Because the years tick by and I come near wrapping up a decade of ex-pat life in New Zealand, the checklist of locations I haven’t been to shrinks. However don’t fear, I nonetheless have that checklist.
One such place which has been calling to me for a very long time is Ōkārito, on the west coast of the South Island. I’ve pushed by Ōkārito about 1,000,000 occasions, and I might need peeked in a couple of times, however I by no means took the time to get to comprehend it till this yr.
An iconic seashore and lagoon, Ōkārito is New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland and residential to some excellent uncommon birds. Half an hour from Franz Josef, Ōkārito was initially a historic settlement for Māori and European gold miners, like so many quiet rural spots on the coast. It was even dwelling to a big port again within the day, laborious to think about now with its inhabitants of about thirty on a very good day.
These days, Ōkārito beckons each nature lovers and introverts alike. As quickly as I arrived, I believed to myself, hmm, I may fortunately dwell right here.
One thing that always surprises me is individuals who suppose the West Coast is dwelling to loopy climate. Certain, it does get plenty of rain, therefore the temperate rainforest. And certain, generally there generally are huge storms, however it’s not usually. The massive secret (I’m certain spilling will get me crucified for spilling) is that the West Coast has lovely climate.
There have been so many occasions the place I’ve visited in winter, and it’s heat, fully nonetheless, and sunny. The enduring lakes are good mirror reflections of the native bush and mountains. And the odor, oh my god, the odor. It’s that damp earthy, recent post-rain clear type of odor. It makes you are feeling alive.
As a result of it’s a must to flip off the primary freeway that snakes down the size of the West Coast, I reckon many people skip out on visiting Ōkārito. That’s definitely a mistake I made for a very long time.
The city (think about air quotes round “city” as a result of even that phrase is a stretch) is idyllic and peaceable. With the Alps as a backdrop, ocean in your doorstep, and kiwi within the bush close by, I can’t determine why this place isn’t bumping with vacationers 24/7.
Due to its ecological significance, most individuals who come out to Ōkārito are eager birders and nature frothers. Let’s say I used to be the youngest there by fairly a number of a long time. Some folks journey to see mountains, and I journey to see herons.
There’s one absolute must-do in Ōkārito, and that’s to go out on the well-known lagoon with Okarito Eco Boat Excursions. Indisputably the easiest way to expertise the wetlands and their unbelievable nature, head out with locals Paula and Swade for a morning exploration.
They take you across the Ōkārito lagoon, wetlands, and rainforest waterways on their customized open boat. Over 3,000 hectares, this is among the finest wetlands you’ll be able to go to in New Zealand. You see a lot on the water, from birds that dwell and feed in recent and saltwater environments to wading birds and among the rarest creatures within the nation.
We noticed banded dotterels, godwits that fly right here from Alaska, and the unusual-looking spoonbills. Right here dwell the Rowi, the rarest kiwi, although it’s not one you typically see (although you’ll be able to go to them on the Franz Josef Wildlife Centre close by the place they’re raised).
Turning a nook and seeing dozens of the Dr. Seuss-esque spoonbills perched on high of the timber like ornaments just isn’t one thing you see day by day!
However in fact, the king of the birds right here in Ōkārito is the kōtuku/white heron, a creature of virtually legendary standing in New Zealand. Are you able to guess why?
These lovely lengthy white feathers. The kōtuku was nearly hunted to extinction after its solely breeding website on the Waitangiroto River close to Whataroa on the West Coast was found in 1865. By 1941 their inhabitants had dwindled to solely 4 nests earlier than being protected. Thought of considerably steady, there at the moment are round 100 to 120 birds left.
Throughout the breeding season, the kōtuku feed within the giant coastal lagoons within the space, particularly the close by Ōkārito Lagoon, earlier than dispersing across the nation. We noticed many of those elegant birds whereas out on the lagoon. Completely perched in shallow water, their white reflections make them simple to identify amongst the darkish inexperienced.
Till I immersed myself in conservation, notably in New Zealand, I didn’t notice how fragile and threatened wetlands are worldwide.
Over 90% of New Zealand’s wetlands are gone. Poof! That is primarily attributable to intentional drainage for land use, like farming and growth within the early days of European settlement. Between that and purposely introducing stoats, these guys have plenty of issues to reply for, I swear!
Wetlands maintain plenty of significance, in addition to being dwelling to among the most uncommon and threatened species. Wetlands are thought of “excessive worth” ecosystems in New Zealand and are dwelling to a disproportionately giant variety of threatened birds and animals, together with 67% of freshwater and estuarine fish, and 13% of endangered vegetation. Additionally they play necessary roles capturing carbon, sustaining water high quality, regulating atmospheric gases, and are culturally important to Māori. – The Guardian
Between habitat loss and predation by launched species, these locations are critically threatened and want safety to outlive for future generations.
Whereas I used to be out on the water with Okarito Eco Boat Excursions, I realized about an unbelievable predator-free venture occurring proper right here.
One of many largest and most formidable tasks up to now, the $45 million Predator-Free South Westland venture, which is engaged on eliminating possums, rats, and stoats from a 100,000-hectare space bounded by the Whataroa and Waiau (Waiho) Rivers, the Southern Alps, and the Tasman Sea over 5 years, together with Ōkārito.
The venture builds on Zero Invasive Predators’ (ZIP) profitable removing of predators from the 12,000 hectares Perth River Valley which borders the brand new venture space. Whereas within the space, I invited myself alongside to a neighborhood ZIP assembly and realized about how they’ve been clearing one of many wildest and most gorgeous corners of New Zealand within the hopes of defending our native creatures. It was tremendous inspiring!
Everyone knows that New Zealand is exclusive. However as you slip by the mirror-like lagoon of Ōkārito simply previous dawn, seeing the mists and mountains reflecting at nighttime water and plenty of birds chatting away within the distance, the odor of earth and rain and recent nature overpowers you, now that is a unprecedented expertise.
I’ve mentioned it so many occasions, and I’ll say it once more; we’re so fortunate nonetheless to have a spot like this left on the earth. Let’s take care of them!
For my fellow nature lovers and hen nerds, plan your journey all the way down to Ōkārito ASAP.
Have you ever been to Ōkārito earlier than? What’s one of the best wetland you’ve visited? Changing into a bird-nerd too? Share!
Many due to West Coast Growth for internet hosting me on this journey. Like at all times, I’m retaining it actual. All opinions are my very own like you can count on much less from me!