Field Trip | Levels 1-4: Trip guidance for Ōkārito Lagoon to learn about estuaries. Thousands of native birds are here including white herons/kōtuku and royal spoonbills/kōtuku-ngutupapa.

The field notes below is part of the Protecting our estuaries education resource - an integrated curriculum teaching resource using New Zealand’s estuaries as a real-life context for learning.

Download the resource

Visiting Ōkārito Lagoon - Notes for schools and educators (PDF, 1,480K)

Learning opportunities at this site

Ōkārito Lagoon is the largest unmodified wetland on the West Coast of the South Island. You can explore many different habitats and discover the Ōkārito Kiwi Sanctuary. This is home to the endangered Rowi Kiwi, with the only natural mainland population of around 450 birds restricted to the Ōkārito Forest.

The Ōkārito township was also once a bustling goldrush area, with miners flocking to mine the black sand beaches.

Self-guided activites

In the notes, you'll find guidance to do:

  • sandy shore surveys - do a survey to look for changes on the shore over time
  • five minute bird counts - find and count the birds along the shore and identify them
  • an estuary survey - discovery seaweeds, plants, snails, crabs and other small animals
  • beat plastic pollution - follow this Young Ocean Explorers activity to learn about plastic pollution

Native or endemic species to explore

You can explore the following species here and learn more their habitats:

  • the rare white heron/kōtuku breed in only one location here, north of the lagoon. They spend time here while breeding, feeding on small fish and invertebrates
  • birds found at this estuary include: royal spoonbills/kōtuku-ngutupapa, pied stilts/poaka, eastern bar-tailed godwits/kūaka, and many more
  • In the water you can find longfin eels/tuna and juvenile inanga/whitebait
  • in nearby Ōkārito Forest you will find ancient forest giants kahikatea and rimu

Learning levels

  • Primary


  • Estuaries
  • Animals
  • Plants

Curriculum learning areas

  • Science
  • Social science


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