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This overview of Okarito’s history is taken from the recent Planning submission to various Councils and Government Ministers produced by the Community Association. We will be providing a more detailed history in the near future.

Okarito has a history of human activity that dates back to the earliest arrivals of Polynesian peoples. Maori occupation and seasonal harvesting in Okarito began over 600 years ago. Various hapu held manawhenua here over the centuries. Kati Wairaki reputedly built a large pa on the Kohuamarua Bluff. Ngai Tahu currently hold manawhenua.

In recognition of the history and importance of the locality to Maori a nohoanga was created and Ngai Tahu was granted statutory acknowledgement over the Lagoon as part of the Ngai Tahu Deed of Settlement.

In 1865 the goldmining township of Okarito sprang up on low-lying frequently flooded land at the south end of the Okarito Lagoon because the entrance channel was the nearest place suitable for shipping for the beach goldfields to the South.

Keith Robertson

Keith "Robbie" Robertson, the last storekeeper at the Okarito General Store. February 1984

Early building was mainly confined to the east side of the Strand, because at that time the west side was beach foreshore. A University Reserve was set-aside on the hill behind the village very early.

The gold rush declined rapidly and so did the population, although it remained 'town' for the subsequently developed Whataroa and Franz until the Whataroa Bridge was completed in 1910. Okarito port remained open until the 1940s and various attempts to improve it were frustrated by the typical behaviour of West Coast sea and lagoon outlets.

In subsequent years the wharf facilities fell into disrepair. In the 1970s residents and supporters formed the Okarito Improvement Society to save the historic wharf from demolition.

Later in the 1970’s and 1980's, Crown land west of The Strand, which had been built up by 100 years of sand aggradation, was sold by ballot and the resident population increased. Many members of the current OCA moved here at this time. At about this time, the Westland County Council drew boundaries on the 1860's town plan of Okarito, to define what was called the Resort of Okarito and later renamed the Coastal Settlement Zone (CSZ).

The Rough Report (1980) was the first major attempt at planning for Okarito and led to the forming of the DOC camping ground, a permanent water supply and improvements to the Youth Hostel, all of which the OCA (Inc) have managed subsequently. In 1987, the Improvement Society became the Okarito Community Association Incorporated.

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