Hokitika Driftwood & Sand Sculpture festival

Hokitika’s wild coastal seascape – on New Zealand’s southern West Coast – serves up the inspiration for an outdoor sculpture exhibition that takes over the local beach each summer.

The annual Driftwood & Sand Sculpture Exhibition - held in late January - gives local artists the excuse to let their imaginations run wild with whatever they can rescue from the natural forms sculpted by the elements and found on the beach.

This celebration of beach culture is open to professional and budding artists, and never fails to throw up a gallery of amazing creations and some great photo opportunities including the iconic driftwood HOKITIKA created by Don Neale.

Art and environment

Driftwood and Sand was conceived in 2002 by local artist Donald Buglass who saw the driftwood lying all over Hokitika Beach as the inspiration for a community celebration of art and the environment.

"People have a tendency to take the beach and the environment for granted. This festival draws them to the beach and to nature, it nurtures their creative side and brings out their inner child," Buglass says.

The artworks, Buglass says, are only limited by the artist’s ingenuity and what they can find on the beach to work with. There have been up to 70 sculptures on the beach at one time.

With the driftwood-strewn beach providing the canvas, visitors to the exhibitions have enjoyed sculptures depicting everything from running giants to cows, a stone snowman, and Pouakai - this giant Haast eagle by Donald Buglass (IMAGE by Kate Veale).

There have been many stand-out pieces over the years, Buglass says, but the best are often the most simple and vital - "It’s amazing to see what people come up with."

Signature sculpture

Each year Donald Buglass produces a signature sculpture to kick off the event.

The festival is run by a keen group of volunteers and attracts entries from young and old, professional and first-time artists. A guest judge decides the category winners - overall, junior, most natural, most avant garde - and the public votes for the most humorous and public choice winners.

In conjunction with Driftwood & Sand, there is family beach fun at Penguinville - an imaginary penguin community where children can buy a sand lot and build a penguin house. Prizes are awarded for the most natural and creative penguin houses.

Organised by the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust, the activity is an opportunity for children to learn about the local penguin population.

Background: West Coast beaches, NZ

The Great Coast Rd is one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Coastal Drives in the World. This 101km route - running between Greymouth and Westport - offers superb coastal scenery of deserted beaches, deep flowing rivers, wetlands and river estuaries, rainforests and amazing natural formations like the famed Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

Tauranga Bay is a coastal gem just off The Great Coast Road. With a seal colony at one end and a holiday settlement at the other, Tauranga Bay is a holiday haven for families, walkers, and nature lovers. The curving bay is also a surfing spot with waves to suit everyone from learners to experienced surfers.

Hokitika Beach is a true West Coast beach covered in big smooth river stones and layers of sun-bleached driftwood that provides unending inspiration for the annual driftwood sculpture competition. In gold mining days, Hokitika was a lively port town with over 140 pubs on the main street. The mouth of the Hokitika River is a whitebaiters’ paradise.

Bruce Bay - a stunning beach with a rainforest fringe and a majestic alpine backdrop - is tucked into a remote section of the UNESCO World Heritage Area of South West New Zealand. Maui, the great Polynesian explorer and forefather of Maori New Zealanders, landed here and the beach became a highway for the first Maori inhabitants and later European gold miners and explorers.

Five marine reserves are in the final stages of establishment in the West Coast region. The 17,500 hectares of protected marine habitats - Kahurangi, Punakaiki, Okarito, Tauparikaka and Hautai - will complement adjoining protected areas on land, including three national parks and the Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.