Visiting Okarito has been on my wish list for a long time. I’m not quite sure why. It’s the environment that informs Keri Hulme’s luminous prose; a place where white herons stride the still lagoon, where waves pound a driftwood-strewn beach; there are bush tracks to walk, and kayaking ….it seemed to have a lot going for it. But I’ve never managed to make it there. Until recently.
It was a bit spontaneous. And, on a mission to be someplace else in two days time, I didn’t have long to explore. As it turned out, my timing was lousy. Kayaking was not a goer. The tides weren’t good for poking into the shallower estuaries herons call home, there weren’t many around anyway (wrong time of year), and guides were in short supply (past peak tourist season). So – no heron photographs.
It didn’t really matter. Because right outside the kayak hire place (Okarito Nature Tours), a whole different bird drama was unfolding. Edwina (tour operator) saw the egret first and got excited because it was the first in a while so we wandered out to watch.It seemed to be behaving oddly.
That was when we spotted what is now a pretty rare sight – the New Zealand falcon, in hunting mode. Soaring over the egret, it turned, dived; the egret folded its wings tumbling through the air like a broken kite.
It was like watching fighter pilots, chasing, dodging, spiralling down. The egret finally leveled out and went to ground behind a nearby house.
The falcon flew back to perch on a bush just in front of us – watching intently. I’d never seen a falcon that close. Neither of us had ever seen one engage in such dramatic airplay. Apparently the falcons do hang out around Okarito but Edwina hadn’t seen one for months. This one seems inclined to stay – so far. I gallop across to snail to get my camera, certain it would be gone by the time I returned. Edwina meanwhile stops a couple of cyclists heading our way, alerting them to the falcon’s presence.
It stays just long enough for a couple of close shots before soaring away. We are left feeling awed, excited. Strangers bonding over a falcon. In November, when the herons come back to nest, I’ll be back in Okarito too. And next time I’ll be kayaking.