Hokitika is a town in the West Coast region of New Zealand's South Island, 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Greymouth, and close to the mouth of the Hokitika River. It is the seat and largest town in the Westland District. The town's estimated population is 2,920 as of June 2020.
|Settled by Europeans||1864|
Te Tai Tonga
|Time zone||UTC+12 (NZST)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC+13 (NZDT)|
|Local iwi||Ngāi Tahu|
On a clear day Aoraki / Mount Cook can clearly be seen from Hokitika's main street.
The name Hokitika translates from Māori as "to return directly" (hoki = "to return", tika = "direct"). According to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the name comes from when a band of Ngāi Tahu warriors in search of greenstone were about to attack a Ngāti Wairangi pā. The chief of the invaders drowned while trying to cross the Hokitika River, and the leaderless taua (army) then returned directly to their own home.
The land where Hokitika stands was purchased in 1860 from Māori when Poutini Ngāi Tahu chiefs signed the Arahura Deed. This was the sale of the whole of the West Coast region, apart from small areas reserved for Māori. It was almost 3 million hectares and sold to the Crown for £300.
Founded on gold mining in 1864, it was a centre of the West Coast Gold Rush and grew very quickly. Members of the Jewish community ran stores and businesses and built a synagogue in Tancred St. One of them, John Lazar, was appointed Town Clerk in 1866 and was a prominent Freemason.
By late 1866, it was one of New Zealand's most populous centres. On 16 September 1867, there were 41 vessels alongside the wharf at Hokitika, in some places three and four deep. In 1867, the port of Hokitika ranked first in New Zealand in both the number of vessels entered inwards and in the total value of exports; principally gold.
On 8 March 1868 a mock funeral was held in protest about the conviction and hanging of three Irish Fenians in Manchester – the Manchester Martyrs. The funeral was led by Roman Catholic Father William Larkin and a Celtic Cross was erected in the Hokitika Cemetery. Larkin was later arrested, charged, and convicted of riot and seditious libel.
In 1873 Hokitika became the capital of the short-lived Westland Province which lasted from 1873 until the abolition of provinces in 1876.
In October 1941, three Hokitika police officers (and a policeman stationed in the neighbouring locality of Kaniere), along with a field instructor for the Canterbury education board, were killed when a local farmer, Stanley Graham, went on a shooting rampage and killed seven people, including two armed Home guard personnel.
In the ensuing manhunt, the biggest in New Zealand history, overseen by the Commissioner of Police, Denis Cummings, more than 100 New Zealand Police and several hundred New Zealand Army & Home Guard searched the area for the gunman for 12 days, with orders to shoot him on sight if found still armed. On 20 October, after being spotted by two police constables and a local civilian carrying his rifle and ammunition belts, Graham was fatally wounded by a police constable and died the next day.
The population has declined greatly since that time but the population of the Westland District is now on the rise thanks to "lifestyle inhabitants". Almost 30% of the district's rate-payers live outside of Hokitika.
Hokitika has an oceanic climate, with mild summers, cool winters, and rainfall evenly distributed across the year. It is one of the wettest places in New Zealand, with over 2,800 mm (110 in) of rainfall per year.
|Climate data for Hokitika Airport (1936–2015, Humidity 1961–2015, Sunshine 1964–2015)|
|Record high °C (°F)||29.7
|Average high °C (°F)||19.4
|Daily mean °C (°F)||15.5
|Average low °C (°F)||11.7
|Record low °C (°F)||4.7
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||242.3
|Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm)||12.4||10.4||12.6||13.3||14.7||13.8||13.5||14.8||16.8||17.3||15.0||15.8||170.5|
|Average relative humidity (%) (at 9am)||83.1||85.9||85.5||86.0||87.5||87.1||85.5||84.2||82.3||81.9||80.6||81.9||84.3|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||209.5||186.8||171.9||139.9||119.2||104.0||124.3||138.9||142.8||164.1||181.1||194.6||1,877|
Nearby Hokitika Gorge is a popular short tourist walk, with vibrant blue water and a "swing" (metal rope suspension) bridge.
