This morning before meeting with our guide in town, I had some time to explore Hokitika on my own.
Hokitika is a small town located north of the mouth of the river Hokitika and on shore of the Tasman Sea.
Once a small village, Hokitika grew to a town of 4000 inhabitants when prospectors found gold in the Taramakau valley in 1864, which started the gold rush.
The times of the gold rush are long gone, yet it is still possible to find gold. Nowadays though, Hokitika is better known for its gemstone or pounamu, which also gives the South Island its Māori name of Te Waipounamu – Island of Greenstone – which is found in boulders of the Arahua River north of Hokitika. The ownership of all pounamu is, since the Ngāi Tahu (Pounamu Versting) Act from 1997, administered by the Ngāi Tahu tribe, who own a lot of pounamu-galleries in Hokitika. I used my chance this morning to visit one of these galleries and found a little Kiwi-bird made out of pounamu. Unfortunately, time did not permit to watch a carver at his work, polishing and shaping the jade into some beautiful gem of itself.
Art on the beach
But I had the chance to go down to the beach where the Driftwood Arts and Black Sand Festival — an annual festival where sculptures are built from driftwood and what one else can find at a beach — to see some of the sculptures of 2013.
Starting the bike ride
Shortly after my visit to the beach I went to meet up with the other participants and the guide to be taken by bus to today’s starting point of our bike ride, Hari Hari, about 72 kilometers south of Hokitika.
After 6 kilometers of riding our bikes towards Franz Josef on Highway 6, the steepest climb of the day of about 3% started. This really does not sound like much, but climbing continuously for a distance of 4.5 kilometers made it somewhat demanding and split the group into several parts. But after every climb there is a downhill and this was a fast downhill, yet with some challenges of its own as the street had some tracks and holes, neither of which I wanted to get stuck in. I later heard of some broken spokes, which had occurred to other participants of this tour, but my bike handled everything just fine.
At the lunch stop, after about 1 hour 40 minutes of cycling, I met up with some people of our group who had been riding faster on the first part of today’s bike ride, and was pointed to a nearby small store to get a nice cold soft drink with lots of sugar and caffeine to regain my energy.
Since I felt that I hadn’t done very well on the first section, I was quite surprised that not more members of the group had arrived and wondered about how to go on for the second part. So I asked Solo if I could “glue myself to his back tire” to use his windshield until reaching our final bike destination for the day.
Helicopter flight to Franz Josef Glacier
From Franz Josef we were taken by bus to Fox, where I had the chance to go on a helicopter flight onto Franz Josef Glacier before heading to our hotel.
When this glacier was first explored by Julius Haast in 1864, it was reaching much further into the valley and ended near Sentinal Rock. So despite some growth of this glacier in later years – the glacier has been at its smallest size in 1982 – overall it is retreating as so many other glaciers are.
After returning from the glacier our group was taken to our hotel for the night to refresh before we all had another group-dinner at a nearby restaurant. From this restaurant’s window we were able to watch the sunset on Aoraki – Mt. Cook – the highest peak of New Zealand with its 3,754 meters above sea level.