The site of the Okarito Trig viewing platform was once an important hub for the early survey network. Surveyor explorers such as Julius Haast, Gerhard Muller and Charlie Douglas viewed the “Full Frontal” of the coastline and the Southern Alps from this exact location. The trailhead is at the southern end of the Okarito Village and takes approximately ninety minutes return. The track itself has been rerouted with the added benefit of a gentler gradient and no steps.
It is hard to imagine Okarito as a gold mining town that was the third largest port on the West Coast. In December 1865 eight hundred people lived there and by the end of that summer the population had mushroomed to over 1500 people. The main street was lined with over thirty stores and hotels and locals say that “If you didn’t dig you sold grog....the bar owners won in the end because the diggers drank gallons.”
On a clear day the Southern Alps dominate the landscape with Mt Adams in the North, Ellie de Beaumont inland and Mt Tasman standing beside Mt Aoraki/Cook in the South. The Okarito Lagoon is outstretched before you as New Zealand's largest unmodified wetland and is home to over seventy different species of native birds including the famous kutuku/white heron and royal spoonbill. If you are time rich a kayak or boat trip is an ideal way to get up close and personal with this unspoiled environment.
The world’s rarest and most endangered kiwi the rowi or Okarito brown lives in the surrounding podocarp forest. The Department of Conservation is involved in bringing this unique bird back from the edge of extinction with the Bank of New Zealand: Operation Nest Egg Programme.
Once you have walked down from the Trig you can continue along the Three Mile Pack Track to the Three Mile Lagoon. If the tides are right you can follow the coast back to Okarito. This is the route that the famous Graham brothers took to the Okarito School from their home at Three Mile when they were children, before they established the Franz Josef Hotel and their guiding company.
Back at the Village, Okarito proves that history is not just preserved in museums. Take a look at Donavan’s Store the oldest commercial building on the West Coast, the old school house which is now a Youth Hostel and the Boat Shed at the wharf which has its own information displays. For more information see the Department of Conservation website at www.doc.govt.nz.