My first visit to the West Coast was in February 2019. I notched up a couple more firsts as well – a perfect Hokitika sunset and whitebait pizza
Hokitika wears its slogan well – clearly the ‘cool little town’ on New Zealand’s west coast. Renowned for a myriad of qualities – past and present – Hokitika celebrated the 30th anniversary of its iconic Wildfoods Festival recently – an estimated 10,000 people pouring in to feast on the weird and wonderful.
I preferred to avoid the influx – choosing instead to savour a couple of restful days exploring the place. The plan was to travel on KiwiRail’s Tranzalpine to Greymouth, rent a car and head to Franz Joseph for a night, back to Hokitika for another night, then meander across Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch and the return flight north.
Mother Nature had other ideas – picking my weekend to drop a bundle near Franz Joseph and block the highway. Sometimes things turn out for the best though. Even two nights in Hokitika wasn’t enough. There is more than enough to fill several days – places to explore, history to discover and things to do. There are bush walks and cycle trails – for serious adventure buffs to slow strollers. The Hokitika Gorge is spectacular; a must do and an easy walk – even with its swing bridge. Afterwards, there is the picturesque loop drive around Lake Kaniere. With lakes and rivers all around Hokitika, you can fish, boat and water ski;
see glow worms, feed eels and admire native bush from lofty heights along the stunning Treetop Walk. The area’s history is equally fascinating – from its foundation on gold mining to its claim as the birthplace of pounamu. Understandably, Hokitika is an artisan haven – locals boasting that it probably has more galleries and studios per capita than anywhere in New Zealand.
Pan for gold, carve your own piece of jade or fossick on Hokitika’s rugged beach for a speck of treasure. The foreshore walk is mandatory – any time of the day – but best savoured at sunset for a chance at that precious photo. While driftwood statues line the rock bank every summer following the Driftwood and Sand Festival, Hokitika’s landmark sign is a year-round fixture. Invariably tweaked and twiddled by locals and visitors alike, it’s arguably the top postcard shot of any visit.
This cool little town’s calendar is loaded with events. While the Wildfoods and Driftwood and Sand festivals are the two biggest , there are summer races at Hokitika and nearby Kumara, the Woodstock Rally at Rimu, junk shows and art days, a lantern parade and scooter safari to name a few. Depending on the time of year, Hokitika is a photographer’s nirvana – shots in local galleries framing sunrise behind the town’s clock tower and stunning sunsets at the beach.
The sunset walk is standard for visitors and locals alike. On a clear evening, paying homage to the dipping sun while munching a pizza is joyful. Fat Pipi Pizzas are the best – especially when dripping with whitebait. Whitebait, after all, is synonymous with Hokitika.
If you’re truly lucky and not one cloud graces the sky – the crisp outline of Aoraki/Mt Cook is a reminder of the Southern Alps’ dominance on this part of the world. That said – given the friendly butt of weather references to the ‘Wet Coast’ – rain is always on the cards. It simply makes the likes of Dorothy Falls at Lake Kaniere more impressive and indoor pastimes at local attractions obviously appealing.
Where to Stay:
Stumpers Bar and Cafe Accommodation
Places to See:
Hokitika Gorge, Lake Kaniere, Lake Mahinapua, Glow worm Dell
Things to Do:
Treetop Walk, Sunset Walk, West Coast Wilderness Trail