Hokitika is a little town in New Zealand on the West Coast of the south island, and my favorite holiday location in the country. Many tourists visit each year, but few seem to spend more than a few hours in this little and on first appearances, sleepy town. Up until recently, I was the same. I had popped through briefly but had never made the time to really explore Hokitika and enjoy the town to its fullest.
Definitely the best way to arrive on the coast, is by the TranzAlpine train. The train which starts in Christchurch, winds its way through mountains and alpine forests, stopping at Arthur’s Pass and then its final destination of Greymouth. The scenery is beautiful and it will really give you a taste of what the New Zealand countryside is like. Although I am slightly biased living in the South Island, many people that have travelled here have also come to the conclusion that the South Island is definitely more beautiful and majestic than the North Island and well worth spending more time in.
When the train reaches the finally stop of Greymouth, you can either hire a car or get a bus to travel the 30 minutes down the road to Hokitika. I would definitely recommend hiring a car as then it gives you the freedom to explore the area more. Also if you can book your train tickets in advance then I would recommend it as you will often pick up specials or cheap early bird tickets. There are often special $99 return fares available so for more information check out www.tranzscenic.co.nz/services/tranzalpine.aspx
One of the most beautiful spots to visit is the Hokitika Gorge. Only 33kms inland from the centre of Hokitika, the gorge is a photographers dream. The turquoise waters are as magnificent as the gorge itself. From the car park it’s a short walk down to the swing bridge that crosses the gorge. Cross over and follow the track that goes off to the left and down onto the rocks, where you’ll be greeted with the most amazing views up and down the gorge. Warning – DO NOT FORGET THE INSECT REPELLENT!! Sandflies are everywhere and love to bite visitors! As well as a spot for some amazing photographs, there are 1-3 day tramps that head off from the gorge. For information on these, call in to the Department of Conservation in Sewell Street in Hokitika.
One of my top 3 things to do in Hokitika is jade, paua shell or bone carving at Bonz n Stonz. I wouldn’t advise wearing your best top to do the carving. I was covered in dust and water by the end of the day. It was fantastic though and I have a feeling I was messier than most as I kept spraying myself with the water inadvertently all the time. I loved getting into it though – so getting messy in the process was all part of the fun and enjoyment of the day – and hey, it’s not like we don’t all have access to washing machines!!
All said and done it was a totally fantastic day and I was and still am so happy with the finished result – as is everyone I have shown so far, and that’s anyone and everyone I have come across since. Remember that Maori tradition means that you are supposed to give your pounamu (jade) to someone as a gift, so if you go as a group you can make them for each other, make it as a gift or just do as I did and keep it for yourself to hand down to future generations. Prices range from $75 for Paua shell carving to $150 for jade. It’s absolutely worth it as you’ll remember it for the rest of your life, and have something to take home after too! Check out www.bonz-n-stonz.co.nz for more information.
One of the night time activities to check out are the Glow Worm Caves. Head out of the town towards Greymouth and just before you reach the 100km an hour zone you will see the caves on your right hand side. Obviously this is a night time only excursion, as you definitely won’t be able to see glow worms in the daylight, so make sure you take a torch with you as it is very dark. Follow the path up from the car park and when you get near the end turn off your torch and watch the walls glow. I absolutely love glow worms – they look so magical. I remember as a kid being told that they were fairy dust and I think that it has stayed with me ever since as I always get the warm fuzzy’s whenever I come across them. The caves in Hokitika are always a stopping point for me whenever I am there overnight.
Possible the most famous things about Hokitika is the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival. Every March for the last 21 years, thousands of people descend on the town for the weekend festival of weird and wild food. This is not a festival for your usual foodie though. With scorpions, huhu grubs, mountain oysters (aka sheep testicles) and stallion sperm shots on the menu, it’s definitely not for the faint hearted! I went for the first time last year with a group of friends. The atmosphere was fantastic, and we all had an awesome time. Each year there is a theme – last year’s was Where The Wild Things Are. People dress up in all sorts of costumes though from wild things, to Barbie and Ken and M&M’s. If you can time your trip to coincide with the festival then I would absolutely recommend it. The next festival is on 10th March 2012. I am heading along again and following an article I wrote about last years festival, I have been invited to be a food judge next time. So make sure you come and find me and say hello – hopefully I won’t be feeling too queasy by then!! www.wildfoods.co.nz
Note from the author:
When I was asked to write this blog for Tripping I had to think hard about what city I would write about. The reason for this is that I currently live in Christchurch in Canterbury in the South Island of New Zealand. Now unless you’ve been acting like an ostrich and have had your head in the sand for the last year, you’ll be aware that Christchurch was hit by some very big earthquakes and have had and are still having aftershocks – over 7000 in the last year in fact. A lot of the city was destroyed and the city centre is still cordoned off and is likely to be for some time.
Our little city has become like a donut – no centre but still things going on in the suburbs. So although we were down for some time, we are by no means out. Cantabrians are strong, we have proved that many times over the last year. Through the loss of lives and loss of buildings, we hung in there together. Businesses that were in the centre are now slowly relocating to the “burbs”, and new places are springing up every week.
So although for this article I chose a different town to write about, it is by no means an indication to stay away from Christchurch. There are still things to see and do here, it’s just a little too raw at the moment for me to write about what’s gone and what’s not. So for that reason and that reason alone, I chose to write about a little town in my favourite holiday location in New Zealand, The WestCoast.
TranzAlpine Train: by Matthias Klappenbach ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/matze79/)
Hotkitika Gorge: by Ewan M (http://www.flickr.com/photos/55935853@N00/)