covered; however we do have tarpaulins we can bring out if there are showers or rain. On other days please come prepared with hats & sunscreen and cover up with loose, cool clothing if necessary.
Tip: You will be out in the open for the four hour period, apart from some shelter available at the DOC rest area – so for your own comfort please come prepared whatever the weather!
Is there a chance I could get wet (from sea-water)?
As we travel along the beach, and sometimes in the water, this is always a possibility. Please be especially aware of this if you are bringing cameras, cellphones or other items of an electronic nature – our recommendation is that you place these in a waterproof bag or container while we are in transit.
What happens if the tour is cancelled?
As mentioned above we do sometimes have to cancel due to weather or sea/beach conditions (because of safety reasons) and we will contact you as soon as possible if this is the case – but please appreciate that sometimes cancellations can be last-minute! Hastings District Council can also close the beach if certain conditions are present.
If we do cancel, we can either transfer you to another day, or cancel your booking (pre-payments will be refunded). Occasionally we start a trip only to have to turn-around and in this case refunds are provided as per our refund policy. Copies of our cancellation and refund policies are available here.
Note: Tours may also be cancelled if minimum numbers are not met.
Please refer to our Wellbeing Policy if you have any concerns because you are:-
- bringing young children
As the safety of our passengers is our top priority, please let us know when booking if you or any of your group has any physical or medical conditions that we need to be aware of.
Is there any walking involved, and how fit do I need to be (applicable to standard 4hr tour only)?
The walk to the lighthouse & upper colonies is optional – however the views are spectacular and worth the effort. This walk is approximately 25 minutes, 1.3km and you travel up to 100m elevation from beach level so moderate fitness is required. Don’t be daunted by the walk, but know your own limits as it is steep in places.
The Department of Conservation rest shelter is approx. 5mins walk from the beach, and there are toilets, picnic tables and shady trees here.
If you cannot manage the walk to the top, you can still see the gannets at Black Reef as there is no walking involved to see this colony. It is located on the beach itself and you can view the gannets here without even getting out of your trailer seat!
(Note: Black Reef tours do not include the option of walking to the Plateau colony)
NB: The walk to the top colony is maintained by DOC – they have recently downgraded this track to a ‘back country walk’ so maintenance is now minimal. Check their website for specific details if necessary.
How long is the tour?
The tour is approximately 4 hours duration, however there are the occasional days when we may run a little behind schedule due to slow beach conditions. The time is broken down as follows (approximate only):-
1.5hrs – from Clifton to Cape Kidnappers, with stops on the way to talk about the geology of the area;
1.5hrs – time spent at Cape Kidnappers itself;
1hr – from Cape Kidnappers to Clifton, with a stop at the Black Reef colony (where we impart our extensive knowledge of these fascinating seabirds!)
On certain days – due to late tides and daylight issues – we run shorter tours to Black Reef, where the first colony of gannets is located, of around 2.5-3hrs duration. We may sometimes run these at other times, at our discretion.
Exclusive tours may be available for group bookings – please enquire with us directly.
How comfortable is the tour?
As we travel along the beach the condition of the track can change with each tide – and although the beach is classed as a public road in NZ it is not maintained to those standards. If you are at all concerned about comfort please contact us a day or two prior to your tour and we can let you know what is happening out there. The beach track can be quite bumpy at times, so if you have back, neck or any other physical or medical ailments, we strongly suggest you contact us to discuss before you book. Cushions are provided on the trailers.
How long is spent with the Gannets, and how close do we get?
The stop at Cape Kidnappers is approximately 1.5hrs but please bear in mind that the walk up to the top Plateau colony takes approx. 25 minutes.
You will get to within a few metres of the gannets, and there is a barrier at the top colony so please ensure you stay behind this. At Black Reef, the gannets are nesting on rocks both on land and in the water.
Gannets are not endangered, but they are a protected seabird – with sharp, serrated beaks! – so please keep your distance.
Are there toilets en-route?
No, but there are toilets at our departure area, and at the Department of Conservation Rest Shelter at Cape Kidnappers. For Black Reef tours, the only toilets available are at our departure area.
What should I bring along?
- Warm clothing (jacket or windbreaker, sweatshirt etc) – it can get cool on the beach, even on a hot day;
- Sunhat, sunscreen & sunglasses & swimming gear (if conditions are appropriate);
- Sturdy covered shoes suitable for walking over uneven ground – underfoot conditions are a hazard, especially on the walking track in the DOC Reserve and on the beach itself;
- Food & water, enough for the duration of the tour (there is plenty of room on the trailers for a picnic lunch or dinner, or morning/afternoon tea – some people have even been known to bring breakfast on our early morning runs!). Note: The water supply at the DOC Reserve is not guaranteed.
- Wet weather gear, if necessary.
We advise you to check the weather forecast prior to your tour and come prepared!
We sell bottled water (but for environmental reasons we do encourage you bring your own) and a few pre-packaged snacks at our ticket office. Hygge at Clifton Bay Cafe is located across the road from our departure point, and is generally open for most of our departure times and returns (but check their website for opening times). For coffee addicts, Brown Dog Espresso is located at the local Four Square supermarket, or Haumoana Coffee in nearby Haumoana village.
Complimentary sunscreen is provided at our ticket office and is also available on-board the tractors for re-application during the tour. Rain ponchos are also available for purchase.