Hokitika Area Guide
Hokitika clocktower © Edwin Hayward
The town itself isn't overwhelmed by tourist attractions, though you will find enough for a good day out. There's a local museum, Kiwi centre, two cinemas, a theatre and a wide-range of stores/galleries celebrating the artistry for which the region is famous. At night, make sure you visit the glowworm dell; just five minutes from the town centre on the northern road out of town.
First settled by the Maori, who came in search of pounamu (greenstone or jade), Hokitika expanded during the gold mining boom of the mid-1800s. Gold is still mined along the West Coast today and used by local artisans to craft handmade jewellery. This artistic tradition dominates the town's shopfronts, especially along Tancred Street, which features a succession of craft shops and galleries.
The beautiful designs aren't limited to jade and gold, either. Other artisans work with materials such as wood, bone, glass and paua shells. And not all limit themselves to displays and sales. If you've ever fancied trying your hand at carving jade, there are workshops that take visitors through the entire process, from initial concept to carving and polishing.
Another strong feature of the town is the black sand and pebble beach which stretches along its entire length and beyond. You'll find a lot of driftwood accumulated on the shore, often turned into interesting sculptures by passers by and those practicing for the town's Driftwood & Sand Beach Sculpture competition held in January.
Another important event is the hugely popular annual Wildfoods Festival. Held in early March, it offers the visitor adventurous and challenging foods such as huhu grubs and fish eyes, as well as more conventional dishes sourced from the local region.
Some local retailers have mixed feelings about the festival because of the damage that was caused in previous years by revellers leaving rubbish and worse on and around the beach. There are now tougher restrictions on behavior and a cap on visitor numbers for the event.
Despite its homegrown attractions, Hokitika is still best seen as a base from which to explore the rest of the west coast. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are a comfortable two-hour drive south of Hokitika, and the famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks an hour to the north. It's also just a short drive north to Shantytown.
The surrounding mountains, rivers, lakes and bush also host numerous outdoor activities, such as hiking or helicopter rides, short walks or long whitewater raft trips.
Most importantly, Hokitika is the last major town for a good few hundred kilometres if you're travelling on the route south and east over Haast Pass. So don't forget to stock up on food and other supplies before continuing your trip.