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Trip Start Jan 15, 2011
Trip End Mar 19, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Thursday, February 10, 2011

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 just 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 first thing. 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 a 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 this ferocious beast. The ogre snarled when our swords first 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.

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 even 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 other eclectic designs.

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.

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 blowers doing their thing. 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 creations while listening to classic rock. They had it down to a science. Heat, cut, shape. Heat, bend, 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, ornaments. 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 sock tube 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 got 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 places in New Zealand and had no idea what it meant. It seems to mean the shop will mix freeze dried real fruit into your ice cream. Hers was made to order, so we couldn’t get a taste test first, so we went for it. Katie got melon. And moi? Avacado! 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.

Once the last bit of cone had been licked and eaten we continued northward 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. Worldly art decorated every wall, there were loads of bold colors covering every surface, and tribal masks even doubled as door handles! It was groovy, baby. Not only 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 take a couple of the free hostel bikes down to the beach after dinner and do a little treasure hunting. The bike path was bumpy and set my bones to rattling, but we made it without any wipeouts. The sun was low on the horizon as we bounced our way onto the beach.

Many people see rocks on a beach. Me, I grew up next to a beach that was 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 out 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 hill of stones. "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 toward the odd orange or red rock instead of the green. The green was hard to spot in the dimming light of the day while those other colors stood out and felt more unique. By the time the sun had completely set we had a whole lot of 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. It was still fun searching.

The light was fading fast, so we quickly hopped onto our bikes and jittered our way back to the hostel before it got too late. 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.

UPDATE! Alice and Katie are now embarking on a Round the World trip!
Visit to follow along on their continuing

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sawah on

is there southern lights possibility? i feel like you've already covered this but i forgot...

Tricia T on

Hmmm, could you have been humming the Xena theme music while battling the Driftwood Sculpture Man??

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