Birdwatchers’ paradise

Like me, you’ve probably driven past certain places often enough, wishing there was time to stop and nosey around. Usually another destination is calling – have to get here, have to get there – and that intriguing spot is left behind for another day. For me one of those places is the Miranda Shorebirds Coast on East Coast Road about 60 kilometres south east of Auckland. I’ve driven past so many times, looking longingly at gleaming strip of white shells that defines the coastline.  Thousands of birds gather here over our summer to escape the winter in Alaska and Siberia and to feast on a rich seafood diet. When they return north in March other migrating birds arrive from closer to home, leaving New Zealand’s South Island for the milder North Island winter climate.

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This crushed-shell road  runs parallel to East Coast Road between Kaiaua and Miranda

So the coast line between Miranda and Kaiaua is a birdwatchers’ paradise and I really enjoyed the day we spent picnicking there last week.

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Self-contained camper vans (ie with on-board toilets) can stay for 2 nights overlooking the Firth of Thames. In this photo there are just a handful – during the summer months when the birds have gathered there can be thirty or more vans parked along here.

The drive out to the coast is lovely: we left east Auckland through Howick, turned right at Whitford, and left at Brookby onto Twilight Road. This scenic route wends through native bush to Clevedon and from there it’s on, across rolling farmland, through Kawakawa Bay to Kaiaua. The abundance of yellow-eyed mullet here (aua in Maori, while kai means food or eating) gave the settlement its name, as these fish thrive in the Thames estuary. Leaving Kaiaua, there are plenty of places to park along the shelly beach overlooking the Firth of Thames. This is a lonely, windswept stretch of coast, with not a house is sight and very few trees, and yet as the tide went out, leaving the mudflats glistening in the afternoon sun we appreciated its peaceful, enigmatic beauty and admired the clouds reflected on the seabed.

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Looking across the Firth of Thames at low tide to the Coromandel Ranges and towards Thames.

The birds followed the tide out, so this was a good place for binoculars. We recognised oyster catchers, pied stilts and of course a variety of gulls: ideally we would have been there nearer high tide when it’s so much easier to identify the birds! In late afternoon the sun picked out every fold and ridge in the rugged Coromandel Peninsular. The coastal town of Thames seemed suddenly so close across the Firth’s deep bluey-green waters. When it was time to head home we decided to go back the way we’d come. However a complete loop would have been to continue on along the coast to Waitakaruru. This would have taken us past the Miranda Shorebirds Centre (www.miranda-shorebirds.org.nz) and Miranda Hot Springs, and from Waitakaruru north to Pokeno and then up the motorway back to Auckland. So either way, there is plenty of interest to make this a really enjoyable day out.

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