Discovering Okarito: A Hidden Gem on New Zealand's West Coast


blog authorBy Johanna Hansen shield verification Verified Expert

    Welcome to our latest travel adventure! In this blog post, we're taking you on a journey to one of New Zealand's best-kept secrets: Okarito. Nestled on the stunning West Coast of the South Island, Okarito is a haven of natural beauty and tranquility.

    Whether you're a kayaking enthusiast, a bird-watching aficionado, or simply in search of a peaceful retreat, Okarito promises an unforgettable experience. Let's dive into the magic of this unique corner of the world!

    What is Okarito

    Nestled on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island, Okarito is a tranquil haven, renowned for its stunning natural landscapes. This small, historic township, with a rich gold-mining past, is now a sanctuary for nature enthusiasts and those seeking peace. 

    Its unspoiled beauty encompasses a vast lagoon, pristine beaches, and dense rainforests, making it a picturesque retreat from the modern world.

    Okarito in New Zealand

    Okarito Lagoon

    The Okarito Lagoon, a crown jewel of New Zealand's West Coast, offers an enchanting landscape that captivates all who visit. Spanning over 3,200 hectares, it stands as the country's largest unmodified wetland. A haven for wildlife, the lagoon is a crucial habitat for numerous bird species, including the rare kotuku (white heron). 

    Its calm, reflective waters, fringed by lush rainforests and framed by the distant Southern Alps, create a tranquil and picturesque setting. Kayaking or taking a guided boat tour here is not just a journey across water, but a voyage into the heart of pristine nature.

    Where is Okarito

    Okarito, situated just 30 minutes from the renowned Franz Josef Glacier, is a jewel on the West Coast. This idyllic location is enveloped by New Zealand's lush native rainforest and the majestic Southern Alps. 

    Its proximity to other iconic destinations, yet seclusion, offers a unique blend of accessibility and serene isolation, appealing to those who cherish nature and tranquility.

    Okarito in NZ

    When is the Best Time to Visit Okarito?

    The ideal time to explore Okarito is from October to April, encompassing spring, summer, and early autumn. This period promises warmer temperatures and longer days, perfect for outdoor adventures. 

    The natural landscape transforms, with vibrant flora and active wildlife, offering visitors a dynamic and rich experience. This season is optimal for fully appreciating Okarito's outdoor activities and scenic beauty.

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    Things to Do in Okarito

    Kayaking in Okarito Lagoon

    Kayaking in Okarito Lagoon offers an unparalleled experience. As New Zealand's largest unmodified estuarine lagoon, it presents a serene and natural environment. Paddlers can glide through tranquil waters, navigating a maze of waterways while being surrounded by a diverse range of over 70 bird species, including the rare and elegant kotuku (white heron). This activity is not just a physical journey but a voyage through a thriving ecosystem, offering a unique perspective of Okarito's natural beauty.

    Bird Watching in Okarito

    Okarito is a haven for bird enthusiasts. The area serves as a vital feeding ground for thousands of wading birds, making it one of the best bird-watching spots in New Zealand. Visitors can expect to see a variety of species, from the majestic kotuku to the more common oystercatchers and spoonbills. 

    The lagoon's vast expanse and the surrounding areas provide ample opportunities for bird watchers to observe these creatures in their natural habitat, often up close and in their most candid moments.

    Things to do in Okarito

    Hiking and Nature Walks in Okarito

    The area around Okarito is a hiker's paradise, offering a range of trails that cater to all abilities. From leisurely walks along the beach to more challenging hikes in the rainforest and alpine regions, there's something for everyone. 

    These trails not only provide physical exercise but also a chance to immerse oneself in the lush, green beauty of the rainforests and the breathtaking views of the Southern Alps. Hiking in Okarito is an opportunity to connect with nature and experience the raw beauty of New Zealand's landscapes.

    Photography Tours in Okarito

    Photography enthusiasts will find Okarito a dream destination. The region's stunning landscapes and unique wildlife create a perfect canvas for photographers. Specialized photography tours are available, guiding participants to the most picturesque locations at the best times for lighting. 

    Whether capturing the serene sunrise over the lagoon, the diverse birdlife, or the dramatic backdrop of the Alps, photographers of all levels can find inspiration and improve their skills in this visually stunning environment.

    Okarito in West Coast of New Zealand

    Okarito's Unique Ecosystem

    Okarito's ecosystem is a marvel of biodiversity. The lagoon's shallow open water and tidal flats are a sanctuary for wildlife. As you explore, you'll be enveloped by the sounds and sights of nature in its purest form.


    Okarito is more than just a destination; it's an experience. Whether you're paddling through the tranquil waters of the lagoon, observing the rich birdlife, or simply soaking in the majestic views, Okarito offers a slice of paradise for every traveler.

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