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Greymouth Area Guide


Greymouth next to the Grey River mouth. Road and rail
bridges spanning the Grey River - © Naturespic.com
Greymouth, the West Coast's largest town (population 9,500), lies on the narrow coastal plains at the mouth of the Grey River beside its outlet to the Tasman Sea, its fleet of fishing boats mooring at the Erua Moana Lagoon after crossing the treacherous shifting bar at the river mouth.

The town is divided by the railway line running through the centre, and is hedged by the river to north and the sea to the west, and broken through the middle by the Erua Moana Lagoon and the tidal Lake Karoro. The floodwall protecting Greymouth from the river is a good place for a walk, with views over the fishing harbour, the breakwater and the lagoon.

Greymouth has long been associated with New Zealand jade or greenstone (known in Maori as pounamu), and the Maori people beached their canoes on the banks of the Grey River when they came to trade for the valuable commodity. You can watch modern-day greenstone carvers at work in the jade galleries in the town centre.

Europeans were drawn here in the 1860s by the lure of gold, but gold prospecting soon gave way to the more reliable prospect of coal, and since 1864 more than 130 coal mines have operated in the Greymouth area. The History House Museum in the former County Council Chambers on Gresson Street has atmospheric photos of Greymouth's gold prospecting past and its coal mining heritage.

Greymouth's normally sedate pace quickens each February when hundreds of athletes descend on the town prior to setting off on the Coast to Coast Race, a 243-kilometre run, cycle and kayak across the southern alps to Christchurch on the east coast. For a less challenging trip to Christchurch, take the scenic TranzAlpine train journey through the spectacular alpine scenery of Arthur's Pass, or drive through the pass on state highway 73.

To get into the spirit of the old goldmining days, visit Shantytown, a recreated 1900s pioneer town 10 kilometres south of Greymouth. The theme town has more than 30 historic buildings including a church and hotel, and is a good place to bring children who will adore the steam train and horse and buggy rides, and have fun panning for gold.

The five-kilometre Point Elizabeth Walkway just outside Greymouth follows a water race built by 19th century miners to sluice their gold claims. There are panoramic views out to sea from the tip of the point where you can look out for Hector's dolphins and New Zealand fur seals feeding close to the shore.

The historic town of Blackball, 22 kilometres from Greymouth, is a good place to soak up the atmosphere of the old mining days. The town was founded in 1864 as a base for gold seekers, but later became a coal miners' town, a revolutionary miners' strike here in 1908 leading to the start of the union movement in New Zealand. The historic hotel, Formerly the Blackball Hilton (the 'formerly' added after the Hilton hotel chain threatened legal action), has evocative memorabilia of the strike.

Thirty-seven kilometres inland from Greymouth, the lakeside town of Moana on the northern shore of tranquil Lake Brunner makes a good place for a fishing and boating holiday.

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