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Cape Kidnappers trip undertaken at own risk

Cape Kidnappers slip

After receiving a risk analysis of the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauae-a-Māui, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Hastings District Council (HDC) say people will be able to access the DOC track at the end of the beach later in the year – but warn that the risks are high.

The landslide and rockfall hazard presented by the cliffs above the beach is significant, unpredictable, and potentially fatal, according to the final Quantitative Risk Assessment report (QRA). This technical report was commissioned after the 2019 landslide that seriously injured two tourists.

The QRA compares the risk for people travelling along the beach as equivalent to the risks faced by people undertaking mountain climbing.

“Mountain climbers are generally well-informed and prepared for the obvious risks they face – very different from most day visitors looking to walk this mainly flat beach walk. Many visitors are seeking a relatively safe and easy walk, not somewhere where the chance of serious injury or fatality is a very real possibility,” says DOC Lower North Island Operations Director Hayden Barrett.

“DOC seeks, wherever possible, to provide people with unrestricted access to conservation lands. While we can never eliminate all risk in a natural environment, we can set expectations and provide people with better information to help them understand these risks and make informed choices.”

The risk from the natural hazards at Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauae-a-Māui cannot be mitigated, but some controls to help manage the risk and avoid restricting all access can be put in place, says Hayden Barrett. This includes warning people of the risks, monitoring the cliffs, temporary closures where necessary and changing DOC’s management of visitor facilities.

In keeping with DOC’s management of other sites considered unsuitable for typical day visitors, DOC will manage its facilities at Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauae-a-Māui like those at a remote site. This includes providing appropriate warning information at the site and maintaining the DOC track to a lower backcountry standard.

“Now that we understand the high level of risk, we cannot provide facilities – such as a well-groomed track – that might signal to people that the trip is safe. By aligning our management with that of back country sites, we aim to discourage people who are simply after a casual beach walk.”

Before the DOC track can be reopened, some of this work to address visitor risk issues needs to be completed. This work will be completed over the next few months, aiming to reopen the track in time for the gannet season.

Signs at the Clifton Beach entrance will be updated to note the risk, along with information on the DOC and HDC websites. The walk along the beach will not be promoted.

“The Council and DOC will be co-managing the access to address the risks as one seamless journey, which includes the development of a joint Experience Management Plan. We will also be monitoring the entrance of the beach and if we’re still seeing visitors unaware of the risks, we’ll look at adjusting the information we provide,” says HDC Group Manager Asset Manager Craig Thew.

“Both DOC and HDC would like to acknowledge the many local businesses and residents, who have faced uncertainty about access and activities associated with the beach while waiting for a decision to be made.”

Before Gannet Beach Adventures can resume operation, they will need to update their safety plan to satisfactorily address the risks now identified in the QRA, DOC’s Hayden Barrett says.

DOC has provided Gannet Beach Adventures with the QRA and is working with them to ensure they understand the steps they need to take.

Anyone considering walking along the beach should make sure they understand the serious risks first and, if they are not comfortable, not undertake the walk. As with any walk in the outdoors, know before you go and only undertake a walk within your skill level.

An option for accessing the gannet colony without travelling along the beach is still available via another tourism operator.

A copy of the final Quantitative Risk Assessment report is available on the DOC website.

15 July 2020

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