Birding highlights, white herons, lagoons and kayaking
An exquisite lagoon and heritage buildings is a match made in West Coast tourist heaven. The lagoon is home to more than 76 species of native birds including the kōtuku/white heron and royal spoonbills. Okarito is the location for the oldest identified building on the West Coast, Donovan’s Store and the Okarito Memorial Obelisk. Originally a gold mining settlement with an estimated population of 1,500 now there are less than 25 residents. There is a passionate commitment to the environment and legacy of Okarito among the local residents. The white heron is the birding star of the place together with the extremely rare Okarito kiwi. The lagoon’s bird life is a major drawcard along with the sense of peace, history and sheer beauty of the landscapes.
WHAT TO DO, HIGHLIGHTS
- Kayaking the Okarito Lagoon on guided leisurely tour with Freedom kayak rentals
- Camp overnight and indulge in a self-guided tour of the quiet waterways
- Stay overnight and absorb the sense of quiet, solitude and history of the area
- The memorial obelisk, located in front of the local primary school celebrates the 1860 purchase of Westland from the local Maori, the date Abel Tasman (13 December 1642) and James Cook (23 March 1770) sailed by.
- Donovan’s Store, the oldest building documented on the West Coast
20 minutes from Franz Josef village
The rarest subspecies of the kiwi, the Okarito kiwi is found in the area. The area is the only identified nesting ground for the delicate white herons, or kotuku in New Zealand
The frequently asked questions about Okarito are fun, including are there crocodiles? OK, no crocodiles in New Zealand whatsoever however biting sand flies a definite yes. The kayak store is one of the village’s hubs. Okarito Design clothing is displayed in the gift shop.
In 1909 the bones of a whale beached in 1908, were taken to Canterbury Museum and displayed and called the Okarito Whale.
For further information about the lagoon, kayaking check Ōkārito Lagoon Kayak Trail: Okarito area, West Coast region and for walks Department of Conservation offers Okarito walking tracks: Okarito area, West Coast region
- Booker Prize winning author Keri Hulme lives in Okarito
- Renowned landscape photographer Andris Apse calls the place home.
The Donovan’s Store building was originally the Club Hotel, built on The Strand in 1865 or 1866 during the gold mining rush at Ōkārito] The hotel was converted to a general store in the 1890s and run by James Donovan (1867–1960) and his wife Eva Donovan for about 60 years.As well as the Ōkārito port the store serviced the gold dredge workers and flax cutters and Donovan was known for delivering supplies to isolated gold prospectors The store mainly sold foodstuffs but many household and other items were sold such as fabric and tools.
In 1987 the building was bequeathed to the Historic Places Trust by Robertson. The Trust passed the building to the Department of Conservation (DOC) in 1988.] In 1990 the Trust gave the store a Category 1 listing, which designated it as a significant building meriting preservation.
It fell into disrepair but the local community decided in the 1990s to restore it to a usable building, with a library premises being one of the possible uses and in 1994 DOC began a five-year restoration programme. The Ōkārito Community Association contributed $100,000 towards the renovation. It owns and maintains the hall in partnership with DOC.
In the 1990s the grounds surrounding the store were surveyed by botanist Elizabeth Woods who found roses, a holly tree, grapevine, oak tree and a mixture of other plants. In 2009, the governor-general, Anand Satyanand, visited the store while on the West Coast.
Okarito Village and History
The village is nestled between the Tasman Sea, Okarito Lagoon and the rugged lowlands of Westland Tai Poutini National Park. There is a beautiful rugged West Coast beach and renowned forest walks into the National Park, up to Okarito Trig and Three Mile Lagoon further south.
The town of Okarito began life in the gold rush years of the mid 1860’s and supported a local population of up to 4000 interesting characters; heritage sites and buildings from the period still remain, and the historic Wharf building and Donovan’s Store contain fascinating displays about Okarito’s history.
The area is a bit quieter now; Okarito’s population varies through the seasons but in winter we probably have around only 20 or so hardy souls living here; it’s a beautiful time of year with the beach deserted, often clear but cool weather, and snow covering the mountains in the distance to low levels.
It’s extremely rare to get snow here in Okarito in winter – a few frosts every now and then, but the ocean on our doorstep keeps the temperature from dropping too low.
Source Okarito online social media presence.
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