Ōkārito Lagoon, West Coast © Jason Blair

Ōkārito Lagoon: wonderful wetland wilderness

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Welcome to New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland, a natural home for waterbirds galore, who make more than a meal of the fish-filled body of water.

Get your body on that water, via a kayak, and start exploring one of the most fascinating environments you could hope to poke a prow into.

The water is shallow, and where it’s not a lagoon, it’s wee river channels that you can nose up, or you can take it easy on the tidal flats.

You may even see a kōtuku, a very rare white heron – this is the only place in the country that they breed. If you want to get among the feathers, there are bird-specific tours, as well as kayaking ones.

Guided tours mine the many wonderful walks here, one of which follows a 150-year-old bush pack-track that miners once used.

At the southern end of the lagoon is Ōkārito proper, once home to 1500 gold-crazy folk, now home to fewer than 30, including Booker Prize-winner Keri Hume, whose doorstopper The Bone People was set in this wilderness.

From the lagoon, look back over your kayak and Aoraki Mt Cook and a line of the Alps show splendidly along the horizon. Even stern West Coasters are inclined to describe the view as ‘jaw-dropping’. That’s saying something, then.

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