A Weekend in Okarito
A major change that I've seen in the last few years has been the increase in holiday homes available for rent on one of the many websites such as holidayhouses.co.nz, bookabach and Airbnb. This provides a great opportunity to stay in bach's off the beaten track that you wouldn't probably normally get to experience. For the Easter long weekend, we found one such bach in Okarito, a small coastal village around 27kms from Franz Josef that consists of around 30 permanent residents.
The village is located right next to a lagoon (12 square kms) and is the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand. The lagoon feels as though it's the heart and soul of the village and provides fishing and kayaking opportunities, in addition to a few beautiful D.O.C. walks you can do in the area. The two images below are from the top of the Trig walk, here you can see the village and the lagoon.
Above: The view from the top of the Trig walkway (takes about 45 minutes to get there).
Below: Turn around 180 degrees and you'll see this beautiful view of the 3 mile lagoon (you can walk there at low tide).
There's a local company that rents out kayaks for $50 per person for 2 hours or $60 for 4 hours and this will give you an opportunity to explore the lagoon and head up the little rivers/streams that feed into the lagoon. It's a good idea to hire the kayak when it's an incoming tide (which will make for an easier paddle) then spend a few hours exploring and come back when the tide is slack or outgoing. Ask in the shop and they'll let you know the best options. They also make coffees here and are the only shop in Okarito. You would expect that the coffee would be expensive as they're the only option but no, standard pricing that you would expect in any town!
Below: The town even has it's own airstrip!
And it's own Tennis Club!
I would recommend taking your bicycle if you can. There's a DOC walk about a 15 minute bike out of town called the Pakihi walk that is quite nice and takes around 30 minutes. You'll be passing a kiwi zone on there way there, so take care!
You'll also want to take your fishing rod, as you can catch Trout, Salmon, Rig and Kahawai in the lagoon/river mouth. I didn't have any luck aside from seeing a Flounder which you are most likely to find around the mud flats at high tide.
There's also a cheaper option to stay in Okarito, and that's the community campground which is $12.50 per adult per night and has a bunch of facilities such as a shower, BBQ and laundry facilities. If you're staying here in a tent, remember that it can rain a lot on the West Coast so be prepared!
I didn't know about Okarito prior to Easter and it was fantastic to be able to discover a small town like this. The locals are all very friendly and there's a bunch of outdoor activities to do. If you are looking for an adventure off the beaten track without cell phone reception, then Okarito should definitely be on your 'to-do' list.