Our Environmental and Social Policy

We’re a small business, operating in a really precious environment, both ecologically and socially. It’s rare to have visitors to our village not comment on the natural beauty of the place and sense of peace and community of the village itself. So we feel we have a tremendous responsibility to do everything we can to support that, without changing the very thing that we and our visitors appreciate so much about our area.

‘Sustainable’ is a fashionable and often used word, but it basically sums up what we want our small business and place in the world to be. We really want our impact here at Okarito Kayaks to be positive to our natural environment and social surrounds. The opportunity we have to enable visitors to experience, learn about, and therefore value, the fantastic wetlands and forests at our doorstep, without damaging in any way the places they are exploring, is the main reason we operate this business. Alongside that focus on the natural environment, our activity has the chance to provide local employment, a social resource or hub for the young families in the village, support for local businesses through our commercial activity, and to strengthen and protect the social aspects of the community in which we live. There are easier places both to live and make money, but we’ve chosen this place because we feel a deep connection to the values and environment here. Our primary focus should therefore be on protecting and enhancing what it is we loved about the place enough to choose it as home.

Of course, it’s easy enough just to make broad statements like this without backing them up through our actions. So, the way we run our business over time will need to provide proof of our intentions. There are definitely significant challenges we face and have responsibility for, not the least our being a business that will attract increasing numbers of visitors to Okarito. As visitor numbers grow on the West Coast, they will place a significant strain on the unspoilt nature of both the natural environment, and social community and culture here. So, whilst we want income from the business to be able to continue to operate and live in Okarito, there is a real danger that unchecked growth will spoil the quiet charm and very reason so many people regard this place as special in the first place. We have a responsibility to actively manage this as beneficiaries of this growth.

In the short term, there are some definete measures we take, and can take, to look after our home.

  • Leave only footprints, take only photographs. We have a great opportunity to educate visitors about the high value of the natural landscape and ecology of the area. Through our briefings of kayakers, printed information we provide to accompany their kayak trips, expert local guided interpretation on the water, and day-to-day conversations as we serve coffee, we can support an increasing awareness of the importance of protecting the natural environment that visitors have experienced here.
  • No waste. We make every effort we can to reuse and recycle as much as we possibly can of the products we consume in providing services for people, and in our own lives here. The cleaning products we use are biodegradeable; we’ve stopped selling disposable packaging for both the coffee and food we produce, and sell reusable Keep Cups at cost price if coffee drinkers want a decent take-away brew; we salvage and recycle as much material as we can to make our small business work, from home-made kayak trolleys, to tea china from local Op-shops, to bookcases made of old ladders. Hey, it’s South Westland – why would you throw things away, it’s not like there’s a ton of shops here for shiny new things. Coffee grinds and any food scraps help our garden grow. If we can save electricity and fuel we will – better to tow a kayak by hand down to the wharf than drive it, or pick up a neighbours post from town rather than have them drive in. After all, have you seen the prices of power transmission and petrol down here … ??!!
  • Community matters. Where we can, we get involved. Here, you can’t rely on someone else to just do things for you; it’s a community effort. We are first responders for medical emergencies within our community; we’ve organised a Pre-Hospital Emergency Care course to be held here at the kayak shed, for the South Westland community to upskill to help themselves. We’ve fund raised and organised an AED to be placed in Okarito for emergencies, and keep medical oxygen on hand to be able to respond to any medical emergency that might occur locally.  And Baz is an active member of the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board, to represent the West Coast public’s interests in the management of the vast and incredibly precious conservation estate that surrounds us here in South Westland. All this takes time – but it’s our future, and the future of our communities that needs to be represented. Voices matter.
  • If it’s broke, fix it. The road down to the wharf gets potholes. We’ll get a wheelbarrow, and fill them. Gorse is spreading along the beautiful river channels spidering out from the lagoon. We’ll get in and cut it out (and we’re embarking on a major volunteer project on this, GorseBusters, in the next few months). Small actions make a difference.
  • We have an asset. We’d like to share it. If you’re running a local community event here in South Westland, and are fund raising at your event, we’d like to hear from you. Whenever we can, we’ll support communities from Hoki to Haast, whether it’s passing on info and putting up posters at the kayak shed, or providing a kayaking prize for winners at the Bruce Bay Sports Day, South Westland A&P or Blue Spur Mountain Biking Enduro. And if you’re a local school or not-at-all-local school that wants to get your kids out into the wider world, we want to help. We’ll discount as heavily as we can for schools. Worth it to see the look on the kids faces as they paddle off into the secluded moss-dripping rainforest with no iPads to distract them …
  • Ruth at Movement Design in Fox Glacier produced this website with us. She’s great, we think it looks great, and she’s a mate of ours. But she’s also local. Maybe it’s parochial, but we reckon the more we can support and work with local businesses, the better, There are some great folk out there in South Westland that run small businesses; Jase at West Coast Printing, Chris and Cushla at the Franz Josef Four Square, Ian the tireless (no pun) mechanic in Whataroa, and we all rely on each other to keep going. Keep it local and it’ll still be there when you really need it.
  • And growth. Or not. If you come by Okarito Kayaks in a years time, and see a big golden M up on the front lawn, or us building a three storey shed for kayak storage, take us out into the swamp and leave us there. We truly believe Okarito is special. It doesn’t need to be bigger, doesn’t need to have more. Most people who live here generally don’t want more. We don’t want to force that on them, intentionally or not. Rich and Ed – from who we took this business on, and whose values are still imprinted into the tidy lawns and home-made bunting – always said to us that the kayak sheds were the first thing that people often saw as they came into Okarito, and would often be one of the main impressions people left with. We don’t need to be the biggest business on the West Coast, or Franz Josef area for that matter. It’s enough just being in Okarito. So, we’re not after lots more kayaks. Or longer hours. We will remain a business where you can come in and talk to us, and we’ll make time to answer your questions about why we moved here. As if it’s not obvious ….. (-:

There’s lots more we can do and do, and lots more we shouldn’t do and hopefully won’t, in the future to safeguard what’s here. If you visit, hope you like the place, and hope you look after your home too.