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The surface morphology and the spatial distribution of defect-related luminescence of GaN(0001) layers grown by plasma-assisted molecular-beam epitaxy under gallium-rich conditions has been investigated. Droplets of liquid gallium form on the surface during growth and lead to distinct spiral hillocks under the droplet. The droplets are surrounded by extended voids which point to an incomplete gallium adlayer on the GaN surface during growth at the droplet boundary. Cathodoluminescence spectra indicate an enhanced intensity in the yellow spectral range for the GaN under the droplets which is attributed to a change in the local density of point defects in the layer. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.