Tawharanui, Auckland’s Stunning Nature Park

Anchor Bay in Tawharanui Regional Park in Auckland. Jono Shields photos.
Anchor Bay in Tawharanui Regional Park in Auckland. Jono Shields photos.

Birdwatching in this Protected Tawharanui Regional Park

By Athena Rhodes

If I could define a place almost synonymous with paradise, I would choose Tawharanui Regional Park.

Takahē - On the Ecology trail. Athena Rhodes photo.
Takahē – On the Ecology trail. Athena Rhodes photo.

Located about an hour drive north of Auckland, New Zealand, this once private farm is now a fully fenced open sanctuary for the public to wander through.

This region is home to many native birds and a place that many vacationers flock to during the summer months.

This park is a puzzle piece of wonderful ecosystems that all mesh together seamlessly.

New Zealand Dotterels

There are the white sand beaches home to tūturiwhatu or New Zealand dotterels, the boggy pukeko dwelling wetlands, the native forests with towering kauri and deafening bird song and rolling grasslands home to sheep and cattle.

There is bush to explore, beaches to swim in, and picnic tables to dine at under the welcoming shade of the pohutukawas.

The Ecology Path

Fantail or piwakawaka on the Ecology Trail. Athena Rhodes photo.
Fantail or piwakawaka on the Ecology Trail. Athena Rhodes photo.

There are many walks to get lost in while exploring Tawharanui. A favorite is the Ecology Path.

There are a few ways to do this walk.

One way has you walking along the coastline, following the yellow triangles as you go, this route will have you clambering over rocks and enjoying the beautiful sea views as you go until you walk inwards towards the native bush.

This route can only be undergone when the tide is out. The other way is the ‘Ecology Trail Alternative’, which starts by veering right after the sanctuary hut and following a gravel road until you enter the native bush.

Kanuka forest - Ecology Trail
Kanuka forest – Ecology Trail. Jono Shields photo.

At both ends of the bush are kauri dieback cleaning stations to prevent the spread of dieback.

Visitors need to make sure that they properly clean their footwear and equipment before entering and when leaving the native bush and keep to the tracks.

This native forest is alive with bird songs. The morning is a great time to visit as the cacophony seems to be the loudest as the birds wake up for the day.

You will be able to hear the korimako or bellbird with their twinkling melody, the raucous laughing call of the tīeke or saddleback, the croaking cackles of the tui high above, and the Pterodactyl like screeches of the passing by kaka.

North Island robins or toutouwai hop along the path borders giving hikers a curious stare.

These birds have been known to be a hiker’s best friend, because of how close they approach people, with some even hopping on people’s shoes and bags.

But this is not done out of friendship, rather from opportunistic behavior. As people walk, they unearth tasty bugs for the robin to gobble up.

north island Robin
The north island robin on the trail.

The nocturnal patake or brown teal can sometimes be seen snoozing along the water edges and if you are very lucky, you may spot the resident takahē.

A bird that’s the population in New Zealand is less than 500 and was thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 1948.

When you spot a takahē, you may notice an antenna sticking out of their backs like some kind of old TV set.

This is part of a transmitter that is attached to their backs using a harness that fits under their wing.

This transmitter allows rangers and volunteers the ability to locate the takahē, with each bird having its own transmission number that the receiver can pick up.

Tawharanui park beach
Tawharanui park beach

The birds are monitored every six days by volunteers. This is important as in the past, some of the takahē have been known to go walkabouts and elude the predator-free fence that encircles the park. In 2019, the mated takahē pair, Walter and Manaaki, ended up being on the run for 10 days outside the safety of the fenced sanctuary.

They were eventually recaptured and returned to Tāwharanui, but because this was their second time escaping they were relocated to the predator-free island, Motutapu Island, for their own safety.

Ecology TrailIf you are brave at heart, you can venture into the forest as night falls. The forest feels different at night. The birds that twittered and flitted through the trees during daylight hours are now asleep. Now the mighty ruru rules the forest.

Their calls of morepork solemnly hanging in the night air. And if you are lucky, you may even hear or see a North Island brown kiwi.

Being nocturnal birds, they come out at night to forage for food. If you do decide to go night forest walking, make sure you bring a light, but as not to hurt any bird’s eyes – opt for a red filter light.

Or you can book the experience with Kiwiness Tours, who run tours in Tawharanui Regional Park. They take small groups in the forest at night to see the kiwis and teach people how to identify the differences between female and male kiwi and tell you cool information about these birds. The tours run in both summer and winter.

Caves at the Beach at Anchor Bay

Kanuka trees and the moon
Kanuka trees and the moon

The beach at Anchor Bay is a great spot to explore the caves, go swimming, snorkeling, surfing, or to read a book under the mighty pohutukawa tree that resides along the beachline.

Because this is a marine reserve, you can not take anything from here to take home, this includes shells, driftwood, or any marine creature for food.

Enjoy what is here — make memories from your experiences, you do not need to bring any keepsakes home with you. Just make sure you return another day.

And if a day trip is not enough, you can pitch a tent or roll up in your caravan, as a campsite is present at the regional park. The campground is huge, encompassing several large paddocks and can host nearly 300 people.

sunrise on the beachTaking a Longdrop

And if a day trip is not enough, you can pitch a tent or roll up in your caravan, as a campsite is present at the regional park.

The campground is huge, encompassing several large paddocks and can host nearly 300 people.

It is a bit of a rough and tumble experience with a couple of foreboding long drops present and a few taps for water.

A long drop is a kiwi outhouse, basically a non-flushing toilet with a pit underneath it.

To me, no traditional kiwi camping experience is complete without a longdrop.

It adds to the ambiance and instills in all a fear of having your bottom nibbled on by some lurking creature who calls the dark caverns of the long drop home. It will build character in your children, trust me.

And while you sleep, it is lovely to be able to hear the melodic calming ebb and flow of the ocean just yonder over the dunes, the haunting melodic notes of the ruru floating down from the trees as you are safely and warmly tucked away in your sleeping bag.

And as you make that nightly trek to that foreboding long-drop, you gaze upwards at this fathomless night sky.

Ablaze with thousands upon thousands of bright stars, a far cry from experiences of city lights and car headlights from the big smoke.

Spending the night at Tawharanui is definitely worth doing. It’s required that you book your camp spot and this can be done through the Auckland Council website.

Tawharanui Regional Park Info

1181 Takatu Road, Tāwharanui Peninsula 0986

No Dogs or other pets permitted at Tawharanui Regional Park.

Bring rubbish home with you No fires at all times.

No fishing or taking any marine life at the park.

Smoke-free park.

Automatic Gate access Summer for vehicles – 6am-9pm, Winter – 6am-7pm

Park website

Jono ShieldsAthena Rhodes is a writer and photographer from New Zealand. She currently lives in a van called Tofu and travels the country writing about it. She is also a budding wildlife photographer. When she is not writing, taking photos of birds, or traveling, she is drinking way too much caffeine or munching on chocolate.  

silouette on the beach
On the beach.
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