The Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve, 21 kilometres south of Napier in the province of Hawke's Bay, is rare in twitching (birdwatching) circles; not only is it the biggest mainland gannet colony in the world, it is easy to get to.
Cape Kidnappers, like many other places in New Zealand, was named by British explorer Captain James Cook, in 1769, after an incident in which a group of local Maori tried to kidnap his Tahitian interpreter. Cook, however, did not mention gannets. It was not till 1870 that Henry Hill, a Hawke's Bay naturalist, reported a gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and recorded the population as not exceeding 50. There are now approximately 6500 pairs.
The Walk and When to Do It
Starting from Scotsman's Point at Clifton, the five-hour return beach walk (which should be attempted at low tide only) takes you past spectacular views of stratified rock beds, and gives glimpses of petrified wood and thin seams of lignite1. The sea and wind have carved shapes out of the soft sands and shingles of the cliffs, and the fragmented fault and tilt lines tell the story of the region's many earthquakes.
For twitchers, there are two colonies of blackbacked gulls and wild pigeons living on the cliffs. White-fronted terns nest near Black Reef, and usually a few black shags can be seen further out on the reef. The Australasian gannet (takapu) is very much an individualist and is believed to nest in big numbers for protection from natural enemies. The nest spacing reflects the pecking range of birds on nests. They will attack any object or bird that strays into their territory. As the season progresses, the nest - which begins as a dark tangle of seaweed and grasses - gradually consolidates.
The best time to visit is between November and February, when young chicks are getting ready for their Big OE2 to Australia. But heed the signs and do not scare them - no dogs, horses or fires. The Saddle and Black Reef colonies are closed to the public, but the Black Reef colony can be seen from the beach. Check the tide times first - the best time to start the walk is at least three hours after high tide; and start back from the cape no later than 90 minutes after low tide.
How to Get There
The walk starts between Clifton and Te Awanga, about 21km south of Napier and 18km east of Hastings. For the less energetic, tractor-powered wagon rides can be booked. Timetables for the motorised trips and information on tide-times is available at the Napier Visitor Information Centre.