Explore our Kayak tour options
Experience New Zealand’s most stunning natural wetland, rainforest and birdlife, peacefully away from the crowds.
Let us to show you our stunning Ōkārito Lagoon
Intimate, expertly-guided kayak tours are slow explorations of the incredible natural environment of the lagoon and rainforest, suitable for all ages and abilities.
Okarito Kayaks guides are deeply passionate and knowledgeable about their backyard; guided kayak tours are unscripted, in very small groups, and personal.
Kayak tour times are scheduled around the best tidal conditions for any day; the ever-changing nature of the tidal wetland means no kayak exploration is the same.
A wonderful, peaceful and unique experience for anyone seeking greater understanding of the natural environment of New Zealand, or for those who might be a little less confident on the water.
If you don’t see an available time that works well for you, for guided kayak tours, just call or email, and we’ll see what we can arrange.
We also offer private guided kayak tours, an exclusive option.
Explore the peaceful Ōkārito waterways at your own pace
Kayak rental offers the chance to explore Ōkārito Lagoon quietly and independently, with the rare flexibility to experience complete natural quiet and solitude surrounded by some of NZ’s best bird habitat, and uninterrupted views from the wild Tasman Sea all the way up to the tops of the very highest peaks of the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana across the horizon.
Kayak rental start times are scheduled around the best tidal conditions for any day; the ever-changing nature of the tidal wetland means no kayak exploration is the same.
Suitable for most ages and abilities in the right conditions, we ensure you have all the support, information and equipment you need to get the the most out of your adventure with us.
If you don’t see an available time that works well for you, for kayak rental, or are unsure about suitability, just call or email, and we’ll see what we can arrange.
Lagoon map & bird guide
Buoyancy aid/life jacket, sprayskirts & waterproof dry bags
Environmentally-friendly insect repellent
Unique, comfortable kayak base, parking, toilets & hot drinks
Kayak support & rescue boat on standby at all times
Warm, quick-drying clothing & rainjacket
Water & snacks
Camera & binoculars
Sense of adventure
For those who want a true unspoilt ‘get away from it all’ experience
A true wilderness adventure – exploring the breadth of Ōkārito Lagoon by day; camping on a remote beach with the sunset reflecting off the Southern Alps, and stars to the horizon.
A rare and special experience; contact us directly for more information.
Only suitable for those with good camping equipment and some wilderness camping experience.
Treat someone to a truly unforgettable experience
A wonderful gift of a nature, we offer gift vouchers if there’s someone special you’d like to treat to a really personal, peaceful experience.
From a two hour kayak rental for two, to private, exclusive guided kayak experiences, kayak vouchers make unique birthday or special anniversary presents.
No. Many of our kayakers are first timers, or have little previous experience.
Ōkārito Lagoon is a very shallow body of water, and often calm and peaceful. We monitor weather very closely, and have decades of experience matching conditions here to each persons ability and confidence level. We set the bar at enjoyment - whether someone will enjoy the experience here - far above and exceeding just safety.
If we have any doubts about your ability to safely enjoy the experience at the time, we will talk with you to look at alternatives, whether a guided kayak trip or shorter route, or even trying another day.
Kayak rental does require kayakers to be able to swim, even if capsizing and having to swim is very, very unlikely. Kayak rental also requires kayakers are able to follow the detailed briefing and instructions we provide before departure.
For guided kayak trips, kayakers do not need to be able to swim; we will be there with you to help and show you the way.
A full safety and navigational briefing is given to all kayakers. Most of the lagoon (about 95%) is less than 1 metre deep. We also have a rescue boat on standby at all times.
All children (below the age of 18) need to be accompanied by an adult.
No, and no maximum age either! We really like enabling families to get out and explore. In the right conditions the lagoon is a great place for kids to get up close and personal with nature safely.
We’ll take a really careful look at weather, tidal conditions and the abilities of your family or group at the time, to ensure you are safe and comfortable out on the water
We have life jackets or buoyancy aids for all ages and will discuss a safe route to follow. If the weather or conditions are not right for your group, we’ll say so, and might suggest a guided trip as an option, or tell you to try another day. All children below the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Get in touch for advice if you have any questions about the suitability of different ages in any group.
Hopefully! It’s rare to paddle out on the lagoon and not see these stunning and rare birds, throughout the entire year.
