Continuing on Highway 6 from Greymouth, we arrived in Hokitika just before noon. We stayed at Mountain Jade Backpackers in a private room for my mom, daughter and I. Only a week before, the weather was chaotic with heavy rainfall caused a huge slip in the area, leaving hundreds of people stranded. The road between Hokitika and Wanaka was closed and unfortunately, this has been terrible for everyone working in the tourism industry. We had to change our plans as Franz Joseph was not going to be accessible. Hokitika wasn’t that busy as it should have at this time of the year. The day had cooled down and more rain as promising to come. Let’s explore a bit about Hokitika’s story, its artists, nature and glow worms.
At the mouth of the River Hokitika, lies the little town with the same name. Originating from the Maori term “return in a straight line”, which is believed to refer to the ancient Polynesian navigator explorers routes to the greenstone country (jade country). Hokitika was another NZ gold mining town founded in 1864, becoming the centre of the West Coast Gold Rush. Not surprisingly, it would become one of the most populated towns in NZ by 1866. The wharf of Hokitika had over 40 vessels transporting principally gold. It became the best town in regards to the number of vessels and the highest riches in gold. Of course, as we all know from history, all gold rush glory comes to an end as the gold runs out. By the end of the 1860s, it was all over. If you are interested in exploring more the gold rush era and get your imagination flowing, I recommend you to read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. This fictional novel tells the story of Walter Moody, who has come to NZ to make his fortune. Of course, the Hokitika museum will not disappoint, as it will take you through Hokitika’s past from the early Polynesian explorers to what it is today.
We stayed in the room to wait for the heavy rain to lift, rest and have some lunch. I need to mention a few things about Hokitika beach. A 3 km stretch it is the perfect beach for taking a walk, especially in the evening if you want to see the sunset- promise it will not disappoint. They even have a Facebook page in dedication. Every year in January, everyone is invited to join and participate in the annual Driftwood and Sand Beach Sculpture Festival. The idea is to create sculptures with what you find at the beach. There are some truly remarkable pieces of art and some stay a really long time. Unfortunately, due to the storms many of these sculptures were washed away, but some still stand strong. This a great beach for families and dog walkers too. Dogs can be off-leash but make sure to know the limits:
- Hokitika Beach South of Stafford Street to Sunset Point (beach only)
- Hokitika Beach North of Stafford Street (only daylight hours; non-vegetated tidal areas seaward of mean high water springs only)
Check out the responsible dog ownership site, if you want to know more about permissions and restrictions within the Hokitika area.
But the evening wasn’t going to stop here. There is a tiny haven for glow worms just minutes from Hokitika town. Before I go into more details, I want to share some important things you need to consider before you go. It is important to understand that while we can enjoy nature and its wonders, we must take into account that we cause disturbance. To minimise this we need to know the following:
- Glow-worms are sensitive to noise and light.
- Please speak quietly
- keep your torch facing down. Better even if you can use a red light torch for minimal disturbance.
- when on the site, keep left on the track to avoid bumping into other people.
- Don’t take pictures with flash. A camera that handles low light conditions is ideal.
- Please, don’t jump over the fence.
Some Facts First
These tiny creatures are a species of fungus gnat (Arachnocampa luminosa), known commonly as NZ glow-worm or just glow-worm. They are also endemic to New Zealand. These larvae fly species has the ability to create glowing light on their behind to attract its prey.
Glow-worms are not related to fireflies
The northern hemisphere fireflies ( the larvae is also commonly known as glow worms) are a different species of insects. These are beetles that fly and flash their behind during the night.
Glow-worms live in dark and humid forests and caves where there is abundant prey.
There are four stages in the glow worm life cycle. Egg-larva-pupa-adult fly. This process takes between 10-11 months and most of this cycle will be spent in larvae form. There are more eggs hatching during the winter period, however, glow-worms can be present all year round.
So how do glow worms trap their prey?
They make sticky silky threads (made of silk and mucus) that hang in lines. These lights attract small flying insects that will get tuck on the threat once the hit it. Once trap there is no escape. The victims will typically be small spiders, caddisflies, moths, midges and mayflies.
How do glow worms glow bioluminescence?
In the modified excretory organs (malpighian tubules) the luciferase enzyme act on a small molecule of luciferin, producing the final glow. Watch the magical chemistry come to life here.
Glow-worm Dell is located just minutes away from Hokitika, next to the Kumara Junction Highway. In this tiny canyon, you will see a spectacular glow-worm exhibition. Be patient, as it might take a while after it gets dark to start seeing the lights. First, you see one, then two and when you realise it the light is all around you. I only had my mobile with me. No pictures of the display but in memory, it is pretty much alive. It is so amazing to be able to appreciate the wonders of nature. And for free! What else can you ask for? It was the perfect ending of a beautiful day. And you think nothing beats an amazing sunset?
The next day we headed for some food at the Clocktower Cafe, located in the centre of town. They have a great selection of cakes, pastries, bread, soups, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free(GF) options. I have to add vegetarian- GF, as it is not always easy to find this combination and sometimes can limit your options. I would definitely recommend this place. The prices are agreeable too!
Arts and crafts are a strong part of Hokitika’s identity. The natural surroundings have served as an inspiration to many artists and artisans, who have made their home in Hokitika. Walking through town, you get the opportunity to meet local artists working in their studios as they display their work. This way we got to chat with some of the locals who have come from many different areas of NZ and the world. We got to see the materials they use and how they got inspired to start the process. It is really interesting to see behind the curtain and see the creative work come to life. There is definitely something for everyone and it is more gratifying to take home a piece that is made with all the love and dedication, where you see how much work is devoted to each project.
Hokitika is known as the birthplace of pounamu (NZ jade or greenstone). If you want to learn more about how these stones are shaped in forms of jewellery and decorations, you might want to stop here and watch the carving process. At Mountain Jade, there are many talented carvers working on their pieces. You can even make your own if you decide to do a workshop. Of course, don’t expect to be like the ones in the shop. These carvers have studied and practised to get to be a carver master. It is never the less interesting to give it a try and to wear your own piece of pounamu. You can also join a guided tour of this workshop at 9.30 and 14.30. No need to book and they are absolutely free.
We also had a chat with William Steyn, the artist painting stones of all shapes and sizes. Like many other artists, this South African graphic artist decided to make Hokitika his home and has been making over the last 10 years and living over 20 years in NZ (Just like my parents!). He has had visitors from all over the world. I liked them so much, I took a couple of small souvenirs for friends. He is so friendly and has some seriously hilarious stories to tell. I definitely would recommend anyone to give him a visit and take a piece of Hokitika with them!
As we walked through town we other galleries featuring local artists worthwhile exploring. Hed left from the bookshop and you will find a few interesting shops. I got a couple of earrings made by Maori Jeweller Amy P. Some of the town buildings displayed once the wealth that other towns of that time did not share. Some of these historic buildings were on sale at the time. It would be great to see them occupied to give the town more life.
So was Hokitika worth it? Definitely! I would definitely recommend staying for several days. There is so much to do, not only in town but also its surroundings. So many nature walks. One of them being Hokitika Gorge Walk – this should definitely be on your to-do list. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side, so we had to skip this walk. When we arrived in Hokitika, the roads had just opened and due to the severe rain, some businesses were closed at the time, so we weren’t able to see Hokitika in its fullest. If you are planning a road trip down south, do go! Not only will you have a great time, but you will also help the local community that relies on tourism. So what next? Let’s head to Wanaka!