Hokitika is one of New Zealand‘s longest settled townships founded in 1864 and is situated at the mouth of the Hokitika River on the foreshore of the Tasman Sea. The town was the centre of the West Coast gold rush and was the capital of the Westland Province from 1873 until the abolition of provinces in 1876. The port was also the official port for the West Coast Region from 1865 with in excess of 40 ships being in the port at any one time. The bar entrance at the river mouth was extremely treacherous with 108 strandings and 32 ships lost from 1865 to 1867. Today remnants of the old wharf can be seen in the Heritage area on the river bank.
The population of the urban area was 3,447 at the 2013 census with another 876 people living in the rural area close to the town.
The Westland Milk Products processing plant is located in the town and is the major employer in the area with over 250 staff. It is a cooperative and processes the milk from the more than 350 dairy farms throughout the West Coast and Buller region with the majority of the product made for export. Production has grown steadily over the past decade as more land has been converted into dairy farms. The number of sawmills in the area has now decreased to only one at Ruatapu which is also a significant employer with over 100 staff while gold mining continues to prosper with a number of large operations in addition to the traditional black sand and small sluice operators.
The need to service the tourism industry has also resulted in a number of large contracting and building firms becoming established in the area involved in the building and maintenance of new accommodation establishments, catering outlets and maintaining the infrastructure throughout the whole of Westland District.
Tourism is the other main driver for businesses in the town with Hokitika being known as the greenstone (pounamu) capital of New Zealand. Locally sourced pounamu is crafted in many outlets as well as paua shell, gold, wood, stone and copper while the glass blowing factory has been operating out of the town for in excess of 40 years.
The Hokitika Airport offers flights five times per day and links with other national airlines in Christchurch.
There is a good variety of dining and accommodation options available to the traveler as well as activities such as the Heritage Walkway which is a 12 kilometre walk around the town area taking in the beach, river, plus native bush and spectacular views. On the Hokitika Beach can be found greenstone and other beautiful stones, while the driftwood on the shore can be easily crafted by people with imagination. Sunset Point at the mouth of the river is aptly named with photographers and spectators flocking to observe the spectacular sights as the evening sun sets beyond the Tasman Sea. The beach is also very popular with body boarders and surfers all year round and can provide great swimming in the summer months after Christmas.
Hokitika is also the home of the Wildfoods Festival a nationally and internationally acclaimed extravaganza of food and drink with much of the cuisine sourced from the rivers and bush around the area. Old favorites such as whitebait, tuna, blue cod, venison and roast meat sandwiches are joined by more such things as worms and huhu grubs for the more adventurous. The festival is generally held on the second weekend in March each year and regularly draws a crowd of in excess of 10,000 people.
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