sunset over hokitika beach

Cruising down the West Coast Highway

As I write this, it’s Saturday in the Western Hemisphere, which means it’s Sunday in New Zealand, which in houses around the world means it’s Pancake Day. So today, I bring you, Pancake Rocks (oh, and Hokitika).

Continuing our lack of synchronization with the good weather, we pulled out of Little Kaiteriteri on a full-sun, beautiful morning and headed southwest to the West Coast Highway, into more astounding beauty, and at our day’s destination, cool, cloudy, rainy weather in the forecast.

Having been well trained on the curvy, narrow roads of France, we were more than up to the challenge of driving New Zealand’s “highways” even with the driving on the left thing (biggest problem honestly was turning on the windshield wipers when we wanted to turn and the turn signal when it rained…). That said, Google needs to send employees to New Zealand to drive the roads and learn why their point-to-point time calculations are so wildly optimistic (Google, I know you’re reading this, so just saying, I’d be a great hire for this task!). One reason I see is that there are 10,000 river crossings on any drive and they are all one-way and you are always going in the direction that has to yield. But honestly that just means you have more time to look at the stunningly beautiful river you’re about to cross, so it’s not a big concern.

So off we were, driving down the highway, enjoying what seemed a very wide road by our new Gallic standards, stopping and waiting our turn to cross many a river. We drove through central farm and ranch lands for a bit before emerging at the Tasman Sea pounding full blast into the western coast. We pulled over at a random shoulder, where a sign informed us we were at latitude 42° south. Further south than Portland is north.

Southern latitude beaches

Crow Bay, way down south at Latitude 42

Here is the raw beauty of the cove we found. Jeff basically had to tear me away from sifting through the rocks (exactly what you don’t need to gather when you’re trying to travel light and have already stocked up on facial products in glass jars).
[huge_it_gallery id=”73″]

Next stop down the coast was the town of Punakaki and Pancake Rocks, found in Paparoa National Park, where we headed out on the easy, and stunning, Blowhole Walk. Wild rock formations made of limestone. The layering comes generally from pressure on alternating soft and hard marine layers, but it is apparently still a mystery as to how exactly they formed (or at least it was at the time they printed the trail-side signage). Here again the pictures tell the best story.
[huge_it_gallery id=”74″]

And this panorama, hard to tell what is where, but gives a great sense of the scope (photo credit to Jeff).

Pancake Rocks panorama

Hard to tell front from back, but it feels a bit that way when you’re there too!

We visited at low tide, so not the prime viewing moment for the blowholes, but still a beautiful site (and fun time to use the rapid fire feature on my Fuji X-T10).

Punakaki Blowhole

Blowhole starts

Pancake rocks blowhole

Blowhole growing

Blowholes of punakaki

Blowhole growing

Blowhole cresting

Blowhole cresting (remember, low tide)

Blowhole dissapates


receding blowhole


Mists of blowholes

And gone

Our stop for the night was the town of Hokitika. This is where The Luminaries, the book I mentioned back in the Perth post is set by the way. Recently finished the book and definitely recommend it. First thing that struck me about the town: the super-wide streets. Reminded me of where I grew up, Fort Collins. My mother rented rooms at one point to foreign exchange college students who first thought we must be very important as our street was so wide. That was before they got out and about and realized the whole town is that way. Expanding to fill the space perhaps?

Hokitika streets

Wide, wide streets of Hokitika

Hokitika (worth saying that out loud by the way, fun word to say over and over) is known for its artists and craftsmen, especially for work with “pounamu“. This highly varied green stone is found only on the South Island of New Zealand primarily in the southwest. Pounamu takes one of two mineral forms. Most common is Nephrite, a calcium magnesium silicate mineral. Bowenite is only found at the entrance to Milford Sound and is an iron magnesium silicate mineral. We met one person later in our travels with a pendant from that region; it was luminescent. Pounamu is of great importance to Maori (the article linked to above has some great detail about this). We saw numerous historical pieces in the museum in Wellington. Chiefs (and others?) would carry paddles made of this stone as a weapon and as a peace token. I would not want to be hit by one of those but would take one in a ceremony.

Sadly, in my perspective, many of the stores in Hokitika fall under the category of “schlock” with factory-made pieces made from stone that may have been both made in China and from stone originating in China (all the while exclaiming itself to be New Zealand “greenstone”, a usefully vague term). The same exact pendants, earrings, and warrior paddles over and over in a rather crass execution.

