Okarito | A Complete Guide
The charming coastal settlement of Okarito is located in the heart of the southwest New Zealand world heritage area, the 'wild' West Coast. Here you will discover one of New Zealand's most colourful areas. Enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind in Okarito, New Zealand. Spend your day(s) here hiking, and sea kayaking on Okarito Lagoon, all in the shadow of New Zealand's highest peaks. The West Coast's location on the western side of the Southern Alps has made this area unique in many ways – geologically, economically, socially and climatically. Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your time in Okarito.
Fun facts about Okarito
From the earliest human habitation in New Zealand, the West Coast has always been a route of discovery and commerce, with the Māori sourcing their treasured pounamu (jade) here and the early European settlers mining gold and later coal.
In early European settlement, Okarito was one of the main ports on the West Coast and in the township and surrounding areas around 4000 people made their homes here – a far cry from today where the population is only around 30 people!
New Zealand author Keri Hulme, winner of the 1985 Booker Prize, lived in Okarito for many years and for those who have read her award-winning novel, The Bone People, this is the area she drew inspiration from and actually lived in while she wrote her book.
With an area of 3000 hectares (7400 acres), Okarito Lagoon is New Zealand's largest unmodified wetland and home to more than 76 species of native birds, most notable of which is the white heron/kotoku (eastern great egret), royal spoonbill and Okarito brown kiwi (rowi).
Things to do in Okarito
Kayak Okarito Lagoon
A paddle on the tranquil Okarito Lagoon is a must when visiting the area! On a guided kayak, you can view and learn all about the avifauna in the area with your expert guide. The role of a good outdoor guide is twofold: first is the more overt guiding and interpretation part of the role – there is so much to learn and see that you would otherwise miss in an area, especially interesting are the conservation projects going on in the area. The second, less obvious role of a good outdoor guide is to make the safety and support decisions behind the scenes.
With New Zealand Trails, you’ll take a guided kayak tour on Okarito Lagoon. The physical environment, and the expert guiding and support all help make this an afternoon you will remember for a long time. Paddle on the gentle waters of the lagoon savouring the views up to Mount Cook in the distance, then pause and take in the grace of the kotoku in flight just a few metres in front of you – that's our Okarito Lagoon experience. If you want to DIY it, the Okarito Lagoon Kayak Trail is a perfect self-guided kayak trail.
You’ll find some great strolls to longer day walks in Okarito. For something short and sweet, there’s the Okarito Wetland Walk. This 1km (20 minutes) walk weaves through the bush emerging out to a viewpoint overlooking the estuary. Okarito Trig Walk is another great stroll at 4.2km long. Finally, the Three Mile Pack Track or Okarito Coastal Walk is the perfect day walk at 9.8km long. The track takes you through a forest of rimu, rata and silver pine before emerging at the Three Mile Lagoon.
Best time to visit Okarito
Okarito is a great place to visit year-round. However, it can get a little chilly in the winter so the best time to visit is our spring through to autumn (October to April).
Visiting Okarito with New Zealand Trails
On our World Heritage Walking Tour, you will take to the water with specialist local guides to kayak Okarito Lagoon and enjoy the majestic views and abundant birdlife. It truly is a hidden gem.
If you want to find out more about the incredible 5-14 day hiking tours we run in New Zealand, you can request a free copy of our brochure here.