Road trips: Southeast Auckland to Waikato

By: Road Trip

Road trippers would do well to stop and spend some time on the “Seabird Coast”, between southeast Auckland and the mighty Waikato.


Less than an hour’s drive south-east of Auckland Airport, along the Firth Of Thames, is a great base for day visits to Thames, Coromandel, or any number of places in the Waikato district, yet so sparse and peaceful it feels like you’ve dropped onto another planet.

The Seabird Coast, heading south of Auckland, is internationally famous for its natural mineral hot pools and the migratory birds that flock to the shoreline – up to 10,000 at any one time, including around half of the entire population of the endemic Wrybill.

Motorhomers are welcome to take advantage of the short (and well-signposted) freedom camping area along the beach. Vehicles are permitted to stay two nights and you get the benefit of waking up to one of the most spectacular views imaginable, out across the water towards Coromandel, the Waihou River, and the Firth of Thames (named by Captain Cook in 1769, after the England’s Thames River).

Waitakaruru is renowned for its plentiful flounder. Non-fishers can enjoy award–winning fish and chips at Kaiaua or enjoy the delicate taste of flounder at nearby Ngatea.

Also at Ngatea are the renowned water gardens, which comprise two hectares of beautifully landscaped grounds with a playground, shop, and function centre.

Each small settlement along this route offers, crafts, collectables, and fresh local food — there’s even a golf course. And the Miranda Hot Springs provide the perfect place to park up and enjoy a soak in the thermal pools at the end of a long day exploring.

Things to see and do

Miranda Hot Springs Pool: the largest such swimming facility in the southern hemisphere and a pleasant stop to relax and reboot.

The Miranda Shorebird Centre: 283 East Coast Road, Pokeno. Open daily from 9am-5pm. No charge but donations are appreciated. Read more about bird watching in Miranda.

Ngatea Water Gardens: Bratlie Place, off SH2. Open Sunday to Thursday and featuring five acres of grounds with a wheelchair-friendly path. Birds can be hand-fed and there are fish and turtles claimed to be among the oldest in New Zealand.

Need to know

Freedom camping for up to two nights is permitted at the hugely-popular Rays Rest Camping Reserve – have your self-containment certificate on display.

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