Hokitika is a quirky town on New Zealand’s West Coast famous for the crystal blue waters of Hokitika Gorge. Many people drift into Hokitika for a few hours then leave, blissfully unaware that there are plenty of other unique things to do in Hokitika, some you can’t do anywhere else!
While road tripping the West Coast, we spent the day exploring Hokitika and realised it’s a town full of quirky things that we had no idea you were able to do here; many you can only do on the West Coast.
To help you avoid missing out, we’ve put together a list of all the quirky things to do in Hokitika that can only be done here – plus a few bonus activities that we know you’ll want to do here too!!
Hokitika Gorges – one of the most popular things to do in Hokitika
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Where is Hokitika?
Hokitika a small coastal town on the West Coast. It’s just 1 hour and 45 minutes North of Franz Josef Glacier (Roughly 5 hours from Wanaka up the West Coast) and is the last town before turning off to Arthur’s Pass.
Unique Things to do in Hokitika
Of course, we’ll kick off this list of things to do in Hokitika with the most famous of them all – Hokitika Gorge.
Hokitika Gorge, much like the blue pools at Haast, is a stunning river system with turquoise blue waters that flow down from the Southern Alps. Caused by minerals from crumbled rock, the vibrant waters are the main attraction but the native forest surrounding the river shouldn’t be overlooked.
Just half an hour inland from the main town of Hokitika, the gorge is easily accessible via the boardwalk that winds its way down the side of the grey stone gorge wall. A long swing bridge crosses the waters and gives you your first proper look at Hokitika’s main attraction.
We really loved the Hokitika Gorge, despite it being busier than we expected. It’s oddly relaxing to sit on the grey stone boulders and just watch the water rush past you!
Tip – If there has recently been heavy rain before your visit, it’s likely the waters will be more of a murky grey-green colour as this churns up the sediment on the river bed that discolours the vibrant blue.
Photo by Laura of the most popular things to do in Hokitka
Hokitika is known as Jade Stone country, a little fact we didn’t know (but maybe should have) before visiting Hokitika. So another of the unique things to do in Hokitika is carving your own Jade Stone!
There are a couple of places along the West Coast where you can find Jade but Hokitika is one of the best, especially at the mouth of the Hokitika River, making it truly one of the most unique things to do in Hokitika. We’ve found this great article that will help you find jade in Hokitika!
Once you’ve found your own piece of Jade (also called greenstone or pounamu), why not take it into one of the local Jade Artisans and have it carved into something special for you to take home as a souvenir.
Better yet – why not take it to Bonz n Stonz and carve it yourself!
National Kiwi Centre
Kiwis are the national icon of New Zealand, they’re endangered and pretty hard to find in the wild without a tour guide.
With only two populations on the West Coast, both critically endangered, the National Kiwi Centre in Hokitika is the only place on this side of the country where you’re guaranteed to see them.
Their dark enclosures make it easy to see them in a true to the natural environment of this nocturnal bird. If you’re a bird lover, or just want to see one of these iconic creatures, you’ll probably agree that the National Kiwi Centre is one of the best things to do in Hokitika!
They also have a selection of other native and endemic New Zealand animals such as longfin eels, Tuatara and Koura (freshwater crayfish), so it really is one of the greatest things to do in Hokitika if you have kids or just love wildlife!
Prices start from $15, tickets can be bought on their website.
Seeing kiwi is one of the cutest things to do in Hokitika
Try Whitebait – on a Pizza?
Whitebait is a local delicacy and with that comes some pretty wacky recipes. You’ll find most fish and chip takeaways will offer Whitebait during the season (September – November) but if you want to try something that is unique to Hokitika, the Whitebait Pizza shouldn’t be missed.
Hokitika Driftwood Festival (Hokitika Beach)
Looking for unique things to do in Hokitika? The Driftwood Festival is the thing to do here.
Thanks to the rough seas of the West Coast, Hokitika is the final destination for a lot of driftwood. Local artists here have made that an iconic part of the area by creating an annual driftwood festival.
For two weeks every January, Hokitika hosts this infamous festival on it’s popular Hokitika Beach. You’ll see artwork created by artists of all ages and skill, including a children’s section. Every year it’s themed with the 2020 theme being ‘zoo’.
There are prizes for the winners and you can play judge by casting your vote along with a gold coin donation.
Not visiting during January? Don’t be disheartened. This still deserves to be on your list of things to do in Hokitika as the driftwood sculptures stay on the beach until nature takes its course, when we visited in March there were still signs of artwork from the previous year.
Hokitika Beach is great fun to walk down at any time of year and you’ll never know who, or what, you might bump into along the way – Don’t forget to stop and take a photo with the Hokitika Sign – another important thing to do in Hokitika!
Hokitika Museum + Clocktower
Ok so this isn’t the only museum on the West Coast but it’s the only one to tell Hokitika’s history the way it does. Here you can learn about the gold rush era, why Whitebait is so popular and even read about the history of Jadestone.
