Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Hokitika: A holiday with real bite

The Wild Foods Festival attracts bold appetites to a great town, writes Anna Leask.

Sampling lambs' tails at the Wild Foods Festival. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Sampling lambs' tails at the Wild Foods Festival. Photo / Geoff Sloan

The first thing that catches your eye when you approach Hokitika is the rugged coastline, waves crashing against black sand from the thunderous Tasman Sea.

The horizon is electric blue, offsetting the lush green of the native bush that lines the other side of the highway.

It's not a big town and it's not flashy, but Hokitika has everything for a great getaway.

My latest visit was for the annual Wildfoods Festival, an iconic event for the Hokitika area, that draws punters from across the country - and even overseas.

Held each year since 1990, the festival is touted as a celebration of the West Coast's wildest food. From the moment you walk through the entry gate, your senses are bombarded with a plethora of nature's finest nibbles.

Accompanied by a group of girlfriends (all dressed as 80s and 90s aerobics instructors as per the festival's tradition of dressing in costume), we hit the stalls. In neon sweatbands, leg-warmers and blue eye-shadowed to the hilt, we fitted in well with the other weird and wacky festival goers.

After a refreshing Monteith's beer or two, it was time to get among the creepy crawlies. First up - huhu grubs.

I'm quite a fan of these little wrigglers. They taste like peanut butter and usually are served warm on a toothpick. Some of the others were less taken with them than I was.

For the next couple of hours, we sampled live crickets, snails, also known as Westcargots, kangaroo, crocodile, shark, venison salami and the obligatory and mouthwatering West Coast whitebait patties.

Nobody was game enough to try the mountain oysters - bulls' testicles - but we were happy to watch as other willing participants slurped them down.

The day was stinking hot, so it was only right to quench our thirst with cold beverages. From the divine Tohu sauvignon blanc to the gorgeous Yealands sparkling wines, we were happy to test as much as we could. And then there was the kava ... looked like mud, tasted like mud, but worth the experience.

We decided to forgo the official Wildfoods Dance that night to sample Hoki's night life, starting with the West Coast Wine Bar. It's a cosy wee bar tucked nicely into the main street and boasts an eclectic and unique array of wines, spirits and tasty cocktails and cigars for those looking for something a little bit special.

The outdoor area was full of lovely locals enjoying a brew well away from the bustling pubs filled with festival revellers. As the sun set over the seaside town, we tested some of the cocktails and relaxed into the balmy night.

A few hours later and after brief visits to local pubs - Coasters Bar and Stumpers - we headed back to our luxury accommodation, just under 2km from the centre of town, the Light House.

A block from the wild West Coast shoreline, the house is brand new and comes with everything you could need - it literally is a home away from home. Two bedrooms with sumptuous beds and linen, two bathrooms with phenomenal showers and a fully equipped kitchen and living area (with iPod dock, which is a must now for all girls' weekends away), the house was a dream.

Lazing around the next morning as the sun poured into the open-plan living area, we lamented having to leave, but brunch was calling and so was a road trip across the South Island.

If you can spend more time in Hokitika than we did, there are definitely "to do list" things.

The town has a vast number of greenstone studios where you can buy locally sourced pieces of pounamu - whether it be in art or jewellery. There are also beautiful scenic trips within a short drive of town, including the Tree Top walk among ancient rimu and kamahi trees - or visit Lake Kaneire for a picnic and stroll to the stunning Dorothy Falls.

Although no one can claim Hokitika is a big town, it certainly is a hearty one with plenty to do and interesting things to see. It really is a little Kiwi charmer.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: We drove from Christchurch, taking in the stunning scenery of Canterbury and Westland through Arthurs Pass. The drive is about three hours, with plenty of places to stop along the way for great coffee and food, comfort or photos. Air New Zealand also flies into Hokitika.

Accommodation: We took advantage of the great holiday houses offered by West Coast Accommodation.

Further information: Tickets for the 2014 Wild Foods Festival are on sale now.

Anna Leask travelled with assistance from Westland District Council.

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