Kohuamarua Bluff acts as a natural breakwater protecting the entrance to the Lagoon from southerly storms and Okarito became the third largest port on the West Coast during the gold rushes of the 1860’s. At its busiest five hundred gold miners disembarked in one day and there were direct sailings from Australia.
Captain Thompson was the first, ever vigilant, Harbourmaster. An article in the In 1898 Greymouth and Grey Valley Almanac explained how he would stand on the spit and “wave a white flag to signal to ships” that come in on quiet water and placed “white flag bearing beacons” to indicate the deepest water on the bar. He also monitored the quicksand on the spit and ensured no “loose behaviour” occurred on the wharf.
In 1867, Charlie Douglas, the great West Coast explorer, surveyed the lagoon. He decided that murder should be legal for the inhabitants of the Okarito Village, although he could not fault the beauty of the lagoon and its surrounds. Until 1920 Okarito was the social hub of South Westland and people from Hari Hari through to Haast would come to race days, balls, and sailing regattas.
The best way to get intimate with these sheltered waters and the birdlife is by kayak or boat. Check the tide tables and ask a local where to hire a kayak or the time of the next boat cruise is. Then you can write your own memoirs about “An adventure on the Okarito Lagoon.”