View of the Ōkārito from above

Image: Andris Apse | ©


The Glaciers to Wetlands Restoration Project aims to restore the Ōkārito wetland system and has been made possible by funding from the Air New Zealand Environment Trust.

The Glaciers to Wetlands project is a four year programme, managed by DOC to restore the Ōkārito Wetland System (near Franz Josef Glacier) and has been made possible by funding and support from the Air New Zealand Environment Trust (ANZET).

The project

Air New Zealand Environment Trust logo.
Air New Zealand Environment Trust logo

Glaciers to Wetlands logo.
Glaciers to Wetlands Restoration Project logo

The Ōkārito wetland system contains a huge diversity of freshwater ecosystems: coastal lagoons, kahikatea swamp forests, braided rivers and Pakihi swamps. 

This diversity of habitat supports a wide range of plant and animal life, including many species that are threatened, or known nowhere else in New Zealand:

  • the white heron/kōtuku and royal spoonbill both breed in the area
  • the endangered Australasian bittern/matuku shelters here  
  • 12 species of native fish can be found within the watercourses
  • the rowi, New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, depends on the wetland ecosystems for shelter.

West Coast wetlands support many cultural values of importance to Māori, particularly harvestable species such as eels and inanga (whitebait), and the provision of habitat for many other taonga species.

Recreational values are also of great importance to community and visitors. The freshwater and estuarine habitats of the region support fishing, boating, hunting, kayaking, camping and walking in a spectacular setting beneath the Southern Alps Kā Tiritiri o te Moana. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers attract large numbers of national and international visitors annually.

Since human arrival in New Zealand, approximately 80-90% of wetlands have been lost. The Ōkārito wetland system has survived decades of logging, weed invasion and introduced mammalian predators. This project is an opportunity to restore a magnificent part of our natural heritage and to enhance recreation opportunities and provide a greater understanding of the importance of not only this wetland system, but all wetlands nationally. 

By working with the ANZET and the community we can ensure that these nationally significant wetland systems are protected for future generations.


The partnership between the DOC and ANZET will protect and restore an internationally significant wetland system to its original natural glory and, in the process, re-connect and educate people about the value of healthy functioning ecosystems for future generations.


  1. Protect and restore the kahikatea swamp forest habitat around Lake Wahapo.
  2. Protect and restore the wetlands, podocarp forest and coastal habitats of the Ōkārito Lagoon system.
  3. Develop focal points where people can engage and learn about this project through participation and recreation activities.
  4. Involve ANZET, the local community, Te Rūnanga o Makāwhio, together with Air New Zealand staff and volunteers to deliver project outcomes, educate people and create a sense of kaitiakitanga or stewardship toward the location and the project.
  5. Grow local, national and international awareness of the Glaciers to Wetlands Restoration Project and ANZET’s involvement.

Get involved

Want to be involved? Great! We will need help at all stages of the process from collecting and propagating seeds, to pricking out and potting on seedlings, and finally planting young plants in their new homes.

If you have green fingers, or are just interested in plants and would like to help out, please contact the Glacier to Wetlands Restoration Project team at DOC or phone +64 3 752 0796.

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