Hokitika is a quiet town on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Population, all of 4,000. Make that 4,000 of the staunchest locals who couldn’t be prouder of their little town. Surprisingly for its size, there is actually a lot to see and do in Hokitika. Not to mention some excellent eateries.
In the last 8 months, I have visited Hokitika twice to catch up with Sarah and to be a part of her beautiful wedding. In summer, it’s easy enough to drive across from Christchurch, stopping by Arthur’s Pass Regional Park for a breather and to check out the world’s only alpine parrot, the Kea. Luckily, Keas are inquisitive birds with an attention-seeking streak, so chances are you’ll see at least a couple on your stop. We spotted a very charming pair at Death’s Corner. In winter, you’ll need chains to cope with the snow, but the scenery is even more spectacular. One of these times, I took the West Coast shuttle across, and came back on the TranzAlpine. The TranzAlpine is the most comfortable way to travel, with pre-recorded commentary on the history of the region and sights which you won’t see from the road.
Hokitika is a great base to see the Punakaiki Rocks, the mirror lake of Lake Matheson and the glaciers. Closer still, just 30 minutes down the road is the turquoise waters at Hokitika Gorge (if coming in summer, bring insect repellent!), there’s Glow Worm Dell 5 mins drive out of Hokitika township, Hokitika beach with access right off the main strip and bring your walking shoes to experience the myriad of bush and forest walks in the region. There are rainy day options of a historic walking tour of Hokitika township (purchase the $1 map at iSite), an informative hour or two at the Hokitika museum, pounamu (greenstone, NZ jade) carving at Mountain Jade, see sock weaving at Sock World or watch possum skins turned into clothes and bedding at Possum World. There’s even a terrific little shop, SunshiNZ, a veritable treasure trove, and the cheapest place in NZ to purchase Miss Wilson boots. Yup, there are lots to see and do in Hokitika.
Stumpers is an institution in Hokitika, it’s a bar, a restaurant and you can even stay here. It has a jovial country camaraderie, you can wander in jandals with your rugby jersey and feel quite at home. It’s also a family restaurant, catering to the whole family. Because of this, the Stumpers is very busy and booking is recommended. The menu is a mix of of traditional dishes long gone from Auckland menus (deep-fried camembert, beef wellington, rabbit) and classics done right. The meals are country sized as well, so, unless you are utterly ravenous, I suggest an entrée and main to share between two.
BL and I shared a spicy salt and pepper calamari ($16.50) and a beef wellington ($37.50). Calamari overcooks easily, but Stumpers’ chefs nailed it. It was tender, lightly coated in subtly spiced mix. The beef was cooked medium rare, the duxelles (mushroom spread) was moist and the pastry was flaky. Just how a beef wellington should be. Then, to finish off, we shared a moreish stick date pudding ($15.50).
Only in Hokitika can you get a whitebait pizza. Hokitika is whitebait country, and signboards on the grounds by the disused train station proudly tell the history of whitebaiting. For the non-Kiwis, whitebait is the generic term for the juveniles of several freshwater fish species which have a migratory pattern. Whitebait is seasonal and huge delicacy in NZ, but for some odd historical reason is still sold in pound weight. At Fat Pipi Pizza, the whitebait pizza ($26) consists of ~115g (quarter pound) whitebait folded into egg on a pizza base with garlic butter, mozzarella and capers. Simple and utterly delicious.
My favourite meal was at Stella Café. My eggs bennie with salmon came on a delectable caramelised onion potato cake. The eggs were slightly runny (just as I like them) and the hollandaise had a nice tanginess and flowed like a thick sauce. BL’s herb and pecorino omelette was a light fluffy soufflé, with fresh herbs and the pecorino lending a sharp savoury saltiness to the dish. Both the dishes were perfect, and the coffee was pretty good as well.
You certainly won’t go hungry or be bored with the food in Hokitika. There’s even a New World supermarket next to Stumpers with as good as the range in Auckland.
Both my visits to Hokitika felt too short, there’s still much to explore. Hokitika is, as its tagline says, a cool little town!
Stumpers Bar & Café
2 Weld Street, Hokitika
Ph: 03-755 6154 or 0800 STUMPERS (788 673)
Open 7 days: 7am until late
Fat Pipi Pizzas
89 Revell Street, Hokitika
Ph: 03-755 6373
Mon – Tue 5:00 – 8:00pm
Wed – Sun 12:00 – 9:00pm
Stella Café – Delicatessen & Cheesery
84 Revell Street, Hokitika
Ph: 03-755 5432
Open 7 days: 7:30am – 5pm