Hokitika. © Claudia Babirat

Tohu Whenua: Historic Hokitika

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Hokitika has always attracted treasure seekers. 

First off, it’s the epicentre for pounamu. Māori once regularly crossed the Southern Alps, braving swollen rivers, thick bush and each other to gather the valuable taonga. Nowadays you can still pick up the odd bit of pounamu on the beach, if you have enough time, patience, luck and a good eye. Go to one of the many galleries and you’ll be guaranteed a piece that’s been beautifully carved.

Then there’s the gold. The rush began in 1864, when Māori found the precious yellow metal near the Taramakau River while looking for pounamu. News soon spread and the area’s population exploded. 

The quickest way to Hokitika was by boat, but it wasn’t the easiest. Ships docking in the river port first had to negotiate a constantly changing sandbar at the mouth. Every week a ship got stuck, some of them total losses.

By 1867, Hokitika was New Zealand’s sixth largest town with the port ranking as the country’s busiest harbour.

Widely seen as a hotbed of sin and iniquity, there were few women, almost 200 pubs and a population of 29,000. The pubs are now mostly gone, but you still see grand old buildings on the town’s historic walk. 

So… the best place for gold? We suggest you avoid the icy rivers. Instead, grab some fish and chips, stroll down to Sunset Point, jump aboard the replica ship Tambo and watch one of the gobsmacking golden sunsets that Hokitika has become so famous for. 

Hokitika’s port, commercial and government centre is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences.

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