Hokitika was the one place we stayed at a hostel. It had great reviews and was very cozy with a coal-burning stove and a sweet Swiss woman I saw again later in our travels. A quick digression on that coal-burning stove. It was clearly not the only one in town and that is such a peculiar, strong smell that hugs and hangs around a town. If you wanted to feel you had stepped back in time into a western gold-rush town, it was perfect (read that book), but not something I would want to breathe in daily. And remember, we were there in spring headed into summer, not fall or winter.

Back to crafts. We found a couple of galleries featuring talented artists and some beautiful crafts. We especially liked Wilderness Gallery and Hokitika Craft Gallery. The “house mother” at our hostel (not sure her real title but she took care of us all very well) suggested some quality artisans when I asked her where to find the “good stuff.” Some were the galleries we found the day of our arrival (scouting talents confirmed!). Others were new, and she did not lead us astray.

I’m not sure how to explain this, but you see the same four or so pendant styles over and over and most are just that, the same form over and over to oblivion (here is a summary of the designs). But then you walk into a store owned by a true artisan. In our case, the artisan was Colin Davidson and his store is Heritage Jade (sorry, no website but there’s a bit about it here). The same form takes on a unique and powerful force. That “toki” (an adze) you’ve seen 500 times looks different, nuanced, special in every example he has on view. There’s an elegance and finesse. As if the story of the stone has come out. Colin was even commissioned to carve a piece for New Zealand to present to Aung San Suu Kyi.

The other jeweler of note was a gruff former military man, Rex Scott, who I met while photographing his hanging succulents (no really, hanging succulents, look here, and I was with Jeff at the time).

Succulent hanging in Hokitika

Beautiful cascading succulent

While he still works with greenstone, in some crave-worthy instances combined with copper (sorry, no photos were allowed, but here’s a photo he has online of a fabulous pounamu spider), he is particularly interested these days in chrysoprase. I was wearing my Great Aunt Dorothy and/or Great Grandmother Blench’s chrysoprase ring (I can only ever remember the name of the stone because the late Sir Terry Pratchett has a troll character named that in his fantasy series Disc World). You can see the ring in this photo. I walked out of his store, Tectonic Jade with a stunning (I think I may overuse that word in this country, but there you go) chrysoprase necklace. The store clerk had actually held it back off the floor as she liked to wear it, but brought it out as I was pouring over the chrosoprase pieces. She said she likes to keep the very special pieces for the ‘right’ person. Such flattery got her a sale from me!

Tearing ourselves away from the jewelry and other material wonders of Hokitika, we ventured out into the rainy countryside on roads winding around dairy farms to the Hokitika Gorge. The inn manager had recommended a walk to this spot. Here we walked across another swinging bridge, this time over a pool of powdery turquoise waters. The river, same color, issues from a glacier bearing fine silt/minerals that create that color. Stunning (there’s that word again).

Hokitika Gorge swing bridge

Hokitika Gorge from the swing bridge

Hokitika river

The river flowing into that gorge

After the gorge we drove off down the coast, stopping briefly at a postage-stamp park with a rare remnant of sand dune totara forest. The Mananui Bush Walk heads through this forest out to an enormous rock-strewn beach that we had all to ourselves, as far as the eye could see.
[huge_it_gallery id=”75″]

From here it was off to find some of those turquoise water-generating glaciers. And that, as they say, is a story for another day.

6 replies
  1. danielle charney
    danielle charney says:

    Love this post – flows right along- so interesting that almost all the names are South Pacific or Hawaiian in origin- – I forget that NZ in in that region- keep thinking its identity is British – duh..
    such a beautiful drive- even though you got coal and not oysters in your stocking-
    just beware those hard core military men with fabulous hanging succulents-
    they can cast a spell on you and before you know it- you are hammering jewelry in a back room somewhere
    wish you were going on to the outer islands around Bora Bora- French Polynesia- I hear its the most beautiful place in the world-
    as for the lady that saves the necklace for just the right person-
    I bet she has a box of them in the back –

    • ArtasArtifact
      ArtasArtifact says:

      Hmm, I might hammer jewelry for him, but would prefer to help him sell it while I’m off eating oysters somewhere.
      And yes, I do believe it’s a box, but only with the right piece for the right person, right?

  2. Benny
    Benny says:

    OK — I need to catch up on the reading. But with my new reading glasses I can actually read again. Happy New Year — Benny


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *