View from the top of the Okarito Trig walk

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Okarito Stole My Heart and Soul

Okarito, New Zealand is my favorite place in the world.

I fell in love with this isolated small town in New Zealand on my first visit there in 2014. Every time we go,we stay longer. Three days the first time. Ten days the second time. Five weeks in 2018. The time in between visits is getting shorter. Our fourth visit would have been our second time during New Zealand’s winter. Alas, that trip, planned for 2020, was cancelled due to Covid-19.

Okarito: Population 30

Normally, the population of this town is about 30 with around 30,000 annual visitors coming to enjoy its unique ecosystem and rugged coastal beauty. But not in the winter. In the winter, the town empties out. There is at least one person there keeping things in working order, but at least 50% of the residents head off on their own holidays. Tourism drops off. A good book, a glass of wine, and a wood-burning stove are all I need to be content. Not even winter and biting sandflies can dampen my love of this secluded respite.

Okarito is an Introvert’s Paradise

It’s not for everyone. There are no stores, no coffee shops, no restaurants, no busy roads. It’s pretty much a one road town. It is, in fact, a hamlet – smaller even than a village by definition. The nearest store and gas station are 30 km away. The oldest building dates back to the gold rush days of the mid 1800s when the town’s population reached a whopping 4,000. This historic building, originally a small hotel, is the quaint social heart of the community, where artists and traveling musicians come to play for guests in a room that barely seats 30. Many incredibly talented musicians have performed there, including the Kelly Family Band (Barelyshakes), violinist Fiona Pears Band, and the Tattletale Saints. The room in which they play boasts wide plank wood floors and vertical wood slat walls reminiscent of the past.

A Nature Lover’s Respite

Rainforest, wetlands, ocean, glaciers – all can be seen from the viewpoint at the top of the Ōkārito Trig walk. There is ample hiking, a coast full of the types of stones and driftwood you want to pick up and take home, and over 76 species of birds, including the elusive kiwi, which I have yet to spot, despite my efforts. I did finally visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre and could have spent hours watching the kiwi scurry around there.

Boating and Kayaking in Okarito

There are tourist activities like kayaking and eco boat tours. That is, after all, how many residents earn a living. But it isn’t the tourist attractions that make Okarito my place in the world. It’s the raw natural beauty, the lack of people, the night sky full of stars, the solitude, the quiet.

When I’m there, I’m in my place in the world. When I’m not there, I’m waiting to go back. I can easily recall how it feels there. To simply think of it is like placing a blanket of tranquility upon my shoulders.

New Zealand: You Can’t Go Wrong

In a broad sense, New Zealand is my place in the world. The whole country is spectacular. From Akaroa, Curio Bay, and Kaikoura to Oamaru, Queenstown, and Wanaka, New Zealand is a delight for the senses. The indescribably beautiful landscapes, the white wines, the farmers’ markets full of fresh produce and artisanal cheeses, and the peace and quiet of the South Island are only a few reasons to love it. I adore many of the countries I’ve visited, but none have stolen my heart quite so much as the sparsely populated and unimaginably beautiful New Zealand.

If You Can’t Travel, Read!

Since it’s not quite time to pack my bags and journey back to Okarito, I’m transporting myself back in time to 1866 New Zealand with The Man Booker Prize 2013 winner, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I’ve only just started, so I can’t add my two cents to the reviews yet. So far, so good, but I’m biased due to my love of the area. Update: I finished the book. It was a slow read for me, but I definitely enjoyed it.

There’s nothing quite like curling up with a good book. The Luminaries is rather weighty at 800+ pages. It is available on Kindle, so don’t let the weight of it stop you. I read a bit this morning while enjoying a cup of coffee bought in Mexico in a mug bought at a thrift store in New Zealand on a coaster bought in Turkey on a table bought in Korea next to a book and Hydro Flask tumbler bought in the United States. As I was looking at the picture and realized that the 6 items represented came from 5 different countries, I couldn’t resist that sentence.