It’s also in a really beautiful building which in itself is worth seeing, along with the Clocktower which was revealed in 1903 and acts as a war memorial too, so if you like history don’t miss seeing this in the centre of town.
Free Things to do in Hokitika
Hokitika Glow Worm Dell
Ahh, Glow Worms. I have a fond attachment to them after seeing then in several places across Australia and New Zealand. They’re a creature that makes me curious and one that sure to make young kids believe in fairies.
The Hokitika Glow Worm Dell is just one place to see glow worms in New Zealand but it’s one that doesn’t seem to get the attention that others do. What’s better is here it’s one of the free things to do in Hokitika too!
Obviously you have to visit the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell after sunset to really see the glow worms, but that’s the perfect excuse to hang around the area a little longer!
Want to see glow worms? It’s one of the unique things to do in Hokitika
Mahinapua Scenic Reserve
This stunning reserve is a great place to explore. The Mahinapua Scenic Reserve is roughly 10km south of Hokitika and right next to the Treetop Walkway.
Here you can choose one of the several walks but we highly recommend the Mahniapua Tram Walkway and follows the old logging tram along the lake and passes through an old eucalyptus tree plantation – something you don’t see very often in New Zealand.
This Mahinapua Tram Walkway is mostly flat with the occasional steady hill climb and takes 2 hours to walk the whole track (one way). If you want to see the reserve but don’t want to do the longer walk, there are plenty of small tracks around the like. Alternatively, you could walk to picnic point along the Tram Walkway and turn around from here. This reduces the walking time to 1-hour return.
There are options for camping and picnicking all around the lake so if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the West Coast, this might just be the place to go!
Lake Kaniere + Dorothy Falls
While you’re heading out to Hokitika Gorge, don’t miss this lesser-known thing to do in Hokitika, Lake Kaniere and Dorothy Falls.
This quiet lake is popular with locals but very few tourists currently visit it. Lake Kaniere is an 8km long lake and one of New Zealand’s many Mirror Lakes. It’s surrounded by several wilderness walks, whether you want a short stop to stretch your legs or you’re looking for something to keep you busy for several days, this area has an option for you.
Dorothy Falls is very easily accessed as it’s just a short walk off from the car park by the main road. In the summer it’s a nice location for a wild swim and there’s a campsite nearby if you choose to stay longer!
Other Things to do in Hokitika
Looking for a thrill while you’re in Hokitika? How about climbing 40meters into the treetops to see birdseye views of the area?
The Treetop Walkway is just outside of Hokitika near Lake Mahinapua and offers a unique view of the area as well as an opportunity to see some of the local birdlife that usually spends most of their time in the tree canopy.
There are several walkway options here including a wheelchair friendly option and a tree height tower!
The treetop walk is probably one of the most interesting things to do in Hokitika
We’re avid photographers and when we visit small towns like Hokitika, we love to check out any galleries of local photographers.
Wilderness Gallery is home to award-winning photography by Juergen Schacke who’s love for the West Coast of New Zealand is evident in his work.
We highly recommend visiting this gallery, not just to see photo’s of the local area, but also because it’s a great place to pick up some souvenirs or gifts for those back home!
It’s safe to say we loved our time here and I’m sure there are so many other awesome things to do in Hokitika, these are just a few of our favourites! We feel like the pace changes a little here compared to the West Coast. Everything is so busy and touristy up until Hokitika and then the vibe just… relaxes. It really is an awesome little town. Have you visited? What were your favourite things to do in Hokitika? Let us know in the comments!
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The name Hokitika itself seems to promise some really interesting and offbeat experiences. It is really such an amazing place, your pictures bring alive the unique character of the place so well. The Hokitika Gorge looks so amazing, straight out of a fairy tale with the hanging bridge across it. It being a Kiwi centre adds to the attraction, it must be quite an experience to see Kiwis in the wild.
OH MY GOODNESS. The glow worm cave has been on my bucket list for years!! This is such a great post, I want to see that amazing lake and the glow worms, and THE KIWI ??
I have just learned of Hokitika recently, and loving all your photos too ! The suspension bridge of the waters, glow worms, and especially the tree top walk ! Definitely including this on my NZ must do list ! =)
Thank you, Jeremy! The Gorge is probably our favourite place to recommend to those who don’t have much time in the area, it’s pretty unique!
I discovered Hokitika on my last trip to New Zealand. It was my first time to the West Coast and I stayed in Greymouth. I wished we’d stayed in Hokitika, it’s such a nice little town. The beach at sunset is awesome and I bought some glassware. We didn’t have enough time for jade carving or the glow worms but I will definitely go back! Thank you for your tips!
It’s beautiful, isn’t it! We’re hoping to head back soon to do some Jade Carving! It’s the ultimate West Coast souvenir I think
Hokitika looks like such a cool destination to explore. There are so many things to do there I don’t think 1 day would cut it. I’m totally with you in that seeing a Kiwi bird in real life is pretty much the best. The glow caves are really cool and free! Win-win. New Zealand is just so gorgeous.
Yea one day really isn’t enough, especially when the festival is on!