Okarito Base Camp

23 to 30 December 2020

Fernbird Retreat, Okarito (Pop. 30) was home for a week over Christmas 2020 for 8 PTC club members and friends. Our house was adjacent to the lagoon and had 5 comfortable bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchen and a balcony with a good view of the village and wetlands.

Three of us (Arif Matthee, John Robinson and Maureen Thompson) were the advance guard. Day one, with low tide at noon was an ideal time to do the local walk to Three-Mile beach. We limbered up with a yoga session on the lounge floor, to fill in the time before low tide. The previous night’s rain and wind made the conditions perfect for a wild beach walk. We dodged the waves lapping at our feet. Huge boulders and soaring waterfalls made the walk interesting. A baby seal was spotted hiding behind a rock. A swing bridge over the tannin-stained lagoon provides access to Three-mile beach. No evidence remains of the 2500 miners who lived here between 1865 and 1867. They were seeking the gold that lay on the black sand, but where a rogue wave could sweep away your fortune in a second. The route back was the cliff-top track through wonderful West Coast bush. A detour to the trig point gave an overview of the area with the Okarito lagoon to the north and Mt Cook to the East.

On Xmas Day, Arif and John tackled the 8.5 hour Alex Knob track, while Maureen explored Okarito and put the roast dinner in the oven. The local internet tower was out of action the whole day so we had no phone, internet or landlines. The wharf is a fascinating place to read up on the local history. The short Pakihi walk up to a scenic lookout highlights the historic tree-felling industry. A traditional Xmas dinner was served that evening.

Boxing Day started with the Tatare Tunnel walk at Franz Joseph. It’s a short walk requiring headlamps and wet feet. The tunnel was built to bring water to the gold mines. After checking out the DOC office we decided on a bike trip to Neils Creek. We got wet boots again as we crossed a river. DOC failed to tell us that the gate might be locked. Fortunately, my riding companions were able to heave my heavy e-bike over the gate. The old forestry track was quite wet and mossy, but it was a delightful ride. We arrived at a deserted beach with a meandering river mouth.

Day three took us to Gillespies Beach and an interesting walk via beach, lagoon and historic mining relics. On the way home Arif and John knocked off Lake Matheson and a new track to Lake Gault. The following day John, Arif and Deane took a scenic helicopter fight over the glaciers, then fitted in the 5-hour Roberts Point track, which can be a bit slippery.

Over the next few days, Mark and Sue Piercey arrived, plus three of Maureen’s friends (Francis, Kari and Deane) filling the house. Francis and Kari had an adventurous afternoon walk up Alex Knob, which turned into a rescue mission for an injured overseas tourist. The tourist had sprained her ankle not far from the summit of Alex Knob and was being piggy-backed by her friend and a passing tramper. Francis and Kari joined in to help but didn’t get out until 10pm, on dusk. The tourists were exhausted as the injured girl and her friend had not eaten since breakfast.

It was a most enjoyable week with the added bonus of perfect weather and, amazingly, no sand-flies.

Base camp members were: Maureen Thompson (leader), John Robinson, Arif Matthee, Sue and Mark Piercey. Guests: Deane, Francis and KariMT

View of Okarito Lagoon from the Trig Walk. Photo courtesy of Maureen Thompson

Okarito Beach waterfalls after the rain. Photo courtesy of Maureen Thompson