[Here’s one of several posts I was meaning to share before the whole drama with Bill. Enjoy.]
Some people swear by the South Island’s west coast, claiming it’s the hidden gem that only those in the know, well, know about.
It’s not a bad spot, but the few days I spent there a couple weeks ago did not move me to fits of swooning or even mild oohing and ahing. My visit to Hokitika, one of the main towns on the coast, nearly coincided with its annual Wild Foods Festival, which at first I thought I should stick around to experience. Then I started talking to the locals and learned it’s a weekend essentially where 15,000 outsiders descend on the town, clog its streets and its public toilets, drink themselves stupid so that they can swallow things like live grubs and assorted testicles and then brag to their friends about it before vomiting extravagantly.
Hmm, let me think about that one… tempting, but I’ll have to pass.
Instead I checked out a seal colony at the enticingly named Cape Foulwind (alas the colony was viewable from so far away that you couldn’t tell if the brown specks in the surf were seals, otters or aquatic dachshunds) and hiked around the Oparara Basin, famous for its caves, arches, fossils and spiders.
The modern locals who discovered the Oparara Basin as a recreational and scientific hotspot (as opposed to the old-timey Maori and European locals who came to hunt moa and look for gold, respectively) felt the landscape was so otherworldly that it looked like Middle Earth and deserved appropriate place names. So there’s a Moria Arch, which I explored, and a Nenya Creek and a few other Tolkien tokens. This was all decades before the movies, by the way.
The most famousest of caves in the basin, Honeycomb Hill, is open only to guided (and pricey) tours, so I kept to the free trails which offered plenty to see… including a close-up look at that famous cave spider, the largest spider in New Zealand and special because of its “pure lineage,” according to the interpretational signage. While that smacks of some kind of, I dunno, Aryan Spider Nation (an excellent name for a band), it was cool to see a creature that hasn’t changed much for millions of years in its natural environment. Cool as well, albeit rather creepy, were its egg sacs, suspended from the low ceiling like lightbulbs.
The Hokitika throngs probably would have eaten them.