This page was written in 2001.
The School House is now run as rented accommodation by the owners, Department of Conservation.
Okarito YHA Schoolhouse
The Okarito YHA is the old school house. It as an example of a community project that has arisen from the needs of a community, firstly in it’s early history as a school and later in it’s role as an overnight shelter for travelers. Today the Okarito YHA offers travelers a unique chance to experience the life of a bye-gone era, a chance to sample the history and culture of a small New Zealand settlement the way it was. In the past year over 1100 travellers have stayed in the hostel and the visitors book records their pleasure.
The school was established in response to the gold rush in Okarito between 1865-66. The building was erected in 1901 on its present site although parts of the building are thought to date back to the original building at the wharf site where a school was established in 1867. Okarito’s population dwindled through the twenties and thirties and the school eventually closed in 1946.
In 1958 the school site was put into reserve status but with little use the building was in a very sad state of repair. With the help of Greymouth branch of YHA a major restoration project was undertaken and the building was opened as a YHA shelter in 1960.
Between 1960 and 1990 the shelter was the only place for travelers to spend a night in Okarito. Around 1960 there were only 4 permanent residents in Okarito and it was 1987 before the village had enough residents to form the Okarito Community Association. By this time, once again, the Okarito schoolhouse was in need of a complete rebuild.
The Dept of Conservation, YHA and the local community undertook a huge restoration project in a joint effort in 1990. This involved many hours of voluntary labour and the Okarito Community Association and YHANZ contributed $10,000 each. A huge village party was held in Okarito to celebrate the survival of this historic building, which had come so close to demolition. It was an occasion where many surviving identities returned to share their memories of life in Okarito in early settlement days.
The Dept of Conservation produced a conservation plan for the schoolhouse in 1988 and further improvements include modern kitchen facilities, repainting and restoring the exterior of the building all, financed with money raised by the local community.