We had no idea as to what to expect as we left camp for the seaside village of Okarito which lies just 10kms from SH6. We found the historic wharf where in earlier times 800kgs of gold a month had been shipped to Australia. Once this all ran out there was an attempt to bring forestry to the area but this failed due to the hazardous nature of the bar into the lagoon. Only 2 ships, which must have been larger than previously used vessels came into the harbour to load timber but both skippers complained about the ship hitting the bottom as they came over the bar and refused to return.
Alongside the wharf is a trip boat which takes you out onto the tidal lagoon which is 3000 hectares of wetlands fed by the surrounding forest. The force of the incoming tide was spectacular and furious to say the least and unusual in that it takes 4 hours incoming tide but the outgoing tide lasts for 8 hours due to the flow of water from the mountains and forest. It sound’s crazy but we were assured that this was fact.
Out on the water we were able to take in the sight’s of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman high about the forest tree line as seen from nowhere else. Our tour guide told us that despite the size of the lagoon there was only a narrow navigable channel of about 3 metre’s depth and the rest of it was only a matter of inches in depth and unsuspecting boaters could very easily become grounded. They are hoping that legislation will be passed banning only certain operators from using the lagoon to safe guard it as a sanctuary for the 70 odd variety of birds that frequent the lagoon at different times.
Again we had luck on our side because as we entered the rainforest river channel we were blessed with sighting not one but 5 White Herons. These birds nest further up the coast at Whataroa, which has it’s own micro climate but disperse all over New Zealand by the end of March. There are half a dozen that have made Okarito lagoon their permanent home and we were fortunate enough to have seen most of them. Also spotted were Black Shags, Little Pied Shags, Pied Shags, Black Billed Gulls and Caspian Terns.