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Your guide to Ōkārito
All About Ōkārito
On the western coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Ōkārito is home to one of the country’s biggest coastal lagoons, a popular destination for bird watching. Ōkārito Lagoon’s still, shallow waters are excellent for kayaking, and the surrounding lush rainforest and snow-capped mountains make for some spectacular scenery. Birders flock to the area hoping to spot the region’s diverse native birdlife, especially the white heron, known as kōtuku in Māori, and the Ōkārito kiwi, both of which are extremely rare in New Zealand.
Ōkārito is a wonderful place to absorb the natural beauty of the South Island, and you’ll find plenty of hiking opportunities nearby. The area is an ideal base for those keen to explore the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier, less than 30 minutes away. There are no shops in this small town, but you will find the oldest remaining commercial building on the west coast, which now serves as a community center and library.
The best time to stay in a vacation rental in Ōkārito
When it comes to booking Ōkārito accommodation, the most popular time is typically summer, which runs from December through February. The weather is usually warm, rainfall is at its lowest, and conditions are pleasant for hiking and swimming. Spring is a great time to visit Ōkārito as the alps are still covered in a layer of snow, the waterfalls and rivers are at their fullest, and the hills come alive with blooming wildflowers.
Autumn is from March through May, when it starts to get quite chilly. If you’re heading to Ōkārito during this time of year, you’ll need thick layers in the evening. But the scenery can be magnificent, with the mountains developing rust-colored hues. Winter gets very cold, though it tends to bring clear skies. It can also be an ideal time to see the nearby Franz Josef Glacier.
Top things to do in Ōkārito
The coastal wetlands of Ōkārito Lagoon are the key attraction of this small town, and a popular spot with birders. You’ll have a chance to spot dozens of native bird species, including white herons, royal spoonbills, and brown kiwis. As well as offering some of the country’s best bird-watching, the lagoon is also an idyllic spot for kayaking.
Three Mile Lagoon Track
The area surrounding Ōkārito offers some scenic hiking trails. The Three Mile Lagoon Track is a three-hour round-trip hike through forests of rimu, rata, and silver pine trees. If you’re looking for something shorter, the Ōkārito Westland Walk takes just 20 minutes and leads to a viewpoint over the lagoon. The Ōkārito Trig Walk is another option, with a short but steep hike through lush forest to a panoramic deck.
Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere
Just 20 minutes from Ōkārito, you’ll find one of New Zealand’s most renowned attractions, and a World Heritage Site. The 7.5-mile-long Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere is one of the steepest glaciers in the country. It descends from the Southern Alps into the rainforest in Westland National Park and includes spectacular ice caves, tunnels, and crevasses. You can take guided hikes in the glacier valley.