We only have around 170 White Heron/Kōtuku in NZ, and the only nesting site for the Kōtuku in NZ is just north of the lagoon on the Waitangiroto river. If you're really keen on seeing these beautiful birds on their nests, during the nesting season, we highly recommend getting in touch with White Heron Sanctuary Tours - the Arnold family have been bringing visitors to the Kōtuku nesting site about as long as we've been kayaking on the lagoon, and this is an awesome experience.
Whilst you cannot access the nesting site by kayak, it’s common to see these graceful birds feeding throughout the lagoon year round, and in the tidal rivers that can only be accessed by kayak. Kayaking allows you to drift peacefully past the Kōtuku, often within metres, as well as many other wading birds, without affecting their feeding. Moving quietly at your own pace, remaining low on the water and not towering above the birds in a large boat with a noisy engine, means far less disturbance of their natural behaviour.
Well, where do we start?! We are famed for the White Heron/Kōtuku here in Ōkārito, but there are over seventy different recorded bird species that feed in and around the lagoon. Wading birds include the comical looking Kōtuku-ngutapapa/Royal Spoonbill, head down, feeding like a over-caffeinated vacuum cleaner, and the shy Matuku moana/White-Faced Heron, hiding in the rushes that gives our lagoon and town it’s name.
Mātātā/Fernbirds hide in the saltmarsh, their strong metallic-sounding ‘chip’ carrying across the shallow channels accessible only by kayak on high tide.
Tōrea pango/Variable Oystercatchers distract themselves battling in a squawking contest on the mudflats, along with their brethren endemic Tōrea/South Island Pied Oystercatcher, whilst delicate Poaka/Pied Stilts and Pohowera/Banded Dotterels scurry in a hurry around them, to steal the wriggling worms they’ve forgotten about. We think Oystercatchers may have Avian Attention Deficient Disorder.
Shags of various size and shape stretch out their long wings on forest debris scattered above the waterline in the lagoon; their effort to dry out their waterlogged bodies after a diving for food looks like a cross between a yoga pose and a Karate Kid impression.
Spring sees the arrival of the Kuaka/Eastern Bar-Tailed Godwit, one-time NZ Bird of the Year (yes, we have one!), here to feed and get plump again after it’s incredible 11,000km migratory flight from Alaska. Many of our kayakers have had to endure long flights across the Pacific to get here; spare a thought for these wee guys – they lose up to as third of their body weight on this flight alone. Makes you think of airline food more sympathetically now. Godwits will spend the summer here feeding up, identifiable on the lagoon by their slightly upturned long probing beaks.
Early summer is also a really active time for forest birds feeding on the abundant flowering flax, Kōwhai and Rātā that lines the lagoon edge. Calls from Tui and Korimako/Bellbird dominate, but you can also hear and occasionally see a host of Warblers, Robin, Cuckoo, Tomtit and Australasian Kingfisher’s out there. There’s the chance of seeing a Kārearea/NZ Falcon dive across the forest edges, or hear the chaos of a post-lunch semi-inebriated Kerurū falling through the spindly twigs of the Kōwhai tree it ill-advisedly chose to rest and feed on. Kerurū’s understanding of basic physics is limited, and these puffed-up pigeon’s still don’t seem to understand that tiny tree branches might not support the weight of their over-sized torso. Still, that’s probably good thing, as Kerurū probably wouldn’t even try to fly if they had seriously studied aerodynamics and weight-to-wing ratios.
There are local conservation projects in and around the lagoon to study and protect populations of elusive Matuku/Bittern, and the long running Operation Nest Egg has had tremendous success in recent years in growing the critically endangered population of Ōkārito Brown Kiwi/Rowi that roam our forest here at night. Rowi have been found curiously poking around the tents of overnight kayakers in the summer just gone, and their survival in the Ōkārito forests are testament to some incredible work that has been done in the last twenty years by DOC. However, the game changer here is the ongoing Predator Free South Westland project that aims to eradicate, for good, possum, rates and stoats from a 100,000 hectare area, with Ōkārito Lagoon at it's centre, over the next few years; the largest, active Predator Free project in the country. We can tell you more about this on one of our guided kayak trips; it's an endless topic ....
The lagoon and it’s waterways are different on every visit, and time of day and season, water height and salinity, and even your own explorations and interest-level provide for an incredible array of bird-watching opportunities out there. We take the time to go through a briefing on some of the species you’re likely to see out there day to day, but will also provide you with a bird identification guide and dry-bags for your camera and binoculars if you choose to take them along.
