19 Dec 2014

Hokitika celebrates 150 years - and beards

5:57 am on 19 December 2014

The pioneers will come ashore, the cannon will fire and the best beards will be chosen this weekend as Hokitika celebrates its 150th birthday.

Tomorrow marks 150 years since the S.S. Nelson landed and the first general store opened on the riverbank among its stocks pickaxes and shovels, sparking the West Coast gold rushes and the birth of Hokitika.

Colin Adams, left, and Don Neale hope things go off with a bang.

Colin Adams, left, and Don Neale hope things go off with a bang. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

"I'm fifth generation, and my children will be sixth," resident Sonia Barker and chair of the committee organising the celebrations.

Her earliest ancestor, Richard Stockforth, came to the bush-covered frontier seeking gold in 1864 and her family live on the same land he settled.

"What he arrived to it's hard to understand what the conditions would have been like, and how he would have survived day-to-day. When you look back at some of the photos, and these were photos taken in 1866 and '67, the conditions were horrific.

"I don't know what life would have been like for him - it would have been hard."

Part of tomorrow's festivities include a re-enactment of the first landing, and Max Dowell has been getting The Countess, a 128-year-old lifeboat, up to scratch.

Built in 1886 in Hokitika, it will stand in for the SS Nelson, whose passengers included government agent William Revell, and represented today by resident Spike Jones.

"I'm going to be sitting there, and letting them row me in, out and in again. I've gotta find a respectable hat for the day, I suppose."

When asked about the age of his beard, Mr Jones replied: "It's about 20 years old. I've gotta trim it or it'd be down to me knees."

Some aren't quite as old as that. Don Neale's been growing his for a few months, but reckons there are good prospects he'll win one of the gold nuggets up for grabs in tomorrow's beard growing competition.

"Some people have certainly got a head start on me. But I'm going for the most ginger beard. I've got a few grey streaks in here now, time's getting on a bit.

"My wife's keen to get some henna out and ginger it up a wee bit. I might have to sponsor the prize for the most ginger beard so I can win it."

Bernie Preston, left, Spike Jones and Max Dowell with The Countess.

Bernie Preston, left, Spike Jones and Max Dowell with The Countess. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

Local black powder club member Colin Adams has been cleaning the rust and scraping the barrel on the two-tonne, two-metre-long cast steel cannon to ensure the day goes off with a bang.

"There's a cap to stop the water getting in. There's about a six-inch bore in there, so it would have fired a six inch-ball ... there's a flash hole in here. And I'll poke a steal-rod in here, and punch a hole in the wad that's in there. Fill that up with black powder, set that and that burns down and boom! It's a lot of fun."

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae will join hundreds of people expected at the celebrations tomorrow morning.

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