kayaks@okarito.co.nz +64 3 753 4014
Family walk to kayaks at Ōkārito

Our Environmental and Social Policy

We’re a small business, operating in a really precious environment, both ecologically and socially. It’s rare to have visitors to our village not comment on the natural beauty of the place and sense of peace and community of the village itself. So we feel we have a tremendous responsibility to do everything we can to support that, without changing the very thing that we and our visitors appreciate so much about our area.

‘Sustainable’ is a fashionable and often used word, but it basically sums up what we want our small business and place in the world to be. We really want our impact here at Okarito Kayaks to be positive to our natural environment and social surrounds. The opportunity we have to enable visitors to experience, learn about, and therefore value, the fantastic wetlands and forests at our doorstep, without damaging in any way the places they are exploring, is the main reason we operate this business. Alongside that focus on the natural environment, our activity has the chance to provide local employment, a social resource or hub for the young families in the village, support for local businesses through our commercial activity, and to strengthen and protect the social aspects of the community in which we live. There are easier places both to live and make money, but we’ve chosen this place because we feel a deep connection to the values and environment here. Our primary focus should therefore be on protecting and enhancing what it is we loved about the place enough to choose it as home.

Of course, it’s easy enough just to make broad statements like this without backing them up through our actions. So, the way we run our business over time will need to provide proof of our intentions. There are definitely significant challenges we face and have responsibility for, not the least our being a business that will attract increasing numbers of visitors to Ōkārito. As visitor numbers grow on the West Coast, they will place a significant strain on the unspoilt nature of both the natural environment, and social community and culture here. So, whilst we want income from the business to be able to continue to operate and live in Ōkārito, there is a real danger that unchecked growth will spoil the quiet charm and very reason so many people regard this place as special in the first place. We have a responsibility to actively manage this as beneficiaries of this growth.

In the short term, there are some definite measures we take, and can take, to look after our home.

  • Leave only footprints, take only photographs. We have a great opportunity to educate visitors about the high value of the natural landscape and ecology of the area. Through our briefings of kayakers, printed information we provide to accompany their kayak trips, expert local guided interpretation on the water, and day-to-day conversations as we serve coffee, we can support an increasing awareness of the importance of protecting the natural environment that visitors have experienced here.
  • No waste. We make every effort we can to reuse and recycle as much as we possibly can of the products we consume in providing services for people, and in our own lives here. The cleaning products we use are biodegradable; we’ve sell no single use packaging or products for both the coffee and food we produce, and sell reusable Keep Cups at cost price if coffee drinkers want a decent take-away brew; we salvage and recycle as much material as we can to make our small business work, from home-made kayak trolleys, to tea china from local Op-shops, to bookcases made of old ladders. Hey, it’s South Westland – why would you throw things away, it’s not like there’s a ton of shops here for shiny new things. Coffee grinds and any food scraps help our garden grow. If we can save electricity and fuel we will – better to tow a kayak by hand down to the wharf than drive it, or pick up a neighbours post from town rather than have them drive in. After all, have you seen the prices of power transmission and petrol down here … ??!!
  • Community matters. Where we can, we get involved. Here, you can’t rely on someone else to just do things for you; it’s a community effort. We are first responders for medical emergencies within our community; we’ve organised a Pre-Hospital Emergency Care course to be held here at the kayak shed, for the South Westland community to upskill to help themselves. We’ve fund raised and organised an AED to be placed in Ōkārito for emergencies, and keep medical oxygen on hand to be able to respond to any medical emergency that might occur locally.  We’ve served on public Boards such as the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board or the local school, to represent and contribute local governance, all of which takes a significant amount of time and commitment – but it’s our future, and the future of our communities that needs to be represented. Voices matter.
  • If it’s broke, fix it. The road down to the local wharf gets potholes. We’ll get a wheelbarrow, and fill them. Gorse is spreading along the beautiful river channels spidering out from the lagoon. We’ll get in and cut it out (well, us and our small army of volunteers we seem to have coerced into helping, through GorseBusters). Small and big actions make a difference.
  • Sometimes it’s what you don’t do. It’s a small thing, but sometimes not doing things is as important as doing them. We know we could send our kayakers all well into the evening throughout the summer here in Ōkārito, with beautiful long daylight hours, and earn more income as a result – but this town is our to share, and minimising our noise and vehicle impact on neighbours who choose to live here for the peace and quiet is really important, to them as well as us. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
  • Doing the basics. May not seem like a lot, but we’re a small town where extra vehicles and people quickly have a big impact. Just doing the basics like providing safe, off the road car-parking for our kayakers, or toilets, or somewhere to put rubbish, is the right thing to do, rather than relying on others to provide those facilities. Even simple things like paying our fair share of local business rates, recognising that if you have a business here, you take up more resources and benefit from local roading more than just those who are just living here. Just seems fair, right?
  • We have an asset. We’d like to share it. If you’re running a local community event here in South Westland, and are fund raising at your event, we’d like to hear from you. Whenever we can, we’ll support communities from Hokitika to Haast, whether it’s passing on info and putting up posters at the kayak shed, or providing a kayaking prize for winners at the Bruce Bay Sports Day, South Westland A&P or Blue Spur Mountain Biking Enduro. And if you’re a local school or not-at-all-local school that wants to get your kids out into the wider world, we want to help. We’ll discount as heavily as we can for schools. Worth it to see the look on the kids faces as they paddle off into the secluded moss-dripping rainforest with no iPads to distract them …
  • Local matters. Maybe it’s parochial, but we reckon the more we can support and work with local businesses, the better. After all, it’ll be our local mechanic helping out any of our visitors stick on the side of the road; working together is what keeps this place ticking along. There are some great folk out there in South Westland that run small businesses; Jase at West Coast Printing, JOsh and Kirsty at the Franz Josef Four Square, Ian the tireless (no pun) mechanic in Whataroa, and we all rely on each other to keep going. Keep it local and it’ll still be there when you really need it.
  • And growth. Or not. If you come by Okarito Kayaks in a years time, and see a big golden M up on the front lawn, or us building a three storey shed for kayak storage, take us out into the swamp and leave us there. We truly believe Ōkārito is special. It doesn’t need to be bigger, doesn’t need to have more. Most people who live here generally don’t want more. We don’t want to force that on them, intentionally or not. Rich and Ed – from who we took this business on, and whose values are still imprinted into the tidy lawns and home-made bunting – always said to us that the kayak sheds were the first thing that people often saw as they came into Ōkārito, and would often be one of the main impressions people left with. We don’t need to be the biggest business on the West Coast, or even in the Franz Josef area for that matter. It’s enough just being in Ōkārito. So, we’re not after lots more kayaks. Or longer hours. We will remain a business where you can come in and talk to us, and we’ll make time to answer your questions about why we moved here. As if it’s not obvious ….. (-:

There’s lots more we can do and do, and lots more we shouldn’t do and hopefully won’t, in the future to safeguard what’s here. If you visit, hope you like the place, and hope you look after your home too


Seven Sharp – GorseBusters

Ōkārito is a small West Coast town looking a halt a gorse invasion - but it takes an army.>
From RNZ Nine To Noon, 27 April 2022

RNZ Nine to Noon – Volunteers ghosting an invasive weed in Okarito

Gorse is on the march at Ōkārito Lagoon. It’s threatening biodiversity; choking native wetland plants, bird habitat and inhibiting whitebait breeding...
From Newsroom, 10th April 2022

Newsroom GorseBusters of Ōkārito Lagoon

The phenomenal work ethic of a volunteer army has the gorse scourge at a West Coast beauty spot in retreat