Ōkārito Lagoon is a coastal lagoon on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is located 130 kilometres (81 mi) south of Hokitika, and covers an area of about 12 square kilometres (4.6 sq mi), making it the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand.
Several small rivers drain into the lagoon, and it is the outflow of Lake Mapourika. The lagoon is home of many species of wading birds, notably the extremely rare (in New Zealand) kōtuku (Eastern great egret). Ōkārito is the kōtuku’s only New Zealand breeding place.
At the southern end of the lagoon is the small settlement of Ōkārito. Originally a gold mining township, the population reached of over 1,500 in 1866. It is now permanent home to only about 30 residents; among them Booker Prize-winning writer Keri Hulme and landscape photographer Andris Apse.
Bird watching, eco-tours and kayak tours of the lagoon are available, and there are a number of local walking tracks.
In 1909 the bones of a whale beached in 1908, 6 miles (9.7 km) north of the settlement were taken to Canterbury Museum and displayed and called the Okarito Whale.
The Kotuku and more than 76 other bird species have been recorded at Ōkārito. These species include migratory waders, gulls, shags and terns on the estuarine mud flats as well as black swans, scaup, crested grebes, and ducks in freshwater areas. Tui, bellbird, kingfishers, pigeon, crakes, fern birds, and bitterns and crakes inhabit the wetland areas.
The rarest species of kiwi, the Okarito kiwi, or Rowi, is also found near the town of Ōkārito. It is also the only nesting ground for white herons in New Zealand.