It’s well known that NZ is a relatively unpopulated country, we only have 18 people per square kilometre. But for me State Highway 6 between Hawera and Fox Glacier is the one road where you really get a sense for the scale of the country and for the lack of population. The landscape is simply grand and the only traffic on the road is seemingly the tourists on the conveyor belt of West Coast destinations. Stopping to enjoy and endure similar experiences and selfies, slap away sand flies whilst simultaneously catching them in open mouthed adulation. The road is mercifully free of the ubiquitous logging truck.
After we stopped and gawped at both the retreating coastal glaciers we stayed in Hokitika for four nights, just back from the wild beach. We walked on the black sand every day, through the tree stumps and driftwood that resemble a war zone. On one day we walked down to the RSA to place our votes in the general election, on another evening we walked to Sunset point at the river mouth to watch the white-baiters ineffectively waving their oversized butterfly nets. You get a sense for how the many shipwrecks occurred here back in the gold rush days, just trying to cross the bar into the river. Then we watched the spectacular sunset as the backpackers in their camper vans smoked joints and sipped at their beers. On our walk home we stopped at the pub and played pool.
We lit the wood burner in our little house then fed it with local coal. Wherever I am in the world the tarry comforting smell of coal burning takes me back to the west coast. Our washing was hung on a massive clothes line which seem particular to the Coast. The over-sized semi-windmill structure can take your washing well above the roof line and is soon as dry as it can get given the proximity of a wild seething sea.
We visited the museum that isn’t a museum anymore as its not deemed earthquake safe. Though it is still open and manned by a volunteer who told us he sometimes dresses up as former premier Richard Seddon and demonstrated to us his Lancashire accent. He proudly told us that he’s read The (Hokitika based) Luminaries three times. I read it once and resented the week I gave it – it’s a big thick book that won the Booker prize back in 2013.
I described my trip to Aramoana in a blog a week or so ago and then this week we took the road up to Hokitika Gorge and stopped at the memorial for the Kowhitirangi Incident. We were listening to the compelling podcast Black Hands at the time which covers the Bain family murder. The memorial commemorates a mass murder back in 1941 when Stanley Graham went berserk, shot and killed seven people including four police officers and two home guardsmen, he then died of wounds inflicted on him. I realised then that a sub theme of this trip was mass murder. This country isn’t immune to mass murders but fortunately they are few and far between – much like the population.
NB – Australia has 3 people per square kilometre and the UK has 271.
Black Hands – highly recommended