Surveyor explorers such as Julius von 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 the track itself has been rerouted with the added benefit of a gentler gradient and no steps.
It is difficult 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, by the end of that summer the population had mushroomed to over 1500 people. With a further 2500 people living at the 3 Mile and 5 Mile mining sites. The main street was lined with over thirty stores and hotels. 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, Mt Élie de Beaumont inland and Mt Tasman standing beside Aoraki/Mt Cook in the South. The Okarito Lagoon is outstretched before you as New Zealand's largest unmodified wetland. It is home to over seventy different species of native birds including the famous kotuku/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, lives in the surrounding podocarp forest. The Department of Conservation is involved in bringing this rare 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 journey that the legendary 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.
On both of these tracks, you can see native birds such as the tomtit, bellbird, tui, fantail and the grey warbler. On your return walk from the Three Mile Bridge, you may see little blue penguin tracks and pelagic sea birds such as the black backed gull, oyster catcher, and shag. For more information see the Birding West Coast website www.birdingwestcoast.co.nz.
New Zealand fur seals can also be seen along this beach. These amazing creatures, like any wild animal with sharp teeth, can be merciless when cornered. Do not come between mothers and their pups or their escape route to the sea. Hector's dolphins can also be sometimes seen playing in the waves.
Back at the village, Okarito proves that history is not just preserved in museums. Take a look at Donovan’s Store, the oldest wooden commercial building on the West Coast, the old school house which is now bunkhouse accommodation 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.