Okarito Field Trip 16-18 November 2018

Field-Trip Leader: Diana A

Field-Trip Report: Glen 


I first joined NPSNZ some years ago when I was living in the Mackenzie District but have not been actively involved since I shifted North to Wellington in early 2016.  This was my first NPSNZ field trip since 2015 when I joined trips to Arthurs Pass and Shag Point after an broken ankle put paid to the 2016 trip to Stewart Island. Quite frankly, I had rather forgotten what a great experience these field trips are.  They are always well organised, the members are invariably welcoming and a great shared photographic experience is enjoyed by all.  They are a special feature of being a member of NPSNZ and it is something that sets it apart from other clubs.

The Herons of Okarito

While the White Heron or Kotuku is seen in many parts of New Zealand, Okarito Sanctuary is the only breeding place for these majestic birds.  The prospect of capturing these birds in the wild was enough to lure me South for this trip. I had only been there once before, quite some years ago, before I purchased my first digital camera.

The Trip Itself

A special word of thanks to Diana A who organised the whole trip in such a seamless way.  Canterbury Show Day provided a convenient extra day for our visit. Most of our 22 strong party travelled south on the Thursday and a number who didn’t have to rush back to work on Monday stayed on an extra night.

Accommodation was at the Whataroa Motels which were comfortable and very reasonably priced.  They lacked a large enough communal dining space so the traditional shared meal on Saturday was replaced by a meal out at The Blue Ice Cafe at Franz Josef township, which was very pleasant.

Despite unfavourable weather forecasts, we weren’t troubled much by rain on the Coast, most of which fell during the Friday evening.  Importantly, Arthurs Pass was open after being closed previously due to a washout so we were spared a lengthy detour via the Lewis Pass.

Arriving at Whataroa around 4pm we settled into our accommodation, socialised a little and then checked out the photographic possibilities of the Okarito Lagoon and nearby beach in the early evening light. The old boathouse at the lagoon with its weathered timbers and half submerged piles attracted my interest.

Friday morning some hardy souls ventured out at a most unseemly hour to try and capture sunrise over the lagoon with limited success.  The first of three groups went to the sanctuary while the remainder did their own thing around the area.

We drove to Franz Josef and walked  part way up the track to the glacier view and also caught some pleasant reflections in a pool off one of the tracks.  The pressure of tourist numbers was very evident and the area was quite crowded.

It was quieter at Lake Matheson but low cloud and a breeze on the lake rather spoilt any chance of great images.  A quick trip to Fox rounded off the day. Tea and an early night compensated for a 4.45am start!

Heavy overnight rain  did not last into Saturday and we took our places on the 9am bus and jet boat trip into the Okarito Sanctuary, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip.  Dion, Ken and Shirley Arnold provide a very informative insights into the sanctuary and its wildlife.

On the way into the hide, Dion pointed out some spider orchids beside the track, which I had never seen or photographed before.  The herons were in the middle of nesting with chicks of a variety of sizes being present. As well as Dion’s expertise, we were fortunate to have Murry Cave with us for his knowledge and photography of the Kotuku is legendary. He also very generously lent members some of his long fixed lenses which allowed us to get very close to the action. Our time at the Sanctuary went all too quickly and, on the way back on the jet boat, some  of the paradise ducks took pleasure in racing alongside the boat which provided another photographic challenge.

In the afternoon Murry arranged with Andris Apse to open his gallery at Okarito for us to view his iconic images of New Zealand landscapes and to purchase some of  his books.

A walk around one of Okarito walks rounded out the day for us.  Then it was off to Franz Josef to enjoy a pleasant meal together at the Blue Ice Cafe.

Sunday was pack up time for most of us and I was grateful for a ride back to Christchurch Airport with Katherine and Murry.  Enroute we photographed the old Inter Wanganui Dairy Factory out of Whataroa and explored the mouth of the Wanganui River near Harihari.


A very successful trip. I will certainly won’t leave it so long to travel South for my next NPSNZ trip!    

To view more images please visit Flickr