Cape Kidnappers Walking Track: Visit a Gannet Bird Colony
Are you looking for a rewarding hike which combines amazing fauna and flora? What about Cape Kidnappers Walking Track in Hawke's Bay near Napier, a hike which will take you through beautiful scenery to a large gannet bird colony? Read our travel guide on Cape Kidnappers, which includes tips on when to go, what to pack, where to stay and much more.
Napier is one of the top tourist destinations in New Zealand. The city is pleasant, and it offers different attractions and things to do than the rest of popular destinations in the country.
Most of the must-visit places in New Zealand are connected with nature and hikes, travelers usually skip cities, because they are usually not that interesting like medieval cities in, for example, Europe. To become one of the best destinations in the country, there had to be first a disaster in Napier.
Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, and the city was severely damaged, but later, it was rebuilt, rebuilt with vision as locals say, and the city is now proud of Art Deco buildings and paintings all around the city.
Had anyone told us before our visit to Napier that our favorite thing to do would be a one-day trip to a bird colony, we would have probably not believed it.
At first, we were not looking for hikes in the area, because we were in Napier stocking up for a multi-day Waikaremoana Track, but if we found one thing positive in New Zealand (trust us, there are many more), it was the approach of staff working in the visitor's centers, who were often able to enthuse us for doing things we did not even know about.
Right after one visit like this, we were advised to take a walking track to Cape Kidnappers where is one of the largest gannet colonies in the world, and as the following day the weather forecast looked promising, we decided to give the hike try, as we still had one spare day.
In this post, we aim to cover everything you should know before visiting Cape Kidnappers.
We share with you our experience from the hike, and tips on where to stay, where to find the trailhead, when is the best time to visit the area, and also what tour to take in case you do not want to walk 19 kilometers.
CAPE KIDNAPPERS NAME
Cape Kidnappers is also known as Te Kauwae-a-Māui, the name comes from Maori ancient story, but the English name is used more often, as it is much easier to pronounce.
But where the Cape Kidnappers got its name?
In 1769, when Captain Cook was sailing around New Zealand on his ship Endeavour, he anchored near the cape as he wanted to further discover this part of New Zealand.
A Maori man paddled up to the ship on an open sea to trade, but he noticed a young Tahitian boy on the Cook's ship, and as his skin was dark, he mistakenly thought it must be someone from his tribe.
He kidnapped the boy, but meanwhile the fight broke out, the Maori man was defeated, and Tahitian boy escaped and swam back to Endeavour.
That day, James Cook named the cape Cape Kidnappers.
GANNET BIRD COLONY
New Zealand was the first destination, where we visited a bird colony.
We did not know what to expect from this trip at all.
Do not take us wrong, we really like nature and animals, but until that time we could not imagine to travel anywhere solely because of the birds.
But the visit of Cape Kidnappers took this whole experience to the new level, and it does not matter if you are not a bird lover or if you even do not know who the gannets are, you will find out soon, and we hope you will find the visit of the cape as inspiring as we did.
The gannet birds are members of the Booby family - several years later, we saw Blue-footed boobies on the Galapagos Islands, and although it was a different species, it brought us back memories on our favorite afternoon we walked to Cape Kidnappers, and we realized we haven't written a single post about it yet, so here it is.
The largest gannet colony in the world is right here at Cape Kidnappers, and the Australasian Gannet is an interesting bird with a yellow neck and white body, famous for a small dance - a male when he arrives in the nest tangles the long yellow neck with a female, and this habit is one of the most photographed poses of the gannets.
Gannets are great flyers with a wingspan around two meters, and they catch fish by a spectacular dive which is often called water bombing.
HOW TO GET TO CAPE KIDNAPPERS TRAILHEAD
If you plan on walking to Cape Kidnappers, you will find the trailhead in Clifton, which is a small settlement 18 kilometers east of Hastings and 21 kilometers south from Napier, so it should take you less than thirty minutes to reach the starting point, in case you spend the night in one of those cities.
You can park your car in Clifton.
There is no public transport between Napier or Hastings and Clifton, but in case you do not have own car, you must either hitchhike or take a tour which departs from the cities above.
HOW TO GET TO CAPE KIDNAPPERS
There are several ways on how to get to Cape Kidnappers, and your choice only depends on how much time you have, what is your budget or what is your preferred way of travel.
