I had known that there was supposed to be a beach Arts Festival taking place at the moment, Jill, the woman on reception had told me when I checked in, but I did not expect what I found. On the dark sandy foreshore giant sculptures made of driftwood loomed, ghost-like, out of the mist. I could genuinely not see more than about twenty metres and it was very eerie to see figures and shapes, some three or four times taller than me, gradually appearing as I walked along. I went down onto the beach proper and collected a few jade pebbles. The best time to find them is when it is wet or misty. When they are dry they just look like grey stones but in these conditions it was easy to spot them, green and iridescent amongst the sand.
I wandered back to Mountain Jade for a coffee. In the kitchen was a lady making breakfast for herself and her two sons. We got chatting about travelling around New Zealand and the respective reasons we were there. She was a Danish teacher, had recently been divorced, sold up their small holding and decided to take her twins for a long holiday to take their minds off the bad things, as she put it. It turned out that both she and I shared the same birthday.
The rain stopped mid-morning and I only had the sea mist to contend with as I went back to the beach. There were more people there now, admiring the sculptures and breathing in all that damp air. Many of them were taking photographs, as I had been doing, and it made me realise that these works of art, with many hours of creativity in them, would be washed away and destroyed by the next very high tide to batter these shores; slightly less transient than ice sculptures, but not much.
In the afternoon I booked my accommodation for the next stage of my travels in Greymouth and then went to the local Tourist Information office, or more correctly, ‘i site’, to sort my transport, Atomic Shuttle yet again. I am really not sure whether this is a uniquely New Zealand thing but to be able to book transport and accommodation from Information offices is so useful. It enables the traveller and visitor to deal with all these things in one place, a place that is open seven days a week, is easy to find and with staff more knowledgeable than just about anywhere else. On this occasion, my very knowledgeable help was Kirsty who also happened to be gorgeous. The Information office is housed in the Carnegie Building which is also the home of the West Coast Historical Museum (There are other sorts?). I had a quick look around but, as I was in serious danger of doing everything in Hokitika in one short day, decided to leave doing it properly for another time, which never came.
After a spot of email checking and writing at the Video Ezy I returned to the Backpacker’s to sort out something to eat. Communal cooking is not much fun when you are catering for one but on this occasion I was lucky because there were only a few people staying tonight and the place was relatively empty.
And that just about wrapped up my first full day in Hokitika. In the evening I spent a long time talking with Jill, on the reception. She had not been living in the town long, had come here from Golden Bay and did a good job of persuading me that it was somewhere I should visit. I told her I would have to see how I got on. For now, though, I was just hoping for some fine weather so that I could get in a long beach walk the next day, failing that it would be the lighthouse, curiously quite a long way inland, and the cemetery.
Before I went to bed I did some work for the Wanaka tourist board. The Danish teacher had asked me about places I had been to, what they were like and where to suggest she took her boys. To push home my point I got my computer from my room and showed her some of my photographs of Wanaka and the area around it. This sparked the interest of the only other person in the lounge at the time, Sarah, also a teacher but this time from Aspen, Colorado with a warm, Creature Comforts kind of smile. Sarah was on a round the world ticket and was loving her time in New Zealand. She too was looking for somewhere to go in the mountains that wasn’t Queenstown and Wanaka seemed to fit her needs. After she saw my pictures and read one of my essays her mind was made up. Wanaka owes me for the great job I was doing of singing its praises, but then again, maybe it is only right that I paid back Wanaka for all the pleasure it had brought me.