15 Jul 2020

DOC exaggerating Cape Kidnappers risk - tour operator

6:56 pm on 15 July 2020

A Hawke's Bay tour operator is accusing the Department of Conservation (DOC) of exaggerating the dangers at Cape Kidnappers.

The Cape Kidnappers'  slip from a cliff taken in January 2020.

The Cape Kidnappers' slip seen from a cliff in a photo taken in January 2020. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

The walkway around the Cape, which has been closed since January 2019 when two tourists were seriously injured by a landslide, will reopen at the end of the year.

But DOC is warning the area is still unstable, and those who use the walkway are risking their lives.

The landslide that swept two tourists into the ocean has buried Colin Lindsay's business, Gannet Beach Adventures, for the last 18 months.

Lindsay said he was longing to get back to the cape and taking tourists on vintage tractors to the famous gannet colony.

But that would likely be several months away yet.

A report released today by GNS Science on the area rated the risk of walking along the beach and track as higher than rafting and jet boating or visiting Fox or Franz Josef glacier.

DOC said that was higher risk than it expected - but Lindsay disagreed, saying the track should have opened months ago.

"It's only the Department of Conservation that have dragged it along, wanting two risk assessments to be completed and then they've obviously run it through their teams and have finally decided yeah, that they will reopen it."

A second report released today by the consultancy firm Stantec on the hazards at the cape found three instances of beach users being struck by landslides - in 1973, 1998 and 2019. There have been no deaths.

Two photos show the progressive slips at Cape Kidnappers where two people were injured.

The aftermath of two separate slips at Cape Kidnappers in early 2019. Photo: Supplied / Hastings District Council

About 15,000 tourists a year visit the beach and cape.

DOC's lower north island operations manager, Hayden Barrett, said the department plan to reopen the track at the end of the year - but the GNS report showed the risk remains high.

"So that was a bit more extreme than what we thought and as a result, we made the decision to reduce the level of track standard that we're going to be providing to our visitors and really inform them about that level of risk and leave it up to them to decide whether they're willing to accept that before using the site."

The GNS report said risk visiting the gannets was just less than the eruption risk when walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Associate Professor Martin Brook of Auckland University's School of Environment said it was fair enough for DOC to reopen the track, but people had to know what they were doing.

"People have been mitigating the risks themselves I guess, in response to what's going on at the cliff. But I guess it comes down to your perception of risk ultimately."

Cape Kidnappers signage

A closed sign at the track. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

The Hastings District Council manages the part of the beach where last year's landslip happened.

Its assets manager, Craig Thew, said it would work with DOC to mitigate the risks but he wanted to stress it was not a walk in the park.

"It's not just a standard day walker, it is more targeted as someone who's walking and can manage those risks and is fully aware of it."

There was no set date for reopening the track but it should be later this year.

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