To say Hokitika on the West Coast of New Zealand has a colourful history and heritage is a bit of an understatement. At the height of the gold rushes in the 1860's it boasted 102 hotels, 84 of these crammed into Revell Street on what was known as the Crooked Mile. Throw in three opera houses and it must have been a rip-roaring place for the Irish, Americans, Chinese, British and Europeans who flocked here.
Fueled by gold fever Hokitika grew at an astonishing rate. A self-guided heritage walk around town takes in the most memorable sites including the Custom House, built in 1897, and the clock tower which is a memorial to the soldiers who fell in the Boer War.
History and heritage have now gone high tech and visitors can use augmented reality to view historic images on their mobile phones, the perfect way to get a feel for how the town has changed. Another option is to join one of the Coast's most interesting characters, Premier Richard John Seddon or Dr Ebenezer Teichelmann, for a guided tour around Hokitika's heritage hot spots.
The hills and streams surrounding Hokitika still hold gold and you can try your luck panning at the historic goldfields of Ross and Goldsborough. Both are official public fossicking areas and gold pans can be bought cheaply in town. The largest gold nugget ever found in New Zealand was unearthed in Ross in 1909, it was as big as a man's fist and weighed 2.8kg's.
Before the gold rushes, Maori came to Hokitika in search of pounamu, New Zealand's own precious jade. Highly prized and used for weapons, tools and personal ornaments an excellent display of pounamu can be found at the Hokitika Museum. The museum can be found in the beautifully restored Carnegie Building, it's audio visual show captures the lives of those who came in search of gold, the hardships they endured and their dreams of a better life.
The museums highly acclaimed whitebait exhibition includes interviews with whitebaiters who remember catches of 2,000kg in a single day. They talk about how there was such an abundance of whitebait it was often used as garden fertilizer -- apparently it grows enormous potatoes. The exhibition also includes scientific research, audio-visuals, and old photographs. Originally a temporary exhibition it was removed in April 2012 but should be back on permanent display soon.
Nearly half of all immigrants to New Zealand in 1866 came through Hokitika's river port although the constantly changing river bar and heavy surf claimed many with 43 vessels coming to grief. Many others lost their lives on the gold fields and were buried at Hokitika's Cemetery. You can wander around the graves, which date back to 1865, to get a feel for how tough life was back then.
It is also a little known fact that Hokitika's airport was the home of New Zealand's first licensed air service, Air Travel (NZ) Ltd, which operated from 1934 until 1947. A replica of a Fox Moth biplane (ZD-ADI) can be found at the airport in memory of those pioneering aviators.
Back to earth, on many of the bush walks near Hokitika, especially in the Goldsborough and Blue Spur areas, you can still see authentic relics from the gold years including water races and tunnels. If you are interested in the areas logging history try the Mahinapua walkway which follows an old logging tramway and has fascinating interpretive panels along the way. Or for a unique experience try floating down the Mahinapua stream through virgin rainforest in a genuine historic paddleboat.
Lake Kaniere at Hokitika, West Coast, New Zealand is 19km from Hokitika. It is a popular spot for picnicking, water skiing, kayaking, fishing, walking and mountain biking. Visit the Hokitika Gorge, Dorothy Falls and Lake Kaniere for a wonderful scenic driving loop.
Arguably one of the countries most beautiful lakes, it is located in the Lake Kaniere scenic reserve surrounded on three sides by mountains that are capped in snow during winter. There are a number of picnic sites and short walks available.
The lake has clear water and a sandy bottom so is a favourite for swimmers in summer. For a more invigorating experience the brave can take a plunge into the pool below the icy and majestic Dorothy Falls.
There is a campsite which is popular with boaters who enjoy water-skiing and fishing for salmon, perch, rainbow and brown trout. Mountain bikers and walkers will love the 10 km historic water-race track which is suitable for people of average fitness. Along the way you will hear and see a myriad of birds like tui, bellbird and kereru or wood pigeon.
