The Top 10 Things to Do in Hokitika, New Zealand

Suspension Bridge over Whitcombe River in Hokitika Gorge. Whitcombe River, Hokitika Gorge, West Coast, South Island New Zealand, New Zealand, Australasia.
Martin Ruegner / Getty Images

Although Hokitika isn't the biggest or the oldest town on New Zealand's West Coast, it's certainly one of the most appealing. Set beside a rugged, driftwood-strewn beach and with a gold rush history dating back to the town's founding in 1864, Hokitika is a good base for exploring further north (Greymouth and the Paparoa National Park) and further south (Franz Josef Glacier) on the West Coast. There are also plenty of things to see and do within and near Hokitika town itself. Although it's a notoriously wet part of the country with very high annual rainfall, that's part of the appeal of the Hokitika area. Don't let bad weather put you off: grab an umbrella or raincoat and get out there and see the sights. Here are the top ten things to do in Hokitika.

01 of 10

Hike at the Hokitika Gorge

turquoise water surrounded by bushes and trees with chain bridge spanning the water

Sherry Epley / 500px / Getty Images

Kokatahi 7881, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 755 6166

A half-hour drive inland from Hokitika town, the Hokitika Gorge is such a dazzling turquoise-blue color that it's even vibrant on an overcast, drizzly West Coast day. A short 1.2-mile track through the forest leads to a viewing platform over the gorge, crossing a suspension bridge over the water along the way from the parking lot. The first part of the track, to a smaller viewing platform, is wheelchair and stroller-accessible. More nimble visitors can climb down from the main viewing platform to the water's edge. Slather yourself in insect repellent before hitting the trail.

02 of 10

Make Driftwood Sculptures on the Beach

rays of sun in cloudy sky at sunset with large driftwood strewn around

Puripat Lertpunyaroj / Getty Images

The whole of the west coast is famous for its rugged beaches, but the beach at Hokitika is one of the most accessible. Although not a palm-trees-and-sunbathing kind of beach, Hokitika Beach will appeal to romantic souls. It's especially interesting after a storm (which happens pretty often on the West Coast) when driftwood washes up from all along the coast. Every January, the Driftwood & Sand Festival is held at Hokitika Beach. When the weather is clear, you can sometimes see Mount Cook (New Zealand's tallest mountain) and the Southern Alps from the beach. The beach is also famous as a fantastic sunset-viewing spot.

03 of 10

Shop (or Search) for Pounamu

green carved jade/pounamu stone in Maori design hanging against the light

LazingBee / Getty Images

Pounamu is the Maori name for greenstone or jade, which originates on the West Coast. It's sometimes possible to find greenstone on Hokitika Beach after a storm, but unless you know what you're looking for, you'd be better off shopping for a piece in one of Hokitika's boutiques. Carvers make a range of jewelry and objets d'art, with prices falling everywhere along the spectrum. If you're not in the market to buy a piece of pounamu, taking a look in the galleries and shops is free and fascinating. Also, keep an eye out for the rare Aotea stone, only found in southern Westland. It's similar to pounamu but more of a bluish color.

04 of 10

Camp at Lake Kaniere

blue mountains reflected in calm lake with stone in center and blue sky with wispy clouds

Ian.CuiYi / Getty Images

Lake Kaniere, West Coast 7881, New Zealand

Hokitika is hardly a metropolis, but if you'd prefer to stay out of town, try camping at nearby Lake Kaniere. There's a standard Department of Conservation campsite here, with sites for tents and caravans and camper vans. Fishing and swimming can be done from the lakeshore. There are several short walks beside the lake that lead to different viewing points and swimming areas. Lake Kaniere is about 30 minutes drive inland from Hokitika.

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05 of 10

Admire Beautiful Dorothy Falls

multi-tiered waterfalls surrounded by mossy rock

Noelle Bennett / 500px / Getty Images

592 Dorothy Falls Road, Kokatahi 7881, New Zealand

Whether you stay overnight at Lake Kaniere or not, you can visit beautiful Dorothy Falls (within the Lake Kaniere Scenic Reserve, east of the lake) on a day or half-day trip from Hokitika. The tall, multi-tiered falls are sometimes just a trickle, but after rain (widespread on the West Coast!), there's more of a surge of water. It's surrounded by bush and just a short walk from the parking lot. Swimming in the plunge pool is refreshing in the summer.

06 of 10

Chow Down on Some Wild Foods

curls of white fern plants

Oliver Strewe / Getty Images

Hokitika's population of 3,000 swells in late summer and early autumn, when the Wildfoods Festival is held every year. As well as entertainment, festival-goers can "enjoy" tasting all kinds of weird and wonderful foods that you won't find on the average restaurant menu. If huhu grubs and bull testicles don't appeal, there's also plenty of more "normal" food and drink to keep you well fed. Book accommodations well in advance.

07 of 10

See Kiwis at the National Kiwi Centre

small brown-gray kiwi bird with long beak on forest floor

Oliver Strewe / Getty Images

64 Tancred Street, Hokitika 7810, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 755 5251

The kiwi bird is a national icon, but it's tough to see: as a nocturnal and endangered bird, there are few opportunities to see them in the wild. The National Kiwi Centre in Hokitika is one managed place where you can see the birds close up. Their enclosure mimics their natural environment. As well as the national bird, you can see some other New Zealand species here, including tuatara lizards and giant eels, which you can feed at certain times of the day.

08 of 10

Be Dazzled by Glowworms

blue glowworm lights against black background

Ernest Kung / Getty Images

State Highway 6, Hokitika 7810, New Zealand
Phone +64 21 915 559

While you may think of glowworms as something you can see in deep, dark underground caves (like the Waitomo Caves), that's not the only way to see them in New Zealand. Hokitika's Glow Worm Dell is near town and best visited at dusk or shortly after. Take a flashlight so you can find your way there, but be mindful of the environment and other visitors when using it. It's just off State Highway 6, on Hokitika's northern edge.

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09 of 10

Get Above the Treetops at the West Coast Treetop Walk

Fenced walkway through the tops of the trees

Courtesy of West Coast New Zealand

1128 Woodstock-Rimu Road, Hokitika 7812, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 755 5052

If you'd like a bird's-eye view of lush West Coast rainforests, head to the West Coast Treetop Walk, inland and east of town. Nearly 1,500 feet of gated steel walkways spread between the treetops, 65 feet above the ground. The full walk takes about 45 minutes, and there's a lookout tower where you can get even higher. On clear days you'll be able to see the Southern Alps mountains and the Tasman Sea, and you'll always be able to see the old-growth native forest of rimu and kamahi trees, home to native birds. There's an on-site cafe. The center is often closed when there are high winds.

10 of 10

Learn about Gold Rush History

Shantytown in New Zealand

Pseudopanax / Wikimedia Commons

316 Rutherglen Road Rutherglen, Paroa, Greymouth 7805, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 762 6634

Hokitika was founded during the Otago and West Coast gold rush of the 1860s, in 1864. Learn more about this history at Shantytown Heritage Park, just north of Hokitika, on the way to Greymouth. The family-friendly park recreates the West Coast's gold rush history through interactive exhibits. Ride a historic steam train, pan for gold, step inside a sawmill, stroll through a recreated Gold Rush-era village, and see how Chinese prospectors lived in Chinatown. If you're a book lover and want a good read, check out New Zealand author Eleanor Catton's award-winning novel "The Luminaries," set in Hokitika during the gold rush.

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Hokitika, New Zealand