One of the most common questions we are asked is “How did you come to live in Okarito?” . Remember, this is a village of only about 30 full time residents! So we thought we would share our story with you here.
“Swade” Finch, born and raised in Titahi Bay near Wellington, NZ, has been living on the West Coast of the South Island for over 30 years. He spent 10 years as head guide at the Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki south of the glaciers near Haast. Prior to that, he spent many years deep sea fishing in Alaska as well as crayfishing in the most interesting fashion off the West Coast of NZ with long time friend Barry Wyber (ask him how they launched the boat – that’s a great story!).
Guiding at the Lodge he spent much of his time with guests from around the world, showing them the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin, leading them on walks through the magnificent rainforest and entertaining them in the evenings as he transformed into chief bartender! Paula Sheridan, born and raised in the extreme climes of Canada, came to New Zealand as a tour guide. Having spent some years in a remote part of British Columbia working at a luxury Helicopter Ski Resort, her interests moved to guiding guests through the Canadian Rockies by bicycle. She arrived on the shores of NZ in 2001 and she, along with many guests over the years, travelled by bicycle around the South Island, spending time at the Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki along the way. You can see where this is heading! Three years later, a gleam in Swade’s eye and a sparkle in Paula’s led them to agreeing to spending some time exploring the little known village of Okarito together.
The quiet, remote village with its long stretches of beach along the wild coast was a haven for two guides to relax and yes, fall in love! The next few years ensued with Paula’s return to Canada and back again and a few too many farewells being said on those same beaches of Okarito, so she decided to uproot from Canada and move full time to New Zealand.
Leaving the cycle tour business somewhat behind, she worked as a kayak guide in Okarito and set up home in a wee bach. It didn’t take long for her and Swade to combine forces and seize the opportunity to work together when the small eco-tourism based business of Okarito Boat Tours came up for sale. Swade and Paula now live happily in a somewhat larger bach on the beach at Okarito. Running Okarito Boat Tours keeps them both in the guiding business sharing with their guests the magnificence of the scenery of the west coast and the birdlife on the Okarito Lagoon and River. Paula, a yoga teacher and massage therapist, is also furthering her studies in natural therapies with reflexology, aromatherapy and Reiki and works out of her studio at home.
She and Swade round out their busy schedule by managing the local campground in Okarito, and a holiday home for others looking to explore this quiet little village and the wonderful experiences it offers up. They welcome you to come and explore this “magic” part of the coast of New Zealand and maybe even learn where “Swade” got his name – and that’s another story!