The Lake Kaniere Walkway is another beautiful walk that traverses native bush along the western shore of the lake. The more adventurous and fit can tackle the seven hour return walk to the peak of Mt Tuhua or climb the 1270 metre high Mt Brown to stay in a refurbished historic hut. Your hard work is rewarded by fantastic views of Hokitika, Lake Kaniere and surrounding mountains including Aoraki/Mt Cook.
If walking isn't your thing the scenic drive around the lake gives easy access to Dorothy Falls. Continue driving through rich dairy country to the stunning Hokitika Gorge with its vivid blue water and then return to Hokitika having enjoyed one of the best scenic loops around.
Tranquil Lake Mahinapua, Hokitika, West Coast, New Zealand is 10km south of Hokitika and surrounded by native bush including Totara, Miro and Kahitatea trees. With a roomy DOC campsite it is a great place to spend an afternoon or a few days.
Once a coastal lagoon, it is a lovely place for a swim and the water is surprisingly warm. Kids love jumping off the jetty into the lake or launching a canoe to explore. Fishing is best done from a boat, with perch and brown trout plentiful.
While you are likely to see a lovely sunset from Mahinapua the campers says the sight of the sun rising up over the Southern Alps, with its fingers of light touching the lake is something you'll never forget.
Bird spotters are likely to see black swans and grey and mallard ducks. In season you could also spot a magnificent white heron, or if you are lucky the rare fern bird.
There are a number of short walks that are very accessible for children, or for a more strenuous adventure try the two hour Mahinapua walkway which traverses board-walked wetlands, and forest which follows an old logging tramway. Mountain bikers are welcome to mountain bike this track too.
In December of 2012, the West Coast Treetop Walk is due to open near Lake Mahinapua. It will be New Zealand's first treetop walkway. Imagine a birds eye view of the lush forest, suspended 25 metres above the forest floor.
Hokitika on the West Coast of New Zealand is the birthplace of Pounamu, NZ jade.
For a small town we struck it rich in the resources stakes.
Before the gold rushes Maori were already heading here in search of another precious stone -- pounamu. The Arahura River is the birthplace of pounamu which is also known as greenstone or New Zealand jade.
Pounamu was prized for its strength, durability and beauty and used for weapons, tools and personal ornaments -- it also denoted great status.
Today's travelers still head here in search of pounamu, but these days it is found in the many shops and galleries. Visitors can learn about it, search for it, watch it being carved, shop for it, and even carve it themselves.
Carvers work in their studios, producing beautiful jewellery and ornaments from the stone, which can be bright green, mottled yellow gold, dark or even flecked in red or blue. You can chat to the carver about the origins of the pounamu or the design.
For the fossicker there is still the chance you can find a bit of your own, it's not uncommon to find small pieces on the beach that have been washed down in a storm. Maori tradition says it is bad luck to buy pounamu for yourself so make sure you have someone there to purchase it for you.
If you want to learn even more about the precious stone there is an excellent display of pounamu at the Hokitika Museum.
Mountain Biking in Hokitika, West Coast New Zealand on the Blue Spur mountain bike tracks. 10 tracks of sweet mountain bike riding just a few kilometres from Hokitika. There's about 17kms of mountain biking, mostly grade 3 to 5 suiting intermediate and advanced riders. They get better every time you ride them.
The mountain bike tracks are in the Blue Spur area and include the Gravel Pit, Stags Drop, The Cutting, Slow Girls and the Tunnel Track.
The tracks were purpose built by the Westland Mountain Bike Club. A good way to support them is to buy a track map at Hokitika Cycles and Sportsworld.
You can do a loop from Hokitika and do a couple of mountain bike tracks in an hour or spend half a day up here. There's something for everyone. With the wealth of mountain bike tracks available on the West Coast including the Heaphy Track and Croesus Track, you could make a mountain biking holiday of it!
For more information on mountain biking in Hokitika and surrounding west coast areas, visit westlandmtbclub.co.nz/. In addition to the Blue Spur tracks, this website covers mountain bike tracks around Greymouth and the west coast of New Zealand such as the Croesus Track, Denniston Incline, Lake Kaniere Water race and Kirwans Track among many others.
For maps of the Blue Spur mountain bike tracks go to Hokitika Cycles and Sports World on Tancred Street. hokitikasportsworld.co.nz/.