Water, fire, and ice, oh my!
The Hokitika Wildfoods festival was about far more than food. The entire weekend itself was an experience. Halloween is not really observed here in New Zealand and the Wildfoods Festival seems to be the substitute. I had been told that people wore costumes for the event but I had no clue how integral it was until I showed up without one. The level of creativity and effort that people put into their costumes was simply staggering. Comparing this with Halloween would be analogous to comparing a junior college football game with the Super Bowl…the general idea is the same but they are on totally different levels.
A few of the more interesting costumes:
Another one of my observations was that Hokitika is rather poorly equipped to deal with such a large volume of people. Our “campsite” was utter chaos. It was a field adjacent to the beach that the organizers horribly overbooked. It was almost full by the time we arrived in mid-evening and we had trouble finding a place large enough to set up our 4 tents (I was with a group of about 15 people). By morning, tents occupied practically every square inch of the field and you couldn’t even walk out to the street without tripping over a couple dozen tent poles and guy lines. Despite the cramped quarters and total lack of water sources, the campsite cost $20 per person per night so total, our group paid like $800 for 100 square feet in a field for two nights. We could have gotten a suite at a 5-star hotel in Manhattan for that and it would have been a heck of a lot more comfortable. And quieter. And there would have been water. In short: BIGGEST…RIPOFF…EVER.
Complaints aside, after the festival ended, most people migrated down to the beach. The beach had been pretty much empty the night of our arrival which coincided with the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Although no official warnings were issued for the South Island, we heard on the radio that authorities were advising people to stay off the beach just in case. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night. Fortunately for us, this particular beach was littered with massive quantities of driftwood which meant only one thing: bonfire! Walking out to the ocean that night was literally one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. Thousands of people on the beach, each group with their own bonfire. I would estimate that the total number of fires was over 100, all scattered along a 1 or 2 mile long stretch of beach. Standing on the beach and looking either direction, it was literally bonfires as far as the eye could see.
The drive home along the west coast of New Zealand was spectacular, yet very long and at times unnerving due to the fact that New Zealand insists on making nearly all bridges, even those along the major highways, one lane in diameter. Driving along Highway 6, the fact that west coast gets the highest rainfall of any region in NZ becomes immediately obvious in the lush vegetation enclosing the road. Mid way along the coast we stopped at Franz Josef Glacier which might be the world’s only glacier that ends at the bottom of a valley whose slopes are covered in rainforest. It is a seriously bizarre yet amazing sight. Sadly, we could only get within about 100m of the glacier terminus without being on a guided trip. Something about ice falls and river surges and this thing they kept calling “safety”….
Finally, we stopped in the quaint town of Wanaka for dinner on the way back where I had a quite tasty yet refreshingly NORMAL dinner as well as a milkshake with this little gem on the cup: