Thursday, May 3, 2012

Greenstone, Whitebait and Gorge (Hokitika, New Zealand)

Driving only a couple of blocks through along Hokitika’s main street leaves no-one in any doubt as to the main attraction of the area – greenstone. The local Maori population has always treasured the valued greenstone (or jade) found in nearby rivers and along the beach. The Hokitika Museum has many beautiful pieces of greenstone, from boulders straight from the river to wonderfully worked pieces.

Numerous shops and studios are town engage in carving, polishing and selling greenstone. Their showrooms are full of wonderful pieces of greenstone whether it be large unworked boulders or ornately detailed jewellery, figurines and artworks, some with a classic Maori flavour. Next to the showroom, visitors can witness the painstaking work carefully shaping the hardened rock into delicate works of art.

And shops not working greenstone are typically involved in another art or craft, whether it is glass blowing, painting or jewellery. Stunning ruby rock, a precious gemstone is unique to Hokitika and is a glistening combination of ruby, sapphire and tourmaline crystals.

The town has few reminders of its gold-mining past though the historic buildings have a striking grandeur about them, especially the perky clock tower which combines as a memorial to the Boer War and for King Edward VII’s coronation.

However the highlight of Hotitika is a superb half day loop drive around Lake Kaniere to Hokitika Gorge (get a map from the extremely helpful i-Site, Kiwi for information centre). A short meandering walk on the lake tracks through ancient virgin Kahikatea forest. These gun- barrel straight trees rear up to 60 metres from the forest floor. Though the oldest in this forest is 500 years, their species have been around since the dinosaurs. Loving the wet fertile swampy grounds characteristics of the rainy West Coast, the trunks of these trees support a staggering amount of lichens, mosses and plant life.

A little further on, elegant Dorothy Falls plunges 60 metres out of the forest on the roadside running into peaceful Lake Kaniere. Driving further around the lake through verdant dairy farmyards, the road diverts off to the glacier-inspired milky turquoise waters of Hokitika Gorge.

A return walk of around half an hour through pleasant forest over an obligatory swing bridge (keep walking the extra five minutes past the bridge for excellent views down the gorge) offers superb vantage points of the gorge before being able to perch on the boulders on the gorge edge dangling your feet (briefly) in the icy waters.

The final goal of the day is to obtain some treasured whitebait. These tiny translucent fish (inch or two long) swarm in rivers in spring and are captured using handheld nets. The delicacy is sold by volume (rather than weight) and is mixed with egg, milk and flour and fried to form scrumptious whitebait fritters. The bad news is that they are seasonal and we are six months from the correct time and so whitebait fritters are not on the menu. The good news is we opted for pizza. Fat Pippi Pizza is a local institution designed in driftwood and wooden slabs with a lively buzz, offering superb pizzas (with a flair) and run by a larger-than-life west coast character. They even offer whitebait pizza in season!!

Hokitika makes for a wonderful day along New Zealand’s West Coast with superb surrounding scenery and a town heavy on arts and crafts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Games Around the World: Two Up (Australia)

As the Australian memorial day of Anzac Day recently passed (April 25), it seems an ideal time to introduce the popular Australian gambling game of Two Up. The game only requires two pennies and a flat throwing stick called a kip and can be played nearly anywhere.

The thrower or spinner simply tosses the two pennies from the kip into the air with people betting between each other (or against the house) on whether the result are two heads or two tails. A head and a tail (odds) results in a re-throw. The spinner continues throwing until throwing tails when a new spinner is introduced with the shout of Come In Spinner.

In pubs and clubs around Australia, the raucous yells and spirited screams for the spinner to throw the chosen combination (fueled by a steady flow of alcohol) have become synonymous with Anzac Day.

With its origins in early convict days, the game popularised during the gold rushes of the 1850s and in the World War I trenches in Europe. Maybe as a salute to history, Two Up continues to be played with pennies though Australia moved to decimal currency in 1966. Interestingly, Two Up was illegal for many years and remains illegal on any day (outside of casinos) except Anzac Day with the introduction of laws over the past fifteen years to permit this traditional game in memory of our service men and women.

On Anzac Day after the solemnity and quiet reflection of the dawn service, military marches and haunting lone bugler playing The Last Post, people file to the pubs for lunch and a game of Two Up. It is a wonderful Australian tradition and I strongly encourage visitors in Australia in late April to participate, win or lose a few dollars and ensure they have their turn as spinner.
At the start of each month this year, Travel Wonders features a popular or characteristic game played during my travels. Previous articles feature the popular African game mancala, my own personal favourite that always travels with me, Pass the Pigs and the Latin American game of dominoes.

Photo Credit: spinner

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