Okarito Kayaks is run by Gemma and Baz (us!), with Bekey, Karl and Simon helping out over the summer. We had been visiting Okarito since 2007, before taking on the kayaking operation in 2014 from our friends Rich, Ed and Monty. We renamed the business, from Okarito Nature Tours, to Okarito Kayaks, in 2016. Pretty much everything else about the place we wanted to keep as it is – it’s why we came here in the first place.
Okarito Nature Tours began life back in 1991, from the garden of Ian and Debbie James house at the west end of the Okarito village. Offering kayak trips out to see the famous and rare Kotuku/White Heron on the Lagoon, and over time, adding boat trips and transport in and out of Franz Josef, the business has always been locally owned and operated. Ian and Debbie still come by for coffee.
Richard Saunders and Edwina Clarke took on the kayak side of Okarito Nature Tours in 1999, with the business closer to the lagoon on its present site using the old garage from the house next door as the kayak shop. The local builder’s name is still pencilled onto the rafters in the shop. A larger shed for storage, and crucially, a coffee machine! were added over the years, and a whole lot of love as well to give the kayak sheds their homely feel and unique atmosphere.
Both Gemma and Baz had been visitors to Okarito and kayak-borrowers for years; Edwina, Richard and Monty had talked about temporarily moving for Monty’s high-schooling, and so a three-odd year conversation was born that resulted in Baz and Gemma basically taking over Rich and Ed’s roles in the Okarito community. The challenge might well be for Ed and Rich to shift us back out when they move back from Bannockburn in a few years time. Okarito is now home for Gemma and Baz. You’ll likely find us behind the coffee machine, hosing out kayaks with our small team, or if we’re lucky, out happily guiding kayak trips on the Okarito Lagoon – drop in and say hi if you’re coming through.