The Hokitika urban area, as defined by Statistics New Zealand, covers 3.91 km2 (1.51 sq mi) and is coterminous with the Hokitika statistical area. The urban area has an estimated population of 2,920 as of June 2020.
Hokitika had a population of 2,892 at the 2018 New Zealand census, a decrease of 75 people (−2.5%) since the 2013 census, and a decrease of 186 people (−6.0%) since the 2006 census. There were 1,305 households. There were 1,374 males and 1,521 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.9 males per female. The median age was 47.5 years (compared with 37.4 years nationally), with 459 people (15.9%) aged under 15 years, 474 (16.4%) aged 15 to 29, 1,278 (44.2%) aged 30 to 64, and 687 (23.8%) aged 65 or older.
Ethnicities were 86.4% European/Pākehā, 20.1% Māori, 1.7% Pacific peoples, 4.9% Asian, and 1.3% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).
The proportion of people born overseas was 11.6%, compared with 27.1% nationally.
Although some people objected to giving their religion, 47.7% had no religion, 41.3% were Christian, 0.8% were Hindu, 0.4% were Muslim, 0.3% were Buddhist and 1.8% had other religions.
Of those at least 15 years old, 330 (13.6%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 654 (26.9%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $27,300, compared with $31,800 nationally. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 1,146 (47.1%) people were employed full-time, 408 (16.8%) were part-time, and 57 (2.3%) were unemployed.
Economy and culture
The major industries of greenstone (pounamu), gold, coal, and forestry have all dwindled over the last century, but a growing ecotourism industry has grown up and the town is starting to show signs of recovery. It has become a major tourist stop on the West Coast's main highway route, with carving of greenstone an important local industry. It is also gaining a reputation for its annual wild food festival which has been running since 1990.
Seaview Asylum was once the town's biggest employer.
Another important industry is dairying, with Westland Milk Products having its headquarters and main processing plant in the town. Westland Milk Products was established as a dairy co-operative in 1937, and was sold to the Yili Group in 2019. It is the country's third-equal largest dairy processor as of 2018.
Hokitika has a 3D digital cinema, the Regent Theatre, due to volunteer hours and grants from the Lions foundation, Lottery's commission, Development West Coast through the Major District Initiative and pub charity. The Art Deco theatre is a heritage building and narrowly avoided being demolished, thanks to a last-minute coup in the management committee. Community performances are also held there. Hokitika has a drama group which produce plays. It is also on the circuit for Arts on Tour and well known artists from many countries as well as New Zealand perform at the Old Lodge Theatre.
Every January, Hokitika beach hosts the Driftwood and Sand Festival. The festival involves members of the public and a sponsored artist constructing sculptures out of beach debris. Driftwood and Sand originated in beach festival run by Hokitika artist Donald Buglass in November 2002, and it has been run as an annual festival since 2003.
The Hokitika Museum is housed in the town's Carnegie library building. The Hokitika Sock Machine Museum in Revell Street has on display a collection of antique sock-knitting machines. Visitors are invited to knit their own socks. Hokitika also has a modern library, thriving community groups and many excellent artists.
In October 2020, the Government committed $161,131 from the Provincial Growth Fund to upgrade the marae, and create four jobs.
State Highway 6 passes through the town.
The Hokitika Branch line runs to the town from Greymouth, connecting there with the Midland Line to Christchurch.
The first rail transport was the Hokitika & Kanieri Tramway laid with wooden rails was established in 1868, with cars drawn by horses. A road followed in 1873.