Ōkārito Lagoon is New Zealand’s largest unmodified coastal wetland, some 10 km or 6 miles in length, and offers expansive views across the full panorama of Westland Tai Poutini National Park – from the Tasman Sea right up to the peaks of our highest glacier covered mountains. A clear day offers magnificent views of Mt Cook/Aoraki, the Franz Josef Glacier neve and the tallest peaks of the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri O Te Moana, stretching across the horizon.
The open views of the lagoon allow access to beautiful secluded tannin-soaked waterways, dominated by 700 year old Kahikatea and Rimu trees towering above you as you paddle further into the lush podocarp forest. It’s like paddling into a lost world. Many of the plant and bird species here are unique to New Zealand, and it’s just you and your kayak to explore them.
The Lagoon and its surrounds marks the northern edge of Te Wahipounamu, the UNESCO designated South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. This is the most special place in New Zealand.
That’s a tough one! Summer (December to February) is of course the warmest and driest time of the year, and the later into the summer we go, the more stable and calm the weather. We often have some wind through December in the afternoons, but have some great sheltered waterways to use to as options to explore.
Autumn (March to May) is most likely to have clear calm days with glassy water surfaces. Again, there’s less rain through autumn, and still plenty of daylight to enjoy.
Winter days (June through to August) we like best on the West Coast – cool but sunny days, heavy snow blanketing the mountains in the distance and often the entire lagoon to yourself. We are open most of the winter – occasionally we head away, sometimes into the mountains, for a break – but really enjoy this time of year and the tranquility.
Spring (September to November) is our wildest time of the year – some great weather, some heavy rain days. Morning kayaking is often best as wind picks up in the afternoon, but again, we have some secluded waterways we use for sheltered kayaking if the wind picks up. Great time of year for birds out on the lagoon.
When you want! We customise guided trips to you, rather than run trips for big groups that don’t know each other. No trip is ever the same. Our guided trips run with a minimum of two adults, and we’ll advise on the best tides and conditions for you to get the most out of your trip and with the time you have available.
Our times posted online offer the best tidal conditions of the day - get in touch if this timing doesn't work for you, and we'll see what we can do.
All our kayak rentals start with a detailed navigation briefing at our base, describing the simple markers we have in place on the lagoon for you to follow.
We use our own map of these markers to describe a route based around the best tidal conditions, and provide a copy of that map to take on your kayak with you, as well as a bird identification guide.
We also go through a technique demonstration, and fit you to the kayak at the waters edge, making sure you are comfortable and confident before setting out, as well as monitoring your time on the water so we know when to expect you back.
We've been equipping and enabling kayakers to explore Ōkārito Lagoon for over thirty years, and have really good simple but effective systems in place for you to independently get the most out of your experience, with our full support.
So long as you can follow the detailed information we'll give you, have the ability to swim a short distance to somewhere you can stand up in the very unlikely event you managed to tip a kayak over, and use common sense to explore the shallow waters, kayak rental should be suitable in the right weather conditions.
If you have any concerns, just get in touch, and we can talk you through the options.
We’re fortunate in that Ōkārito Lagoon is a great place for novice kayakers to get out on the water and explore. When the tidal conditions are right, the tidal flow of the lagoon helps your kayak drift up and down the waterways, and fitness is not a big issue. But, remember, you are self-powered! Some effort is still involved.
We’ll happily advise on the best route and time for each day’s kayaking depending on those conditions and your own strength and interests, and offer guided trips to those who might be less confident on the water or might want additional assistance. Of course, it helps when there's often Home-Made Ice-Cream available at the kayak shop to motivate you to paddle home.
Good question! Yes, tides influence the height of water in the lagoon, and the direction the water flows, in or out of the lagoon. The tide will play a big part in how easy your kayak trip is, and also where you can kayak to easily in the shallow waters and rivers.
Just give us a call to ask about tides on any day, and we’ll suggest the best times to go kayaking depending on tides and weather for you to get the most out of your visit. Don’t pay any attention to published coastal tides, as the lagoon tides work quite differently depending on recent rainfall, moon phases, lagoon mouth condition and your coffee intake!
If you’re bringing your own kayak here to Ōkārito to explore, pop in and say hi; whenever we have time, we’ll happily talk to you about where we like exploring, tides and weather for the lagoon. We usually have a spare map we can lend you if you’d like to borrow one, for a small donation to GorseBusters, our project that keeps the lagoon pristine.
We keep a really close eye on weather, for wind and rain, and will always be honest with you about expected conditions. Our weather out here on the coast is often much better than in at Franz Josef, or anywhere else on the Coast, so if you wake up and it’s raining in Franz Josef, give us a call and we’ll tell you what it’s doing out here.
