My husband stumbled across the White Heron Sanctuary tour on the web when we were planning our NZ South Island holiday. He said it looked great but I was ambivalent as neither of us are avid bird fanciers. I am so pleased we did this tour as it's a "must do" if you want something that's off the beaten path and very special. With only about 200 birds in NZ the White Heron, or Kotuku in Maori, is endangered in NZ. We went by mini bus for about 15 minutes to the river and then a 20 minute fantastic (but not rough and jerky) jet boat ride to the breeding ground in the Okarita Reserve. This is the only breeding place in NZ where the birds return each year between September and February. We saw about 40 birds from the hide. It was very special. Most people in NZ never see a White Heron and they have a saying "as rare as a Kotuku". We did the 9am tour on 3 October which returned to the motel just before 12noon. This is a small group tour no more than 10 and there were only 4 of us on our tour. Deon was a very knowledgeable tour guide, bus and boat driver who was very caring and attentive.
We also stayed at the White Heron Sanctuary motel which is operated by the same people. Whataroa is a very small rural town of around 300 people so there are not many options. From the outside the motel looks circa 1960s but don't be put off as it was very comfortable and one of the cleanest places I've ever stayed at. The queen bed was very comfortable with quality linen. The powerful heater warmed the place up well, the lounge was comfortable and the kitchen well equipped with full stove/oven and microwave. You can see the snow capped mountain from the kitchen window. The owner Adele was lovely and made us feel very welcome. I even got to help bottle feed her pet lambs which was an unexpected joy.
There are limited options for dinner in Whataroa. We had nice fish and chips at the pub across the road. The store also does some hot food and breakfast. We took our own breakfast provisions.
I highly recommend the White Heron Sanctuary Motel and Tour. Whataroa is an easy drive from Greymouth when you get off the Tranz Alpine train as we did andca good stop over point.
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