Passengers to Hokitika were initially served by mixed trains that carried both goods and passengers. In 1936, these services were augmented by a Leyland diesel railbus service that ran from Hokitika to Greymouth, Christchurch, and briefly Reefton. In the early 1940s, the Vulcan railcars were introduced and they provided a twice-daily service between Ross and Christchurch via Hokitika. The mixed trains continued to operate until 1967, and all passenger services to Hokitika ceased when the Vulcan railcars stopped running past Greymouth in 1972. 
Since then, the line to Hokitika has been freight only with traffic primarily coming from Westland Milk Products.
In 1865, after the discovery of gold in the area, the town became the official port of entry of the West Coast. A boom period ensued when Hokitika was second only to Auckland, with reports of over 40 ships in the harbour at one time, with more waiting offshore.
It was a dangerous port, however, with 108 strandings and 32 ships lost from 1865 to 1867. The lack of nearby coal meant that the port declined rapidly along with the gold, though Hokitika remained an official entry port until the 1950s.
Hokitika's Southside airfield was the base of Air Travel, New Zealand's first airline. Air Travel carried passengers, mail and freight south from Hokitika to the glaciers and remote landing strips beyond Haast and north up to Westport. Its first scheduled flight was in December 1934. Directors were Hokitika residents: Bert Mercer, Paul Renton and Harry Newman.
A school was described as "recently opened" in Hokitika in 1875, and had nearly 350 students. The Hokitika District High School provided both primary and secondary education for the area for many years. Its name was changed in 1963 to Westland High School, which caters for years 7 to 13 and has a roll of 363.
St Mary's School is a full primary (years 1–8) school with a roll of 128. It is a state integrated Catholic school and is connected with St Mary's Catholic Church.
- Agnes Addison (c.1842–1903), Scottish draper who was one of Hokitika's early businesswomen.
- Margaret Andrews Alcorn (1868–1967) and her sister Mary Alcorn (1866–1928) were interior designers and business owners
- John Urquhart Cropp (1927–2016), Olympic yachtsman
- Edward St John Daniel (1837–1868), Victoria Cross recipient, died and is buried in Hokitika
- Charlie Douglas (1840–1916), explorer and surveyor
- Alice Eyton (1874–1929), journalist, screenwriter, playwright, and novelist in Hollywood
- Stanley Graham (1900–1941), a farmer who killed seven people and was the target of New Zealand's biggest manhunt
- Bess Hudson (1875–1961), early nurse, for Dr Teichelmann
- Al Hunter (born 1950), musician, singer-songwriter
- John Lazar (1840–1916), actor, town clerk, mason
- Sharlotte Lucas (born 1991), road cyclist
- Fayne Robinson (born 1964), Māori carver
- Holly Robinson (born 1994), athlete born in Hokitika
- John Rutherford Ryley (1837–1884), who introduced antiseptic technique to New Zealand, was surgeon at Hokitika Hospital at the time
- Richard Seddon (1845–1906), New Zealand politician and Premier
- Ebenezer Teichelmann (1859–1938), surgeon, mountaineer, photographer and conservationist
- Hokitika Customhouse, built 1897, a Category I historic place
- The Hokitika Clock Tower, built 1902/3, the most prominent landmark in Hokitika
- Hokitika Museum, housed in the former Carnegie Library, built 1908
- Seaview Asylum, founded 1872 and once the town's biggest employer
- All Saints' Church, a prominent landmark and early unfaced concrete church
- St Andrew's United Church, built in 1935, a good example of a small Gothic parish church
- Renton Hardware building (also known as the Okitiki building), completed in 1908, a Category 2 historic place
- Government Buildings (also known as Seddon House), completed in 1913, a Category 1 historic place
- St Mary's Catholic Church, a Category 1 historic place
- Hokitika Museum, the former Carnegie Library
- Seddon House, the former Government Buildings.
- The former Bank of New South Wales building
- The former Fire Station building
Hokitika has one sister city.
In popular culture
The novel Hokitika Town, by Charlotte Randall, is set in Hokitika.
The 2004 historical novel The Colour by Rose Tremain is partially set in 1860s' Hokitika.
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