The Ōkārito Lagoon is a wild, wet haven for nature. Paddling its main channel and the rivers that feed into it can reveal many surprises: shy birds hide in the rushes, rare, white waders fish in its waters, our tallest trees tower above, and our highest mountains reveal themselves - occasionally - creating a stunning snowy backdrop.
Paddling the Ōkārito Kayak Trail is the best way to experience all that the lagoon has to offer. Bring your own kayaks or hire locally.
The trail follows the main lagoon channel before diverting kayakers up two optional river routes – the Ōkārito Delta Trail and the closer Tidal Creek Trail. To complete the full trail allow up to 3 hours - times are very tide dependant.
Floating numbered markers mark the trail. The numbers correspond to information in a waterproof trail guide, which is available free of charge from the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre in Franz Josef or Ōkārito Nature Tours.
The views change depending on the weather, but whatever the mood, there is a charming quality about this lagoon.
This is New Zealand’s first self-guided interpretative kayak trail, developed as part of the Glaciers to Wetlands Restoration Project and funded by the Air New Zealand Environment Trust.
View the Glaciers to Wetlands page to learn more about the project and the opportunities to volunteer.
Drive 15 km north from Franz Josef Township on State Highway 6 to the Ōkārito turnoff signposted on the left. Drive 13 km along a sealed road to Ōkārito. Look for the wharf turn off to the right when you enter Ōkārito (opposite Ōkārito Nature Tours).
Nature and conservation
The Ōkārito Lagoon is a bird and wildlife watchers paradise with the opportunity to see a number of species including white heron kōtuku, royal spoonbill kōtuku – ngutupapa, godwit kūaka, eel tuna, wood pigeon kererū and fernbird mātā.
Know before you go
Remember that Ōkārito Lagoon is tidal. Kayakers are advised to stay upstream of the wharf building at all times. Beyond this point the flow and shifting mouth of the lagoon can be dangerous for people and boats.
Be aware that shallow mudflats become exposed at mid to low tide. Don't run your kayak aground!