Friday, February 22, 2008

February 21, 2008 - Hokitika

Our day started in Greymouth, which at first acquaintance is as dismal as its name. Most of these west coast towns peaked about a hundred years ago when gold was found in the surrounding rivers. Now, the main industry in these parts seems to be dairy, logging and coal mining. But driving around town we noted that the cafes were busy and the houses were well kept. We eventually found ourselves standing on a pier, looking out at the Grey River pouring into the Tasman. There were a pod of Hector Dolphins, with their distinctively round dorsal fin, feeding in the mouth of the river.

We drove back into town in time to join a tour of Monteith's Brewing Co., which styles itself as the original "West Coast Brewery." Monteith's has been brewed since 1868 in one part of these hills or another. However, most of their beer is now brewed in Canterbury (east coast of the South Island) and Auckland (central North Island). Dominion Brands, the current owner, tried to shut down the Greymouth Brewery a few years ago, as they believed that it was too small and antiquated to be as profitable as their larger, more efficient breweries. The shut down lasted all of three days before the brewery was reopened in response to public outcry. Although the Greymouth brewery brews only two of the seven beers that are the mainstays of the Monteith's product line and operates with a skeleton crew of nine full-time workers, supplemented on bottling days by ten part-timers, its continuing operation enables DB to claim brand integrity. But let's get to the important question: how does the stuff taste? Excellent. They've won silver and gold medals for several of their beers. I loved the Summer Ale, which has a bit of a ginger finish to it. Sten prefered the Black Beer, which is unusual for him; he's not a typically a stout man.

The drive south from Greymouth to Hokitika was nice, but the scenery was not nearly as spectacular as the day before. Hokitika is another river town, however this one has remade itself as crafts central. The streets are lined with shops carrying jewelry made with greenstone, paua shells, and locally mined gold. There are glass blowing studios and a copper art studio. We didn't need any crafts, so we set out to the beach to check out the driftwood sculptures that remain from the Driftwood and Sand Exhibition in January. Our favorite was this Moa, an extinct flightless bird that was like the kiwi bird's giant uncle. For scale, this guy is taller than I am.
After yesterday's long drive, it was a nice break to spend the afternoon at the beach. While Sten surfed, I played with a golden retriever who wanted nothing more from life than to have someone throw a stick into the surf for him to retrieve. I also picked up a few green stones along the shore. I'm not sure if they are the famous greenstone, but they sure are pretty.

After sunset, we headed over to the Glowworm Dell, which was only one kilometer from our hostel. One of the big tourist attractions throughout New Zealand is to take guided trips to see glowworms, which are found mostly in caves, but also in overhanging banks of foliage. These trips usually involve blackwater rafting, a slow intertube ride in an underground river. We wanted to see glowworms, but we require the promise of a bit more adreanaline before parting with our tourist dollars (particularly at the current exchange rate; if we were spending Euros, it might be a different story). So, we were looking forward to a free opportunity to check out glowing worms.

As it turns out, a glowworm isn't a worm at all. It is the larval stage of a relative of the mosquito, the fungus gnat. As the waste products of the developing gnat are oxidized in its tail section, they start to glow. The light attracts other insects, which get ensnared in mucus-like threads that hang from the underside of the larval sack and are quickly devoured. So basically, we were going to stand in the woods and watch a carnivorous larva poop in order to catch its dinner. Charming.

When we first got to the dell, it was still twilight. We couldn't see any glowworms. But as it got darker, we started to spot a few tiny lights in the ferns growing on the side of the steep vertical embankment. The darker it got, the more glowworms we saw. It was a bit like watching the stars come out at night. And, actually, it was a bit charming.

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