Okarito is on the West Coast of the South Island, south of Hokitika and just north of Franz Josef. It is the home of the beautiful Kotuku – white heron, and we are off there for a few days to see the have a break, see the herons and have a kayak. Want to know where to stay at Okarito? Find out here
Okarito Lagoon is the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand More
It is a 3.5 hour drive to from Christchurch to Hokitika and then nearly 2 hours south towards Franz Josef. We head west from Christchurch towards the Southern Alps, across farmland with huge irrigators looking like out of this world robots ready to march across the landscape.
Springfield and the Yellow Café
At the foothills of the Alps, is our first recommended stop – Springfield and the Yellow Café. Always a friendly welcome here and I had a great bacon and egg roll and good coffee to start the day.
It was great sitting in the sun and reading the paper which was full of the election of a Labour Green Government, and our youngest prime minister – Jacinda Ardern.
Announced only last night, we are glued to the radio as we drive, hearing all the latest about it. Eventually the signal goes and we are forced to turn it off.
Hokitika for Lunch
Into the Southern Alps we go – following the course of the wide braided rivers, and the beech forests through Arthurs Pass, and over to the lush green wetness that is the West Coast. Next stop is Hokitika for lunch.
We drive down the mainstreet which is a tourist hotspot, I drive further thinking there must be a café the locals use. Past the clock tower to the end of the road and turn left. We find The Stella Cafe and Delicatessen.
We follow the bees painted on the floor, past the cheese room, to the hive of bees swarming in the wall (they make their own honey) and to a great cabinet full of food – a great choice.
Take a walk: Cross the road and turn right is an access directly to the beach or turn left and head for the walk along the river, or walk around the block where we discovered the gem that is the Wilderness Gallery Here we meet owner Juergen Schacke, and have another great connection over who won the election last night.
The Wilderness Gallery is quite special, as Juergen really only stocks unique products – many you will not find other places, including some fabulous photos that Juergen himself has taken, some jewellery made from fossils and some amazing steel bird cut outs – we buy two!
We still have nearly two hours to go – a lovely drive through to Okarito and The Cedar house which we discover has all the mod cons, including a great kitchen, wood fire two bedrooms, TV, DVDs and Wifi.
White Heron Tours
Make sure you book ahead, this is a very popular trip – if we had not booked ahead we would have missed out, and this trip is not to be missed. Visit their Website
It was 30mins drive back to Whataroa, where the tour starts. On other trips you might spy white heron out and about catching dinner, but this is the only tour with a licence to take you to the nesting spot, a short stretch of the river where they have nested for hundreds of years.
Our guide Deon, a west coast local has been doing this for 20 years. They pay a concession to Department of Conservation for access to the reserve, and are also actively involved in trapping and enhancing the area.
After a short drive we put on lifejackets and wet weather gear and I am ready for my first ever jet boat ride. Very cool – could do more of that 🙂 Then it is a short walk on a boardwalk through the wild life reserve to the hide across from the nesting area.
The White Heron (Kotuku) in New Zealand is a very rare and sacred bird.
In Maori oratory to see one of these birds just once in a lifetime was considered to be good fortune and to liken someone to a Kotuku was paying them a great compliment.
We are all in awe of these beautiful birds still in their mating plumage – white herons are rare and beautiful – it is a such a treat to see them.
We spy the Royal Spoonbills nesting in the higher trees, and the black shags are there too, though harder to see.
PS across the road from their office, buy a whitebait fritter, or buy some to take home. This is a traditional West Coast delicacy and absolutely delicious. We cooked ours us with eggs – yummy.
Kayaking the Okarito Lagoon
Could not be easier, Okarito Kayaks are right on the corner opposite the lagoon, and being able to enjoy an espresso coffee and cake before or after your trip is just great.
Baz and Gemma are leasing the business while the owners are in the city for a few years. Gemma made us a great coffee and chatted, baby Rowan wrapped on her chest gurgling away happily.
- Be prepared for wet – it will almost certainly rain – this is the West Coast!
- Be prepared for sandflies – but they sell a great local eco friendly repellent.
You can have a guided or self guided trip – we opt for two hours self guided trip. We head up the lagoon, into a water way surrounded by majestic forest, back through an extensive salt marsh and along the estuary edge home.
Highlights of our Kayaking Trip on Lake Okarito
- Up the tidal estuary we were on our own, quietly paddling through a largely undisturbed wilderness.
- Along the estuary edge we spot some flowering rata with tui singing and slurping their way through the nectar.
- The rain stopped, the wind stopped and we had some beautiful reflections in the water