krito, West Coast: One of the best natural wonders in New Zealand –

Posted: November 21, 2021 at 9:34 pm

Liz Carlson/Stuff

krito is home to New Zealands largest unmodified wetland on the West Coast of the South Island.

Since humans arrived in New Zealand, close to all of our wetland ecosystems have disappeared, leaving around 10 per cent left. In the conservation world, wetlands are super important, for many reasons, including being home to many endangered species, including birds, fish and trees.

A key player for national health and biodiversity, wetlands capture carbon and keep water clean, among many other benefits. krito, tucked away on the South Islands West Coast, is one of the last bastions of wetland biodiversity, and arguably one of the best.

krito is the kind of place where if you blink you might miss it. Just north of Franz Josef Glacier and an hour-and-a-half south of Hokitika, its 10 kilometres off State Highway 6 on the West Coast which means heaps of road trippers just cruise on by, missing out on one of the best natural wonders in New Zealand.

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Liz Carlson/Stuff

The elusive white heron/ktuku calls krito home.

In fact, it took me years to make the turn off after regularly passing by. Loosely called a town, which is somewhat of a stretch, krito is home to just a few dozen people, and over 70 species of birds. Once a gold mining town, like so many West Coast settlements, its surrounded by ocean, wetlands, cliffs, native forest and the mighty Southern Alps as a backdrop.

Liz Carlson/Stuff

The best way to experience the krito Lagoon is on an eco boat tour.

Covering an area of roughly 12 kilometres, the krito Lagoon is New Zealands largest unmodified wetland, and one of the most special. Most famously home to the mysterious, white heron/ktuku as well as our rarest kiwi, the krito or rowi, spending the early morning out on the water is an experience unlike any other.

Passionate and knowledge birders Paula and Swade run Okarito Eco Boat Tours, sharing their knowledge and stories with curious wanderers like me. Because the landscape is so unique, getting out on the water on their custom-built boat is the best way to experience krito, even with only a passing interest in the birds.

The only breeding site of the elegant ktuku was discovered on the nearby Waitangiroto River in 1865. The krito Lagoon is where they feed and where many of the population of around 100 birds call home. Gliding like a bright white kite, they are so graceful soaring above the still water.

The ktuku have always been considered special and rare, with their feathers adorning Mori chiefs in life and death. In fact, comparing someone to the ktuku is one of the highest compliments. But by valuing their features, the already rare ktuku population was quickly decimated down to just four nests before being protected in 1941.

Liz Carlson/Stuff

Royal Spoonbills resting in the treetops around the krito Lagoon.

The 90 per cent loss of wetlands across New Zealand is a tragic and astonishing figure. And while we cant bring them back, we can still work hard to protect what we still have, including around krito. One of the largest and most ambitious Predator Free 2050 projects is underway in the area.

Building on ZIPs (Zero Invasive Predators) work removing predators from the nearby Perth River Valley, the $45 million Predator Free South Westland project will work to eliminate possums, rats and stoats from over 100,000 hectares over five years, including around krito, preserving this incredible corner over New Zealand for future generations.

The writer was hosted in krito by West Coast Development.

Staying safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions at

Liz Carlson/Stuff

The best time of day to experience the krito Lagoon is in the early morning.

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krito, West Coast: One of the best natural wonders in New Zealand -

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