Miranda Shorebird Center and Thames

The moment to venture out onto the highway had arrived. The thought of driving on the other side of the road terrified us both, but Walt had bravely volunteered to take on the challenge. He spent hours studying the New Zealand driver's manual and trying to visualize roundabouts.

We breezed out of the rental car garage, cruised through 3 roundabouts in rapid succession, and managed to merge onto an expressway without incident. Maybe driving in New Zealand wouldn't be so bad after all.

We had decided to stop at the Miranda Shorebird Sanctuary on our way to our next destination - Thames. As we headed down a narrow local road, we were greeted by an ominous sign advising us that the twisty road ahead was "unforgiving". Our confidence wavered, but we motored on.

I was struck by the thought that New Zealand is a very empty country. We were only about an hour's drive outside of Auckland, but there was no one in sight - only sheep and cattle grazing in the fields - until we rounded a curve and found ourselves unexpectedly in a town. For some reason, there were a lot of people standing in front of a small building and spilling onto the roadside. They glanced at us with dazed eyes. It was like a scene from a creepy horror movie. Who were these strange people and why were they standing in the road? They motioned that we should drive around them so we shrugged and motored on.

The bird sanctuary turned out to be a small building in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, the only time the shorebirds appeared was at high tide which was several hours away so we snapped some pictures of the vast nothingness around the building and carried on to Thames.

These pictures were taken at the duck pond next to the sanctuary.

Thames, a once thriving gold mining town, is just a sleepy little hamlet these days, but its location makes it a good base for exploring the Coromandel Penninsula.

We enjoyed lunch at the Whimsical Cat Cafe and wandered the streets looking in the store windows.

We could see The Firth of Thames a couple of blocks off main street, and eventually we wandered down to have a closer look. We followed a path down to the water and startled a flock of ducks.

When we checked into our bed and breakfast later that afternoon, we were greeted warmly by our hosts Garth and Adrienne and their neighbor's affable cat who felt he owned the place. We soon found ourselves enjoying a tray of tea and hot scones on the deck outside our room. They suggested many dinner options, but we had no desire to venture out again. It was much too pleasant to just sit and sip a beer as the sun set.