Exotic Animals Protected at Cape Kidnappers

The 18 holes at Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, have, in the first two months of 2014, solidified their place among the top-ranked courses in the world along with its standing as one of golf's most ambitious environmental properties.

Red-Billed Gulls & White-Fronted Terns
Gather at Flat Rock Colony at Cape Kidnappers

On January 16, Audubon International renewed Cape Kidnappers GC as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, its highest environmental designation and one that only 873 of the world's approximately 35,000 courses have achieved. The week prior, Golf Digest issued its first-ever global top 100 and Tom Doak-designed Cape Kidnappers came in at No. 22.

There are three Audubon-certified courses ranked ahead of Cape Kidnappers on the Golf Digest list, all in the U.S.: No. 1 Pine Valley GC, No. 14 Merion GC, and No. 15 Pebble Beach. However, it's unlikely that any course ranked above or below Cape Kidnappers is home to as many endangered species or wildlife protection zones, to say nothing of kiwi footprints in bunkers and rare kakariki birds nesting in the maintenance shed.

"We've recently added bee hives to the property, which will help pollination of all the Cape's plant species and we plan to extract our own 'Cape Honey' for the restaurant at some point," said Cape Kidnappers course superintendent Brad Sim. "We've also added some 1,689 native plantings in the last year, representing 11 different species, and a wildflower field, which is more a point of interest for our non-golfing guests, perhaps, but it looks pretty spectacular. It's this combination of world-class golf, lodging and environmental programs that makes Cape Kidnappers so unique.

"On the golf side, we do take notice of new world rankings," the Australian-born Sim continued. "We're quite proud and definitely have high goals to maintain our spot, or improve it. With Kauri sneaking up a few places, to [sister course Kauri Cliffs GC in Bay of Island, NZ is ranked No. 39 on the same list], we're obligated to keep pace."

Cape Kidnappers is more than a top golf destination - it's a landform unto itself, a triangular headland whose white cliffs jut 8 kilometers into the Pacific from the North Island, the wine-region community of Napier. Owned by American hedge-fund leader Julian Robertson, the golf course and adjoining lodge (the Farm at Cape Kidnappers) occupy but a fraction of a 2,400-hectare property that represents one of the largest privately owned wildlife preserves in New Zealand.

The resort itself, the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, has earned a lofty reputation in its own right. In 2010, it was named to Travel+Leisure's "World's Top 50 Hotels," and earned Gold List status from Condé Nast Traveller in 2012. Soon its dining room will serve homegrown honey alongside the meat and vegetables raised on the property.

Yet Cape Kidnappers also maintains the largest gannet colony in the world. Populations of rare kiwi and pateke birds - plus the very rare brown teal duck - are routinely released and nurtured here on land protected by a predator-proof fence some 13 km in circumference. Guests are invited to hike and explore the vast property - even track the kiwis now living in the Cape Sanctuary.

Sim's maintenance staff routinely works alongside Farm and Cape Sanctuary staff to ensure that the on-course environment complements work carried out across the wider property. This means, among other things, carrying out pest control, monitoring water quality in old farm dams, maintaining the integrity of the predator-proof fence, restoring habitat for native species, and removing invasive species like blackberry, pink ragwort and boxthorn.

Holes 12-17 at Cape Kidnappers GC

"We on the golf staff get involved with wildlife conservation efforts as much as possible," Sim said. "Prior to my arrival, the staff helped with building the bird-breeding aviaries and also installed their water supply, something we continue to maintain. We got a nice thankyou for that effort when we found the kakariki trying to nest in our maintenance shed last year.

"We always have a couple staff at any release of new species. Recently, there was a release of a predominately ground-dwelling bird, the Saddleback, which for many years only survived on a predator-free offshore island. They were brought in by helicopter and lots of locals came to witness the release, which was months in the planning."

Iwi representatives [Maori tribal elders] from both the bird's island of origin and Hawkes Bay region performed a karakia, a blessing or prayer.

"All watched over the release with great pride. The whole process is quite spiritual actually, as most of the releases are," Sim said. "The Saddleback in particular didn't go so well at first, but we've recently got evidence they're breeding: chicks and hatchling remnants. These are ground-running birds. They don't fly far, but they found a pair outside the Sanctuary in a local's garden down in Te Awanga, 10 to 15 kilometers away. This pair was released back into the sanctuary. The population will be 'topped up' in August, with a release of more Saddleback collected from Bushy Park in Wanganui."

When he and his staff aren't releasing rare species or nurturing the highly sought-after makuna honey, Sim does what all superintendents do: he tends to his golf course. They are working hard this season at organic matter reduction/control, which includes coring fairways for the first time since the club opened in 2004. ("Good, solid organic tactic. All about increasing turf health.") As part of Cape Kidnappers' recent recertification, Audubon International enlisted the help of Craig France of the Sustaining Hawkes Bay Trust. France visited the course and observed first-hand, and in great detail, Sim's environmental practices on course and off.

"Craig applauded your continuing efforts to maintain naturalized areas on the golf course, which provide valuable water, food and habitat for local and migratory wildlife in the area," wrote Doug Bechtel, Audubon's associate director of Environmental Programs. "He noted your extensive native plantings, sighted kiwi prints in a sand bunker (!), and was impressed by the diverse and extensive wildlife corridors and buffer habitats around all water bodies.

"Your pest-management methods and chemical-use practices at the course are exemplary, and we applaud your use of scouting, setting thresholds for turf diseases and pests, and creative use of cattle for Porina grub control. These are great examples of integrated pest management. Craig recorded all your appropriate IPM methods, and noted your rotation of low-toxicity pesticides and wide no-spray zones. We applaud these efforts and consider them good role models for other facilities."

For more information about Cape Kidnappers, visit www.capekidnappers.com.