In 1642, Abel Tasman became the first European to set eyes on Aotearoa at Okarito, 15km south of Whataroa and 10km off SH6, now a secluded hamlet dotted round the southern side of its eponymous lagoon. The discovery of gold in the mid-1800s sparked an eighteen-month boom that saw fifty stores and hotels spring up along the lagoon’s shores. Timber milling and flax production stood in once the gold had gone, but the community foundered, leaving a handful of holiday homes, a few dozen permanent residents and a lovely beach and lagoon, used as the setting for much of Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Bone People.

Nature-based kayaking trips and cruises departing from Okarito offer the chance for close encounters with the area’s seventy species of birdlife including the kotuku (white heron) and royal spoonbill, while bushwalking tours have an excellent success rate for spotting kiwi.

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