NZ Post #21: Beach Bums

02/10/11 - Hokitika to Greymouth

The road up the southern coast took us to Hokitika. This self-proclaimed heritage and cultural center of the west is first and foremost an artists' town. The area is plentiful with wood workers, stone cutters, and glass blowers. We got a taste of all three during our brief exploration of the quaint city.

Glancing at the local map, it didn’t take us long to decide on the first thing to do in Hokitika: take a walk. We’d been cooped up in a car, so leg stretching was an optimum choice.  

The beach walkway called to us and we made our way to the coast. On the sand, Katie immediately plucked up an extremely light piece of driftwood and, being in a playful mood, used it to practice her conducting technique and swat at my behind. I had to grab my own weapon for protection, and not just from Katie, for soon we came face to face with a giant!

A driftwood creation in the shape of a man stood proudly against the wind and sea. He rose tall and gnarled; a mass of twisted branches wrapped up in sinewy muscle of weathered wood. I instantly took a liking to him, giving him a big hug. But then imagination took hold and Katie and I found ourselves at odds with the ferocious beast. The ogre snarled when our swords slashed and sank in, finding their marks. In spite of our valiant efforts, he did not fall. I’m sure he remains much the way we found him, rooted to that spot…so to speak.

 Hokitika

Hokitika

Our large friend wasn’t the only wooden warrior we came across that day. There appeared to be a driftwood sculpture contest occurring on the beach. Some creations displayed numbers so that people could vote for them. I’m not sure if the competition was over or not, but it was interesting seeing all the wooden forms we passed by: a bird hovering over a nest, wood and rock mushrooms curved into a rainbow, and huge mobiles.

Aside from fighting giants and enjoying the natural art gallery, we also idly looked around for pounamu rocks on the sand. Pounamu is New Zealand’s unique jade stone. You can find it for sale all over the country, and especially here in Hokitika where they have a pounamu gallery & museum. There you can even watch artists carving the pounamu stone into various designs right before your eyes. Not surprisingly, we didn’t find any during our walk, not that we were trying very hard. We didn’t have a clear idea what to look for other than green.

 A Friend?

A Friend?

Our waterfront stroll ended with a picture in front of a driftwood Hokitika sign. The city must have to maintain it all the time, what with people and the forces of nature constantly running amok. But I’d say its worth it. The city is known for it, and it’s one hell of a cool sign.

We spent some time window shopping but ended up empty handed. During our stroll we managed to watch some glass blowing. Penguins and koru (a traditional Maori design based on ferns) were obviously the order of the day. It was fascinating to watch two burly men in tank tops, shorts, and sunglasses cranking out these delicate glass ornaments while listening to classic rock. They had it down to a science: heat, cut, shape, curl. These were extremely skilled men, for sure. They made me want to learn how to do it. The gallery itself held many beautiful items: vases, bowls, glasses, cups. My personal favorite: seven glass Smurfs surrounding a big red mushroom like the one I saw in Queenstown. It doesn’t get more magical than that.

Down the lane we perused the Hokitika Sock Machine Museum (more of a shop than an actual museum). They had this amazing little gadget that you could string up and hand crank in order to create a very long tube sock meant to be cut into separate socks. It made sock making look easy (yet not easy enough for me to actually want to make socks).

Eventually the inevitable happened: we bought ice cream. At Sweet Alice’s Fudge Kitchen, no less! She didn’t have a lot of flavors by way of ice cream (and, no, this woman’s name wasn’t Alice), but what she did have was "real fruit" ice cream. We’d seen this advertised several times in New Zealand and had no idea what it meant. It seems "real fruit" ice cream means freeze-dried fruit mixed into your ice cream. Not-Alice made it to order, so we couldn’t get a taste test. We decided to go for it. Katie got melon. And me? Avocado! Both were good. Not as good as the gelato we had in Queenstown, mind you, but still tasty. The avocado was different, in a good way.

 Or Foe!

Or Foe!

Once the last bit of cone had been licked and eaten we continued driving north to Greymouth. Our hostel there was called Global Village Backpackers, and it rocked. It was possibly better than Old Bones Backpackers in Oamaru, which we both found to be wonderful. This place was funkier. There were loads of bold colors covering the walls and tribal masks doubled as door handles! It was groovy, baby. On top of that, this place was clean and had a great vibe. The man who checked us in was a total sweetheart. He showed us some of the many pounamu stones he’d found on the nearby beach and taught us how to spot them. First, there’s the green color, of course, but you can also spot pounamu by holding it up to the light. The edge of the stone will be translucent. Ah-HA! We decided to borrow a couple of the free hostel bikes and ride to the beach after dinner to do a little treasure hunting. The bike path was bumpy and set my bones to rattlin', but we made it without any wipeouts. The sun was low on the horizon as we bounced our way over the beach.

 Hunting Pounamu

Hunting Pounamu

Many people see rocks on a beach. Me, I grew up next to a beach covered in rocks (a fact that was often maligned on warm summer days). But this beach didn’t just have a lot of rocks, it had tons of rocks. As far as the eye could see. They averaged around the size of a silver dollar, all polished by the ocean, and since we had nowhere specific to start looking (aside from everywhere) we immediately knelt down and started digging. Before too long we were both scooping out large hollows in the never-ending mound of stone. “I think I found one!” would be heard from time to time before holding it up to the sun, looking closely, and tossing it away. Strangely enough, I found myself more drawn to the odd orange or red rock instead of the green. The green was hard to spot in the dimming light of day while those other colors stood out and felt more unique. By the time the sun had set we had a whole lot 'o nothing. A few common rocks sat in our pockets since we’re both suckers for a pretty pebble, but no pounamu had been discovered. It was no matter, though. We had fun searching.

The light was fading fast, so we quickly hopped onto our bikes and clattered our way back to the hostel before it got too dark. The sky was clear that night, and Katie and I finally got to see brilliant stars shining above our bedroom window. Our eyes drifted closed under their twinkling light.