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This personal memoir by David Alexander was included in an open letter to Sandra Lee, DOC Minister.

I first happened upon Okarito twenty two years ago while solo touring the South Island by motorcycle. The dusty winding corrugated gravel road leading to the town was a challenge itself. I parked the bike at the end of the road underneath a bluff which echoed the sound of breaking surf and the occasional song of a bellbird. The place was deserted, not another human soul in sight.

Views of rafts of driftwood on the wild beach had me hastily unpacking my camera. I captured many treasured images that day and back in Christchurch at the end of a one month journey Okarito was the high point of my summer excursion.

By chance I was sent to the West Coast on a work assignment eight months later. An interview was arranged with one of the residents of Okarito. Later the reporter and I were invited to dinner and given the chance of a boat ride on the Okarito Lagoon the next morning. The Youth Hostel warden Bill Minehan was our guide. It was one of those overwhelming experiences; the beauty of the forest edged lagoon, dark tannin stained tranquil waters giving perfect reflections of the Southern Alps. Only the sound of the drone of the outboard motor breaking the silence, our wake rippled those perfect reflections. Bill landed the boat up the Okarito river, a short walk through a stand of ancient Kahikatea trees brought us to the long abandoned rusted remnants of a flax mill under the canopy, a reminder of the industry resources in the area once attracted. Gold mining gave way to flax mills, then timber extraction.

I visited again the next summer meeting more of the locals, Okarito had soon become the place for my annual pilgrimage. Over the years those locals have become close friends and mentors.

There is a good community spirit at Okarito; a lot of people have freely given their time to projects over the years. Many of those projects have helped make it a great place for visitors.

I have exhibited Fine Art photographs made at Okarito. I work as a photojournalist for 'The Press', and over the years 'The Press' has published many photographs and stories about Okarito and the local area I have gathered. Some of my photographs of Okarito have appeared in magazines and journals as well.

My wife and I own a holiday home on The Strand which I bought a little over 14 years ago. The gold of our wedding rings comes from sand on the beach we see from our holiday home. I am now a constant traveller to my escape place from pressures, which is a spiritual base to contemplate life, fish, whitebait, walk, fly kites, take trips on the lagoon, be creative and catch up with friends.

For me it is the unmodified environment of Okarito that makes this place so special, walks on the beach with wondrous 'sea sculptures' of driftwood, eroded rock and boulders. The forested hills behind the township, buildings which have slowly grown in number but not imposed themselves on the landscape, the snow clad peaks speak volumes of our land of contrasts. It is a town rich in history, once a Maori settlement, later a bustling gold town, a resting place at times of my favourite pioneer, one time bank clerk, dry witted explorer, Charlie Douglas. An old description of Okarito goes... Okarito with it’s bush fringed lagoon, haunt of the White Heron sacred to the Maori and backdrop of the towering peaks of the Southern Alps, no other gold town rivalled it in beauty save perhaps Queenstown.

Change is inevitable, however Okarito has that special charm of being a place that through many changes appears unchanged, it is what draws us most.

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