Motorhome Friendly Hokitika
The NZMCA’s 50th Motorhome Friendly town Hokitika, is the gateway to some of the West Coast of the South Island’s most appealing attractions – and home to many of its most off-the-wall events.
Those attractions include Lake Mahinepua and the stunning Hokitika Gorge, while the events range from the annual Hokitika Wildfood Festival, the Sand Dunes Classic – a golf tournament like no other – and the gathering of good keen men (and their womenfolk) that’s known as the South Island Ute Muster. Such events reflect the spirit of this unique part of New Zealand but are a far cry from the region’s pioneering past rooted in pounamu (greenstone) and gold. Before the gold rush, Maori headed to Hokitika for pounamu. The stone’s strength, durability and beauty meant it was used for weapons, tools and personal ornaments and it also denoted great status.
The main source of pounamu in the South Island is in the Arahura River, a few kilometres north of Hokitika, where there has long been a Maori settlement. As the source of pounamu, Hokitika is a wonderful place to learn about the stone and watch it being carved. Traditionally, pounamu must be gifted, and having it blessed before wearing it is customary. After the discovery of gold in the Taramakau valley in 1864, prospectors started arriving at the Hokitika River mouth, the closest anchorage to the diggings. At that time Hokitika was part of Canterbury province and access from the east was a challenging trip across mountain tracks.
However a roadway was surveyed in 1864 by Arthur Dudley Dobson, and Arthur’s Pass was constructed within a year and remains the main access route. During 1865 a flood of gold prospectors and traders arrived and the town was occupied and booming within less than a year. While most miners lived close to the diggings where they worked, Hokitika was the town they went to for supplies, recreation and entertainment and to sell gold. For a short period, Hokitika had a population of over 4,000. But as gold mining declined it dropped to 2,000 by the end of the 19th century and is now about 3,500. For much of the 20th century, Hokitika was a service town for forestry and farming.
However, the opening of SH6 through South Westland and over Haast Pass in 1965 gradually led to an expansion in the number of tourists. The town lies on the north side of the Hokitika River and is the gateway to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. This means it is often the only large West Coast town seen by many tourists, who follow a route over Arthur’s Pass, through Hokitika to the glaciers, and then cross back to the east coast over Haast Pass.
Must-Do Activities in Hokitika
Lake Kaniere, 18 km east of Hokitika, is a glacial lake, used for boating, kayaking and fishing. A road goes around the eastern side of the lake to join up with the Hokitika Valley and there are several walking tracks along the shore and in the forest.
Lake Mahinapua is one of the finest spots around Hokitika for a day out or a quiet afternoon. It is 10kms from the centre of the town and was once a coastal lagoon, but with the build-up of coastal dune systems, became a shallow inland lake. Birdlife abounds and the flora is very diverse. The lake boasts a sailing club.
At Hokitika Gorge scenic reserve, there is a spectacular swing bridge across the turquoise waters of the Hokitika River. From the car park, follow the walking track for a few minutes through dense podocarp/hardwood forest before emerging onto a viewing platform. From here you can look down to the stunning Hokitika Gorge and out to the lush farmland of Kowhitirangi. This part of the track is accessible for wheelchairs. From the viewing platform, continue for another six minutes along the curving boardwalks and you will reach a swing bridge. From here there are excellent views of the bluegreen waters of the Hokitika River as it makes its way through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge. For good views further up the gorge, cross the swing bridge and when you come to the end of it turn left (straight ahead leads to private farmland). The track continues for another 200m through the bush to another viewing platform which looks out to the gorge upstream of the bridge.
Must-Do Events in Hokitika
June 2018 Matariki Winter Festival including the Lantern Parade
The Hokitika Matariki Winter Festival is a series of fun community events, celebrating a cool little town in winter – concerts, markets, high tea, Christmas trees (in June!), a lantern parade to celebrate the winter solstice and the inspiring Junk to Funk competition – among others. The Festival is a great reason to get out, see the fresh snow on the hills and have some winter fun.
September 1 — November 14, 2018 Whitebait season
The whitebait season for the West Coast of the South Island starts on the first day of September and ends on November 14. The taking of whitebait at other times is prohibited. Fishing is only permitted between 5am and 8pm, or between 6am and 9pm during daylight saving.
January 2019 (date TBC) Driftwood and Sand Festival
Driftwood and Sand is a summer celebration of art on the Hokitika beach. Held annually in late January, participants are invited to express themselves using any materials they find on the beach.
January/February 2019 (TBC) Sand Dunes Classic
For over 25 years, teams have dusted off their golf clubs to showcase their skills along Hokitika Beach. Often in fancy dress, teams are tested with many sand traps, variable weather and an occasional exciting crossing of the Hokitika River mouth. Prizes and BBQ are the reward at the end of this unique golf event.
January 2019 (TBC) Kumara Races
A good old-fashioned country horse race meeting, the main race, the Kumara Gold Nuggets boasts a real gold nugget as the prize. This is a fantastic family day out and draws a huge crowd to soak up the entertainment and carnival atmosphere. There is something for everyone – betting booths, fantastic races, best dressed competitions, live music, candyfloss and even clowns.
March 9, 2019 Hokitika Wildfoods Festival
The Hokitika Wildfoods Festival is held annually, on the second Saturday in March. It all began in 1990, when a Hokitika local, Claire Bryant, set up the first Wildfoods Festival to celebrate the tastes of the wild West Coast. Since then, the festival has grown from an event attended by 1,800 locals to a full-blown, internationally renowned festival, attended by 15,000, and winning several tourism awards. Every year, new wild foods are introduced; from clams to offal, from wasp larvae ice cream to ostrich sandwiches, from whitebait to escargots and shark and scorpions (raw and cooked), there’s nothing too scary or wild to be featured at the festival.
Easter 2019 (TBC) South Island Ute Muster
This whole journey began when a Hokitika local, who’d seen ute musters in Australia, thought that Hokitika would be a good place to hold one. He’d noticed lots of utes in Westland and reckoned if you picked three blokes at random out of a crowd, at least one if not all of them would own a ute! The event is a great excuse for ute lovers to gather, camp, take part in some ute related activities, listen to bands and enjoy the hospitality that the West Coast is renowned for.
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