Kia ora: Greymouth

Elisabeth Easther discovers a small town in the heart of the West Coast.

Visitors can take the famous Coast Road to the Punakaiki Rocks, north of Greymouth. Photo / Getty Images
Visitors can take the famous Coast Road to the Punakaiki Rocks, north of Greymouth. Photo / Getty Images

Where is it: On the west coast of the South Island, 350km from Picton, 240km from Christchurch or half an hour from Hokitika.

Origin of name: You'd never guess, but it's called Greymouth because it's at the mouth of the Grey River. Maori were also prosaic calling the place Mawhera for "widespread river mouth".

Population: 10,050 (2012 estimate).

Town slogan: Heart of the West Coast.

Town mascot: The cranes on the docks, erected back in the 1800s for loading coal off the boats, are huge and can be seen all over town.

Famous locals: Jackie Thomas, winner of NZ X Factor, is a Greymouth girl. Lee "That Guy" Hart who sells Hellers meat products is from here, too, as are loads of rugby players.

Best website: greydistrict.co.nz.

Biggest industry: Fishing, mining, forestry and eco-tourism.

Important: The recent Pike River mining disaster has been a terrible blow for the town and locals and loved ones of the lost are still coming to terms with the tragedy.

Source of pride: The community spirit. When something happens, bad or good, locals support or cheer as required.

Town fiestas: Greymouth Street Races, Around Brunner Cycle Ride, Art in the Park every March and the Kapa Haka Fest are big. Speight's Coast to Coast starts at Kumara.

Best place for kids: Shanty Town Heritage Park, a recreation of an historic West Coast gold-mining town with old buildings, Chinatown, a holographic theatre and a steam train.

Best beer: Speight's Ale House, or do a tour through Monteith's Brewery, popular with locals and tourists.

Beer with me: In October 1947 the price of a 10-ounce glass of beer rose from six to seven pence. The union called for a boycott and the only joint selling beer at the old price did a roaring trade while the others sat empty. The people were heard and beer reduced to the original price. For a while.

Best food: Speight's Ale House, with open fire and rustic charm, does good value food. Maggie's is excellent. For fine dining, Ali's is the place to go.

Best flat white: DP1 in the bright green building on the floodwall wins awards for its coffee. Great cakes, too

Best bakery: The Do Duck Inn for buns, cakes, pizza and pies.

Best museum: History House Museum has exhibits devoted to fishing, mining, boating and life before the 1920s. Popular with visitors researching family history.

Art gallery: Left Bank Art Gallery is closed for earthquake strengthening so visit photographer Stewart Nimmo's shop instead. Or Shades of Jade for greenstone and carvings, plus watch an artist in action.

Best walks: The river walk is lovely along the estuary to the mouth of the river, about two hours' walking. Point Elizabeth Walkway goes from North Beach over the hill to Rapahoe following the old water race miners used for their gold claims. It's largely uphill with great lookouts, stunning bush and beach, takes about four hours.

Best view: From the breakwater at the river mouth you can see most of the town and off to Mt Cook. If money's no object, take a scenic flight.

Best swim: The Aquatic Centre for heated pools, hydroslide, spa and sauna or, if you don't mind stony shores, hit North, South or Karoro beaches. The river's a bit strong, tide wise, for paddling, but you can jump off rocks into the river near Taylorville if you fancy.

Best mountain biking: The Croesus Track from Barrytown to Blackball is fab for two wheels and walkers. The West Coast Wilderness Trail is up and running from November 23. Starting in Greymouth, riders head to Kumara then Milltown. A grade-2 trail to be enjoyed over two days or one if you're speedy.

Best adventure: Try cave rafting in Nelson Creek, float down rapids, through caves, down a rockslide with glow-worms. Punakaiki Rocks are amazing. Or go kayaking, jet boating, trout fishing or house boating on Lake Brunner.

Best park: Dixon Park has a huge playground with picnic tables and barbecues, a pool for smaller kids and trees for shade in summer.

Here for a short time: Take a tour, loads of excellent operators are keen to show you a good time.

The weather: Do be prepared for the possibility of a vicious wind called The Barber (so-called because it cuts to the bone) that can hit in the mornings, bringing wind and cloud off the hills.

Do take: The Tranz Alpine Express, a top train trip from Christchurch to Greymouth, Excellent in winter or summer.

Wildlife: Fantails and wood pigeons are abundant in the bush, as are weka - many tourists confuse weka with kiwi and get quite excited. Hectors dolphins frolic round here and weta lurk in the bush.

Safety warning: if you're going walking, proper footwear is essential because tracks can get pretty muddy.

Locals say: Greymouth grows on you.

Visitors say: It didn't rain half as much as we thought it would.

Thanks to Nicola Fountain, Greymouth guru and manager of the local Youth Hostel.

- NZ Herald

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