Ōkārito is off the beaten track, at the end of a dead-end road, and adventure-filled Franz Josef is only half an hour away. Most people wouldn’t come across it on a New Zealand road trip. The tiny town has only 30 permanent residents, but it’s packed with just as many adventurous activities that you won’t find in the guidebook.
You won’t always find signposted routes, well-groomed bike trails or boulder topos full of photographs in Ōkārito. But who says you need established trails and routes? Isn’t that what makes a great playground, the freedom to make it up yourself?
Day Hiking In Ōkārito
The best day hike in Ōkārito is at least half on a well-established trail. The Three Mile Pack Track runs from the Ōkārito Wetlands along the top of the Kohuamarua Bluff before it pops out of the bush at Three Mile Lagoon, where stunning views of the Southern Alps will hit you in the face – if you’re lucky with the weather. From here you can pick your own way back to Ōkārito township along the beach. Make sure to make a mental note of which beach boulders look climbable!
This walk is tide-dependent as the beach disappears at high tide. Check the tide table at the start of the walk and only attempt the beach part within an hour either side of low tide.
Choose Your Own Overnight Hike
Keen to do a longer hike, or perhaps even spend a night under the stars? Create your own multi-day hike adventure! At the end of the Three Mile Pack Track, a swing bridge crosses the lagoon. There aren’t any tracks on the other side, but plenty to explore.
How about continuing along the beach until you hit Five Mile Beach? Or perhaps having a closer look at Blanchard’s Bluff takes your fancy? Or maybe you want to head inland and find a spot to camp next to Alpine Lake? As long as you’ve got the right equipment (think maps, enough food/water, warm and waterproof layers), this is your playground and you make up the routes!
Kayaking Tidal Creek & The Ōkārito River Delta
Yes, this one’s a commercial activity but trust me, you don’t want to miss out. Whether you’re heading out by yourself or joining a guided tour (definitely recommended if you want to hear all sorts of nerdy nature facts about New Zealand’s largest unmodified coastal wetland), you’ll be in for something special.
If you’re lucky enough to have a sunny day, definitely try to go during sunrise, when the water is still but the birds are active, and the lagoon shows a perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains.
Check in at Ōkārito Kayaks to find out if you’ll be able to access Tidal Creek or the Ōkārito River Delta to make your way into the lush rainforest filled with giant kahikatea and rimu. One of the best kayaking experiences of New Zealand, if you ask me!
Road Cycling & Mountain Biking
No matter what type of cycling you’re into, Ōkārito will have something on offer. If road cycling is your thing, the road back to the main highway makes for a nice cruise as the gradient is easy and you won’t encounter much traffic. If you’re into something longer, consider heading south to Franz Josef (17km from the junction) or north to check out Whataroa (14km from the junction), both ways are fairly flat with nice views along the way.
With a cyclocross or gravel bike, you’ll be able to hit the forest at The Forks, which offers a few gravel road options. None of these roads actually seem to go anywhere and eventually peter out so you’re bound to do an out-and-back. But the forest has some impressive kahikatea trees and if you head out around dusk, a pause every so often will reveal the abundant birdlife around you.
On a mountain bike, the forest offers even more to explore, with plenty of off-track side roads that won’t show up on your topo map. It’s up to you to pick your own path, just make sure to remember your way back or use maps or a tracking app.
Running Up To The Trig
Keeping up with your running while on a road trip can be tricky. Luckily Ōkārito offers you the perfect workout, and reward. From the Wetlands car park, run up the track and turn left when you come to the Trig junction. After a steep 2km climb you’ll arrive at the Trig, with sweeping views across the coast as well as the snowy Southern Alps. Take a breather and soak in the view before returning your steps on the easy descent.
Need a few more kilometres than the five you’ve just done? Turn left at the junction to include the rest of the Three Mile Pack Track before turning back the same way or along the beach – remember to check the tides!
Head out with a boulder mat and nail some first ascents! Yep, that’s all the description you get – from here you just make it up yourself. And we were pleasantly surprised!
We started out doing some easy slab stuff before finding a boulder that really stumped us. If the actual boulders aren’t enough of a challenge for you, there’s the added pressure of the rising tide coming closer and closer, as well as hundreds of sandflies making the most of you being stuck in that sit-start position…
Read More: Bouldering for Beginners
Chilling In Ōkārito
To get the full Ōkārito experience, make sure to time your visit with a live music gig at Donovan’s Store, one of the oldest buildings on the West Coast, and is now being used to host events. With something on every two weeks throughout summer, this will be a perfect way to chill out while meeting all thirty Ōkārito residents.
Base Camp – Ōkārito Campground
The great thing about small towns is that things are kept simple. Ōkārito has one campground, so that’ll be your base camp. The campsite is not much more than a gravel lot for campervans but has a nice grassy area for tents.
It offers toilets, showers ($2), a lounge room and a kitchen shelter as well as free WiFi, for $15 per person per night. If camping isn’t for you, there’s a variety of cute, classic Kiwi baches to book in Ōkārito.
- Kayak/SUP (if you have your own)
- Crash pad
- Hiking/running gear
How To Get There
Ōkārito is off State Highway 6, from Franz Josef Township head north for 15 km to find the signposted turnoff on your left. From the turnoff, it’s another 10km on a sealed road to Ōkārito.