We decided to walk to Cape Kidnappers, which is the most demanding, but also the cheapest way how to get to the gannet colony, and we recommend it to anyone, who is not pressed for time, and who can walk 19 kilometers.
In case you do not want to walk, or simply look for a different experience, you can either rent a kayak, hop on a tractor-trailer or take a guided tour which is authorized to drive almost to the colony, and the guide will provide you with an interesting commentary about the flora and fauna.
As we reached Cape Kidnappers on foot, below we will tell you more about the walking track.
CAPE KIDNAPPERS WALKING TRACK
Cape Kidnappers hike is pretty straightforward, and although it is not the shortest hike ever, it is 8.5 kilometers one way, it is not hard, as most of the trail leads along the ocean, and you will gain elevation (only about 100 meters) on the last kilometer on the way to the viewpoint and the major gannet colony.
The beginning of the trail led us on the sandy beach, and we could admire beautiful cliffs on the side of the beach which create a rugged wall. You do not have to be worried you will miss the views when taking a tour, as you will see the beach from above.
Except for sand, cliffs, shells and rough sea, there is not much more to see, but believe us, it is pretty much you need to be blown away. The day we went the sun was really harsh, so remember to pack sunscreen and sun hat, because there is no place to hide, and we used all spare clothes we had to cover our heads from sunstroke.
For the last kilometer or a kilometer and a half you will leave the shore, and the path climbs uphill to the first nesting site called Black Reef, take photos and a short break, and continue to the end of the trail, where you will find the largest most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world.
It is absolutely wonderful sight - many birds nest on the cliff overlooking Hawke's Bay, but you can see more than 20 000 gannets during the season at this place. Yes, it smells here, but it is only a small price you have to pay for such an amazing experience.
Hadn't it been for the birds, the hike to Cape Kidnappers would have been amazing as well because the views and pointy rocks in the water are absolutely photogenic, but the bird colony makes this place even more special.
If you reached this point as us on foot, watch your clock, to make sure you will make it to Clifton before high tide comes.
WHEN TO HIKE CAPE KIDNAPPERS WALKING TRACK & WHAT TO PACK
It is possible to walk to Cape Kidnappers all year round, but if your main motivation is to see the beautiful gannet bird colony, plan your visit between September and April.
As some sources say you can see birds only between November and February, it is always better to ask when you are in the area if it is worth it to go there (hint: it is, even when the birds are gone), but to make sure you will see them, plan your trip accordingly, and rather skip the shoulder season.
It is pretty windy in the area, and there is no shade or a place to hide when it rains, and we are not even mentioning it gets cold in winter (June to September), so you should come well-prepared, and well-equipped.
There is one more thing you should know before hiking to Cape Kidnappers - the walk for the bigger part leads along the beach, so the hike can be done only during low tide, otherwise, the trail is gone.
You can check the tide situation in the visitors center in either Napier or Hastings, or check the tide timetable here.
Generally, you should leave at least three hours after high tide, and start your journey back an hour and a half after low tide minimum.
Here are several essential things you should pack for Cade Kidnappers Walking Track:
When walking on own, you do not have many options to choose the time of the day when to hike to Cape Kidnappers, because you have to pay attention to the tide schedule.
But if you are looking for a more private and more spectacular experience, you can check out the sunrise tour.
WHERE TO STAY BEFORE CAPE KIDNAPPERS WALKING TRACK
The trailhead to Cape Kidnappers is situated a short, less than thirty minutes long drive from two cities, Hastings and Napier, but Napier is more picturesque as it is famous for Art Deco architecture, built after the city was destroyed by an earthquake.
Therefore, we think Napier is a better fit for your New Zealand travel itinerary, and that's why we also handpicked three best hotels in this city for every type of traveler.
Budget | Napier Arthouse Backpackers - A friendly hostel with ocean views has a great location and amenities and offers both private room and dormitories, so it does not matter if you are a solo traveler or if you travel as a couple.
Mid-range | Beachfront Motel - This accommodation is one of the most popular choices in Napier for a reason. It has a great location, and self-contained studios are perfect for either families or couples.
Luxury | Scenic Hotel Te Pania - Even from the outside you can tell this is a splendid hotel. Guests get perfect services, comfortable rooms, and views over Hawke's Bay.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
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