Sunday drive: Firth of Thames

By Cate Foster

A coastal road south of Auckland has Cate Foster in a flap.

Kawakawa Bay is an old-fashioned beach town just one hour from central Auckland. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Kawakawa Bay is an old-fashioned beach town just one hour from central Auckland. Photo / Kenny Rodger

The road south of Clevedon around the Firth of Thames is often overlooked, but it's one of the prettiest in the country and passes some destinations that are appealing year-round.

Our first stop is Ciao Bella Kitchen and Store in Clevedon for some treats to enjoy en route. We join the Pacific Coast Highway just out of Clevedon and head south towards the section known as The Seabird Coast. On the way, we cruise through Kawakawa Bay, one of those time-forgotten settlements, looking languid in the winter sunlight.

Not a soul is in sight, not a sound can be heard - it's hard to believe we are less than an hour out of Auckland's sprawl.

Once over the headland south of Kawakawa Bay and through a couple of lush reserves, we come down towards Kaiaua and the marshy flats that have given this stretch of highway its name and its shoreline an international reputation.

A wetland of worldwide significance, this area hosts huge flocks of migrating godwits and knots in February and March, which congregate to feed before setting off on their epic journey to the Arctic Circle.

Just in case we don't realise where we are, a giant statue of an oystercatcher on the outskirts of Kaiaua reminds us. Nearby, a couple of picnic tables looking out across the firth make a great rest spot. We devour our delicacies and a thermos of coffee, and are on our way.

A few kilometres south of Kaiaua is the Miranda Shorebird Centre, where we head out on foot to the coast. The one-hour loop walk in the wind is just the ticket. All around is the silence of deep countryside, with only the far-off barking of a farm dog and the occasional cry of a seabird overhead to break the stillness.

Back in the car, the Miranda Hot Springs beckon. With a big outdoor pool and smaller hot tubs, this is just the place to warm up on a winter's day. Afterwards, refuel at the Kaiaua fish-and-chip shop, before looping back to Auckland via either SH2 or Hunua.

If you're feeling energetic, you can take the turn off the main road to Hunua Falls for a walk past the 30m waterfall and along one of the bush tracks.

DRIVE TIME

Miranda is about 80km from the CBD - a drive of about 90 minutes.

Ciao Bella Kitchen and Store: 439 Papakura-Cleveland Rd, Clevedon, ph (09) 292 9229.

Miranda Shorebird Centre: 283 East Coast Rd, Miranda, ph (09) 232 2781. Stay for $25 a bunk or $85 for a self-contained unit. Contact: shorebird@xtra.co.nz.

Miranda Hot Springs: Main Rd, Miranda, ph (07) 867 3055.

- NZ Herald

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