A loop view of the lagoon

The boardwalk at the start of the Orokonui Lagoon walk.PHOTOS: CLARE FRASER
The boardwalk at the start of the Orokonui Lagoon walk.PHOTOS: CLARE FRASER
The Seasider train’s two-hour stop in Waitati is the perfect amount of time for this one-plus-hour loop around the Orokonui Lagoon. The first half is mostly flat and the excellent standard of track takes you through a number of different environments.

Opened in November 2017, the walk starts roadside with a magnificent boardwalk and a wide view of the lagoon you’re about to encircle.

A few minutes along a grassy track there’s a picnic table. Sometimes sitting is the best way to hear birds as the quietness settles.

In such a big watery supermarket, a diversity of coastal birds thrive and surprise here — from native kingfishers and shags to the particularly cosmic royal spoonbill. The spoon at the end of its bill may look odd to us but it’s handy for crushing insects and capturing fish.

Grassland continues, with views inland of Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Surrounding hills shelter this west-facing spot, making the mid-afternoon train stopover an ideal time to soak up the sun.

Take a right past a few houses then cross the bridge over the Waitati River. With its willows and water seemingly playing tunes as it runs over rocks, you could be anywhere.

After the community orchard, the path opens to lagoon views as you travel towards the head.

A good spot for listening to the birds.
A good spot for listening to the birds.
In the late 1870s, this area hosted a finishing school for young gentlemen and in the early 1900s an inebriates’ home.

The second half of the track undulates as it travels through regenerating native bush.
The second half of the track undulates as it travels through regenerating native bush.
There once were partridges and quails. And even a flax mill, until most of the flax ran out.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary is close and a side-track follows a creek past some restful green paddocks to the predator-proof fence. Creekside plantings bolster the habitat of native freshwater fish that spend part of their lifecycle here before swimming through the lagoon to the sea. The creek is a link between the ecosanctuary’s forest and its wider environment. If you want to walk this side track, add 30-40 minutes return.

Back on the main loop, the track starts throwing a few undulations at you, but nothing too drastic. It cuts across the bank above the lagoon but now the mood is green cosiness as you travel through deep, regenerating native bush.

Then, all of a sudden, you’re in for a cruel shock: you’re back at the start.

 - Clare Fraser

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