New Zealand's West Coast is renowned for its rugged beauty, dramatic landscapes, and untamed wilderness. Nestled within this pristine region lies a hidden gem called Ōkārito. With its untouched natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and a serene atmosphere, Ōkārito is a paradise waiting to be discovered. Join us as we embark on a virtual journey to uncover the magic of Ōkāritoand why it should be on every nature lover's bucket list. Ōkārito Lagoon, a significant highlight of the region, is one of New Zealand's largest and most pristine wetlands. Boasting an area of over 3,200 hectares, it is a sanctuary for an abundance of birdlife, including the rare white heron, also known as the kotuku.
This sleepy, quaint seaside village is where our family of four resides and a place in which we are lucky enough to share with travellers from far and wide through our business - Glacier Valley Eco Tours - where we offer guided walking tours and experiences laden with interesting knowledge and facts of the area, its people (past and present), wildlife, flora and fauna and the general lay of the land. Drenched in history and fascinating stories, Ōkārito began life in the gold rush years in the mid-1860s and once supported a population of up to 4000 people, in comparison, the current population is now only about 32 people!
This settlement offers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The village itself is situated on the edge of the breathtaking Ōkārito Lagoon, creating a captivating fusion of land, water, and sky.
This lagoon is the longest unmodified natural wetland in New Zealand. It is home to over 76 species of sea and forest birds, including kakaruwai/South Island robin, kea, mātātā/fernbird, kōtuku/great white heron, kākāriki/NZ parakeet, Tūī, kōtare/kingfisher, kororā/blue penguins & kuaka/bar-tailed godwits.
Some, such as the mātātā/fernbird, are currently declining due to wetland habitat loss, with DOC estimating 3 birds per hectare on the Tiropahi/West Coast.
This lagoon is the main feeding ground of the kōtuku. This majestic bird, with its striking white plumage, can often be spotted wading gracefully through the lagoon's shallow waters. For bird enthusiasts and nature photographers, witnessing the kotuku's elegant dance against the backdrop of the lagoon is an awe-inspiring experience. They feed on fish, and even small birds! You can do a fantastic bird & history information boat tour with Paula & Swade at Okarito Boat EcoTours on the lagoon. We run a package tour with them called our Discover Okarito tour, which includes a boat tour on the lagoon, informative guided nature walk in the Ōkārito forest, & freshly packed lunch.
The kotuku's breeding ground is further up the lagoon, in the river near Whataroa township. You can do a fantastic guided tour to see them in their breeding ground with White Heron Sanctuary Tours who are based in Whataroa, 30kms north of Okarito.
Kororā/Little Blue Penguin
The Little Blue Penguin, also known as the Fairy Penguin or the Blue Penguin, is the smallest species of penguin in the world. It is native to New Zealand, particularly the coastal areas of both the North and South Islands, as well as some nearby offshore islands. These charming little penguins are loved by locals and visitors alike and hold a special place in New Zealand's natural heritage. There is estimated 50 burrows of kororā in Ōkārito.
We run a Sunset Penguin Tour from July - November to see these little taonga (treasures).
Westland Tai Poutini National Park
We run an half day Okarito Nature Tour all year round to this Trig point (can you spot us in the photo?!) nestled in amongst the Rowi/kiwi sanctuary.
There's a long complicated story to how the Ōkārito forest & lagoon was eventually saved by Forest & Bird and became part of Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
In short - up until the 1980's, the Ōkārito forest was a huge native timber trade, mainly of kahikatea trees.
In the late 70's street marches were held in Greymouth, Nelson & Christchurch, with makeshift 'coffins' that said 'OKARITO'. People held banners that read 'Protect Kotuku Forever' & 'No Logging Ōkārito'.
In 1981, the Ōkārito and Waikukupa forests between Westland National Park and the sea were saved, later to be added to the park. A 10 year moratorium was also declared on all logging south of the Cook River.
Sunsets and Stargazing
As the day draws to a close, Ōkārito treats visitors to spectacular sunsets that paint the sky with hues of orange, pink, and purple. Whether you're on the beach or perched on one of the lagoon's vantage points, witnessing the sun sink below the horizon is a sight that will etch itself in your memory forever. After darkness descends, Ōkārito becomes a stargazer's paradise. With minimal light pollution, the sky transforms into a dazzling display of stars, constellations, and the ethereal glow of the Milky Way.
We are on the committee to make Ōkārito a Dark Sky Community, a world wide recognition with the International Dark Sky Association. Our application is in process and will take 1-2 years to be completed. We feel that protecting Ōkārito's night sky is very important for our communities future and aligns with our communities current ethos as well as local conservation projects such as the Predator Free South Westland project with ZIP (Zero Invasive Predators), and the Gorsebusters project, as well as our restoration & planting projects with the Okarito Native Plant Nursery.
Ōkārito is home to the rarest of all the 5 kiwi species - the Rowi. This population has significantly increased over the last 10 years, when the population was down to ....
You can take a guided night tour with Ōkārito Kiwi Tours (summer season only) to view these in the wild.
Aoraki Mt Cook & Horokoau Mt Tasman - NZ's highest mountains in the Southern Alps
Ōkārito offers an authentic and awe-inspiring experience for those seeking tranquility and a deep connection with nature. From the magnificent Ōkārito Lagoon and its remarkable birdlife to the untamed rainforests and serene kayaking, boat & walking adventures, this coastal village has something to captivate every nature lover's heart. Whether you're an avid bird watcher, an adventurous hiker, photographer, or a city dweller looking for some peace, quiet & beautiful scenery.