Okarito is a small peaceful village on the western sea coast of the South Island. Only 13km off the main highway, Okarito is about 25 minutes drive north of Franz Josef. Look for the turn off between Lakes Mapourika and Wahapo. Okarito has about 50 or so houses, but no postal service, no reliable cell reception, no banks or shops. It’s a bit of a haven from the rest of the world. READ MORE
Well, apart from kayaking on the beautiful Okarito Lagoon, Okarito offers a great range of peaceful nature based experiences.
Whilst there are no shops in Okarito, there is the odd special bit of shopping to be done. Mel Dalzell creates Okarito Design craft items – beautifully and individually hand-made printed cushions and furniture, with design elements strongly influenced by the prolific birdlife of the area. Mel will make items to order, or we have a limited number of designs from Mel in the kayak shop for sale.
The hour and half return walk up to Okarito Trig is maybe one of the most rewarding for the effort in NZ. The views at the top from the historic survey point stretch from Three Mile Lagoon and the coast to the south, across the breadth of Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Mt Cook and the Southern Alps, to the impressive expanse of Okarito Lagoon to the north. The path is well made and marked, starting at the car park in the middle of the village.
For those wanting to stretch their legs a little further, the path to Three MIle Lagoon continues past the turn off for Okarito Trig, and undulates through pristine forest to exit on the remote beach at the mouth of Three MIle Lagoon. There are often great views up towards the Alps from the beach that continues south from here, and you may well have the place just to yourself, even on the busier days of summer. It takes around 3 hours 30 to go out and back from Okarito; the beach can be used to walk back or out only if the tide is close to it’s low point. A tide timetable for the beach is posted at the car park in the centre of the village.
If the climb up to the Trig is not for you, or time is more limited, then following a circuit through town and back along the beach gives you a great sense of the area. The beach can be accessed easily from the end of the road, and often coming back along the beach keeps the prevailing south-westerly wind at your back.
It’s well worth a brief visit to the old Wharf building on the edge of the lagoon, visible as you drive into town on the right – the displays inside describing the history of the area and the outlook from the Wharf deck give you a great sense of the lives of those who battled out a living on the remote edges of South Westland. We suspect the Wharf building is probably the most photographed building on the West Coast.
The Studio in Okarito offers really good Swedish massage. We know this because this is where we go for our own maintenance after a hard day lifting kayaks; Laura basically keeps us going right throughout the summer and can tailor your massage for your personal needs. Highly recommended after a big kayak or hike along the coast to help well-used muscles!
Okarito is a photographers paradise; the range of scene and light attracts photography workshops throughout the year.
It helps that the town is home for Andris Apse, maybe New Zealand’s best renowned landscape photographer. You can occasionally catch him at home, when he’s not off in search of new subjects throughout the country and overseas, and ask him to open his private gallery at his house.
Andris’ study of Okarito residents from 2007 is on display on the walls of Donovan’s Store also; hang around for a music gig and you’ll get to see them.
Our village hosts many concerts throughout the year, mainly in summer. On average, about once every two weeks of the summer there’s a touring band or artist playing at Donovan’s Store in the evening; artists we’ve had here include perennial favourites The Eastern (Okarito’s kind of a second home for Adam McGrath – just not sure where his first home is), Ezza Rose, The Bads, Great North, Robert Scott, Tiny Ruins … even Don McGlashan. It’s a long and impressive list!
Proceeds from the gigs usually go towards the artist, but with a capacity of only about 40 at Donovan’s, these aren’t stadium gigs. Music with love.
These nights are pretty special we think and we’re very lucky to get such talented artists come to our small village. Check out Donovan’s Store or posters at the kayak shop for upcoming gigs.
The Okarito forests are home to the Rowi/Okarito Brown Kiwi, the rarest of the five species of kiwi found in NZ. There are as few as 500 or so individuals left; the Rowi is a shy nocturnally-active flightless bird, and incredibly hard to find! Luckily, Okarito is also home to Ian Cooper, and his Okarito Kiwi Tours.
Ian runs trips into the forests of Okarito most nights of the summer; these trips are very popular and Ian only takes a limited number of people so as not to disturb the birds and have a much greater chance of success of viewing Rowi in their natural environment. It’s advisable to book well in advance to ensure a spot. You can find his office in the middle of the village on the left as you drive through Okarito.
There’s also the opportunity to see Okarito Lagoon by boat; Okarito Boat Tours, piloted and guided by Swade, operates tours throughout summer across the lagoon viewing some of the 70 odd species of birds that have been observed in the area. Their office can be found on the right as you drive through Okarito.
There’s a good range of accommodation available in Okarito. There are a couple of self-catering lodges like the Okarito Beach House or Code Time Lodge, and a number baches/cribs/holiday homes spread throughout town. We look after a couple of these holiday homes and usually have a good idea of what might be available as not everything is advertised online – get in touch with us and we’ll try to help.
Some holiday houses have good wifi internet connections, but there is no reliable cellphone reception in the town. Put down your phone and enjoy where you are!
The Okarito Community Campground is a great place to meet other friendly travellers; all profits from the campground go back into local community projects such as the restoration of the historic Donovan’s Store, or maintaining the great drinking water supply for the town.
The campground has a covered shelter, benches and firepits, fridge and BBQ, toilets and even hot showers, and is just a minutes walk from the beach. It’s a bit more expensive than DoC campsites elsewhere, but offers so many more facilities and a really great family-friendly atmosphere.
The campsite costs $12.50 for adults and is free for children; no booking is required.
Okarito is a small peaceful village on the western sea coast of the South Island. Only 13km off the main highway, Okarito is about 25 minutes drive north of Franz Josef Glacier. Look for the signposted turn-off between Lakes Mapourika and Wahapo.
Formerly known as Okarito Nature Tours, we’re the two red sheds on the left just as you enter the village