We don’t cancel kayak trips for light rain or showers; the lagoon is still beautiful to go paddling in with light rain and remember, its only water – you shower each night! If weather conditions are unsafe or unpleasant for kayaking, we will let you know and cancel at no charge to you.
Let's start with ... yes! But maybe not that much ....
A depends a lot on your kayaking technique. We’ll help you with that, and go through a full safety briefing with you before you kayak. We work through some paddling technique before fitting you to your kayak, explaining how everything works and launching you onto the lagoon with dry feet. We monitor weather and conditions very closely before and during your time on the water to make sure you will be comfortable out there. We always have a safety boat on standby for us to come and check on you if conditions change, and help you if needed.
Wearing quick-drying clothing of the type you would go hiking in helps, as does bringing a good waterproof jacket - we will provide you with a buoyancy aid to wear at all times on the water, and a sprayskirt (if you would like) to help keep your lower body dry.
Capsizing our kayaks is extremely rare; we use super-stable sea-going double or single kayaks, designed for use on open rolling water – but our lagoon is usually really calm, and much flatter than the open sea. We don’t kayak at all on the sea, just the lagoon and flat water rivers. Most (about 95%) of the lagoon is less than 1 metre deep, and you are never more than 15 metres away from somewhere you could stand up on the ground if you needed to.
Well, not bad, not at all, and this isn’t Australia!
Sandflies are a fact of life in NZ – for those of you who don’t know what they are, sandflies are basically a small blackfly, with an annoying, but not dangerous bite. Of course, it’s just the girls that bite. The guys really just don’t do anything.
Most days, sandflies are not a problem here on land, and they are very rarely a problem at all on the water when kayaking. Sandflies are really not much good at flying or landing on you when you’re moving even slightly, and also can’t really cope in any sort of wind or breeze, or bright sun. Which we get both more often than not when kayaking. The days that you do come across sandflies, in most places, are overcast, still days, before rain.
So, we have a special weapon against them! We will provide you with child-friendly Ōkārito Sandfly Repellant, specially formulated here in Ōkārito, before you go out kayaking, so your mind’s at ease. As it’s DEET-free and made from entirely natural and non-harmful ingredients, it’s good for you, doesn’t harm your skin, damage our kayaks and gear, or poison the lagoon waters. Just not so good for the sandflies. But don’t feel sorry for them …
So, if you’re worried about sandflies or have already had a special welcome committee from them here in NZ, let us know when you arrive and we’ll make sure there’s repellant for you, if there’s not some already out. And of course, it’s for sale to take some with you when you leave, or can be bought here http://www.okaritosandflyrepellent.co.nz/ or elsewhere in shops around the country where it just might be needed.
And the crocodiles have stayed in Australia, our West Island. Better that way.
We’d ask that if you wish to cancel for some reason – a change in plan or your itinerary maybe – you give us 48 hours notice, and we’ll cancel at no charge to you. Within 48 hours, we would expect to charge in full for the kayak trip as in the busier days of summer we may well have held the kayak or guide just for you.
We generally don’t cancel kayak trips for light rain or showers; the lagoon is still beautiful to go paddling in with light rain and remember, its only water – you stand under more water in the shower each night! In heavy or persistent rain, or if conditions are unsafe, we’ll cancel at no charge to you.
If you’re worried about weather, give us a call the day before you’re supposed to go kayaking and we’ll give you an honest update of what we expect the weather to do – remember, it’s often much better weather out here in Ōkārito than it is in Franz Josef or elsewhere on the West Coast!
We accept cash, EFTPOS, Visa or MasterCard, even those pay wave things from most phones, a little to our own surprise sometimes. If you have none of these, we make you our kayak slave. You may want to stay anyway.
Ōkārito is a small, peaceful village on the western sea coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
Only 10km off the main highway, Ōkārito is about 25-minutes drive north of Franz Josef Glacier. Look for the signposted turn-off between Lake Mapourika and Lake Wahapo.
You’ll find spacious, private car parking at our two red sheds on the left just as you enter the village, with a homely base building and bathrooms for comfort.
1, The Strand, Ōkārito, West Coast
+64 3 753 4014
Soak up this stunning natural environment. Hire a kayak to independently explore these ancient waterways at your own pace or let one of our experienced guides take you on an intimate tour through pristine wilderness.
Options available for all ages and any fitness level.