Be sure to visit New Zealand’s only white heron (kotuku) nesting colony. It’s a neat experience observing these magnificent birds, which are supremely graceful and elegant in all their movements.

The colony of 150 white herons, royal spoonbills and little shags is found in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve. Close by is the Okarito Lagoon where the birds feed. These beautiful birds nest high in the trees and jostle for places to roost. A guided tour by jet-boat operates from the town of Whataroa from November to March.

Okarito Lagoon is the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand, covering 3,000 hectares of shallow open water and tidal flats. It is surrounded by magnificent kahikatea and rimu rainforest. The area is so green and luxuriant that it is often compared to the Amazonian rainforest. Many species of ferns and mosses festoon the towering kahikatea trees and wild orchids can be found in the forest.

The lagoon is a birdwatcher’s paradise and over 70 bird species have been identified in the area (45 wetland and 25 terrestrial). Black swans migrate here from as far north as Lake Brunner and you will often hear the unusual booming sounds of the bittern. The bush is alive with tuis, bellbirds, pigeons, robins, and the comical kea.

Kayaking on the lagoon is a great way to watch birds feeding in their natural state in this finely balanced eco-system. There are several bush and beach walks around Okarito. Climb a well-graded path to the Okarito Trig station for breathtaking panoramas of the sea, lagoon and snow-capped Southern Alps.

Okarito Lagoon is nature at it’s best. A high-quality habitat for birds and a fascinating place to visit.