Firth of Thames

Other NZ Ramsar sites: Farewell Spit Kopuatai Manawatu Estuary Awarua Waituna Whangamarino

Photo of birdwatchers at the Firth

Photo and Red Knot drawing: Brian Chudleigh

Drawing of red knot

The Firth of Thames is well worth a detour to view the thousands of wader birds that visit annually. The mudflats, shell banks, grass flats, saltmarsh and mangrove forest, form one of the three most important coastal areas for shorebirds in New Zealand. 
The skies above the shallow estuarine waters of the Firth are often flecked with flocks of migratory birds on the wing. In spring, godwits, knots and other migrating birds start arriving from as far away as Siberia and Alaska. In autumn, these birds fly north, and at the same time, native birds from other parts of New Zealand start arriving on the Firth. The most numerous of these are pied oystercatchers and wrybills. 

A major feature of the Firth of Thames wetland area is the 2 km wide Miranda shellbank. It is a globally rare land form known as a chenier plain, comprising old beach ridges that are left inland as the shoreline moves towards the sea. 

The Miranda Shorebird Centre has information and displays to help visitors find the best spots to view the birds. 

Key facts for visitors 

  • Shorebird Network Site. A large (7,800 ha) coastal reserve, comprising shallow marine water, mud and grass flats, mangrove swamp, salt marsh, and swampland
  • Established as a Ramsar Site: 21/09/1990
  • Miranda Shorebird Centre. Information centre, gift shop, accommodation, guided tours by arrangement. Ph 09 232 2781 for information.
  • Robert Findlay Wildlife area. A great easily accessible area to watch birds. All along the coast are great views.
  • Forest and Bird's Karaka bird hide. Open to the public at all times, get close up views of the waders (near the Goldfields Shopping Mall, Brown Street, Thames). Take the board walk through the mangroves to the hide.
  • Monument Hill lookout, Thames. Amazing views of the area. Take Waiotahi Creek Road to the top, at the north of Thames.
  • The rare green mistletoe (Ileostylus micranthus) grows on swamp coprosma and marsh ribbonwood trees in the Miranda area. It has small greenish yellow flowers and yellow fruit when ripe, and looks like a dark green ball in the middle of its host plant.  Do not remove mistletoes, they are protected plants, and will die if removed from their host plant.

How to get there 
1.5 hours from Auckland along the East Coast Road from Kaiaua to Miranda.

More information

Read the incredible story of the Godwit E7 and fly around the world with her in Google Earth

Find out about the Muddy Feet project, a multi-agency approach to protect the Hauraki Gulf including the Firth of Thames.

Read more about the Firth of Thames in the Directory of Wetlands in New Zealand (see Chapter 13).

Map of the Firth of Thames
Map courtesy of Waikato Regional Council

Return to our RAMSAR page