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Wetlands are commonly seen as boggy swampland although this perception is far from accurate – the extensive array of wetlands in New Zealand includes mangroves, estuaries, lakes, marshes and lagoons.
As well as being important ecologically, wetlands often attract native plants and wildlife, making them popular with nature lovers. The West Coast’s wetlands are mainly protected and provide breeding grounds for rare species of wildlife. The former gold-mining hub of Okārito, near Franz Josef Glacier, is home to the Okārito Lagoon, the only kōtuku or white heron breeding colony in New Zealand. Kōtuku are extremely rare and admired for their elegant white feathers and graceful S-shaped necks. Along with the noble kōtuku there are around 80 other species of birdlife residing in the lagoon.
The remarkably beautiful Karamea/Otumahana Estuary is another West Coast wetland well worth a visit. A 1.5 hour drive from Westport, Karamea is accessed by what is considered as one of the most stunning drives in the world, with remarkable views of the Tasman Sea and Kahurangi National Park. The estuary is a birdwatcher’s paradise and due to the sheer number and variety of birdlife it is considered to be of national importance. The long list of birds to admire includes black swans, egrets, gulls, wood pigeons, pukeko, oystercatchers and tuis.
Arguably the West Coast’s most picturesque lake, Lake Ianthe, is located near the small timber town of Pukekura. Get up close and personal with the local birdlife by taking a natural history cruise. Tamati Nature Tours offer the unique experience of a small group (two to six people) tour out onto the forest-lined lake in a Kauri launch.
Another great spot for eco-cruise adventuring is Lake Mapourika. The clearness of this glacier lake makes the water reflections spectacular. The lake is the largest in South Westland and is also a great spot for kayaking.
On top of the beauty and wildlife factors, wetlands are a mecca for lovers of water-sports. Wetlands are the perfect setting for water-based recreational pursuits such as boating, kayaking, swimming and water-skiing. One of the most popular spots to enjoy all forms of boating and water-sports on the South Island’s West Coast is Lake Brunner, located 37 kilometres from Greymouth. As well as enjoying water-sports in and on the water, visitors can experience some of the best brown trout fishing in New Zealand, with fishing guides, licences and tackle hire available locally.
For more helpful hints on exploring the West Coast and its many attractions, check out Westwood Lodge.