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Tawharanui Wildlife Sanctuary

“It’s a fantastic time to be a bird watcher (twitcher) in New Zealand,” travel writer and photographer Liz Light of Mahurangi West tell us. Bird watching is not just about birds, it’s about “being in our beautiful forests, walking on our beautiful beaches and getting up early and seeing the gorgeousness of this country at a different time of the day.”

As the number of wildlife sanctuaries and predator-controlled areas increases around New Zealand, so too do the opportunities for people to go bird watching. Our very own Tawharanui Regional Park is one such example. Tawharanui is an integrated open sanctuary that combines farming, recreation and conservation.

In 2003, a predator-proof fence was built across the bottom of the peninsula and Auckland Council started a concentrated campaign to rid the park of the introduced animals that had been decimating our native birds for two hundred years. In 2005, Tawharanui became predator free.

Tawharanui has a variety of bird habitats, including brackish ponds for water birds, wetlands for margin dwellers, beaches for shorebirds, rainforest for kiwis and passerines and rocky coastland for seabirds. It’s also a beautiful place for swimming, camping, surfing and walking.

For the best Tawharanui twitching spots, Liz recommends first checking out the lagoon near the sanctuary gate: a great place for spotting pātake, paradise shelduck, pied shags, shoveler, banded rail, variable oystercatcher, pied stilt and other species depending on the day. The nearby wetland is good habitat for takahē, kiwi (at night), bittern and pūkeko.

The end of the peninsula is a great place for spotting seabirds. Grey-faced petrels, fluttering shearwaters and diving petrels nest here in spring and summer. The sea adjoining the north coast is a marine reserve, making it a rich feeding ground for seabirds. Australasian Gannets can often be seen diving.

Pipit are found on the central farmland tracks. The Ecology Trail (2 hours) from Anchor Bay meanders through Rainforest Valley where bellbirds chime, fantails flit across the path, robins hop about, kereru feast on flowers and tui chase each other, weaving through trees at speed.

The north-facing beaches have numerous resident dotterels, and little penguins can be seen at dusk, in spring and summer, coming from the sea and across the beach to their nests.

Summer holidays can be busy, but many of the birds are residents so all other seasons are good.

Liz spent two years travelling the country in search of the best spots for twitchers and eco-tourists to photograph New Zealand’s unique, and all too often endangered, bird species for her book, The 50 Best Birdwatching Sites In New Zealand. https://www.whitcoulls.co.nz/product/the-50-best-birdwatching-sites-in-new-zealand-6486927

This richly illustrated book will not only capture armchair naturalists and travellers, but the more active birdwatchers among us will also enjoy this very accessible and entertaining guide as they venture through different parts of the country.

All bird families of New Zealand are described, and the 50 key sites on the North and South Islands, Rakiura/Stewart Island and Chatham Islands where birdwatchers have the best chance of seeing specific species are detailed.

Descriptions of each site cover the type of terrain and the tracks and trails where certain species are likely to be encountered. Particular species for each site are highlighted. A fact file for each site also lists the best time to visit, facilities and accommodation. The book includes photos by local bird photographer, Oscar Thomas.

As a high-flying journalist, Liz travelled extensively but it was New Zealand that held her heart. She utterly loved its unique birdlife and splendid scenery about which she wrote with irrepressible enthusiasm. Liz won numerous awards for both her writing and photography.