Monday, February 22, 2016

NZ Roadtrip Greymouth: Green, gold and grey

It was a rough night but there was sufficient splendour today to distract me from feeling unwell. The Coast is another country: long and narrow, bounded by sea and mountains, and cram-full of nature. Lush green bush, big trees, wide rivers spanned by one-lane bridges - even, to the Poms' wonderment, a road/rail bridge - and every so often small, slightly hunched-looking towns. Life can be hard here, at times, with the glory days of gold and coal behind them, and the rest of the country focused elsewhere; but tourists find plenty to enjoy.
A couple of us made a moderately token effort to get close to the Franz Josef Glacier, which meant following a stony track up the valley from the car park towards the tongue of the glacier. It's retreated a lot since I was last here, so it was a longish walk to the actual ice and though I would have done it myself, majority ruled. The scenery was pretty magnificent where we were - orange lichen-encrusted boulders, the braided river, mountain peaks, jagged icefall where the glacier flowed into the valley, its white surface encrusted with stone and gravel. People periodically get killed here, and at nearby Fox Glacier, by ignoring safety signs and trying to get too close for selfies and such frivolities. I thought the signs were (literally) graphic.
And so we continued north, through Ross and past quirky little houses, classically paint-peeled in typical Coast fashion, until we got to Hokitika, which has the wide streets of a much larger town. 
The remains of a driftwood sculpture competition were still strung out along the pebbly beach, which was a gift, as was the lovely weather that made the Tasman look almost believably the same body of water as the luminous blue delight you see on its other side in Tasmania.


The town is full of souvenir shops - art, greenstone, hand-blown glass, warm outdoor clothing - and is well worth a wander. Buying yourself a piece of greenstone (nephrite jade to you foreigners) is practically obligatory - if, unlike me, you didn't once step outside the van where you'd been studying for an exam while on a rockhound trip with your mother, with them all out fossicking vainly for ages, and find a beautiful, smooth piece of it right there at your feet.
Shantytown is obligatory too, artificial and self-consciously touristy though it is. There's a Wild West-type main street to wander along, including a doctor's surgery with some horrifying instruments in glass cases; and a train through the bush; and chance to pan for some (sneakily seeded) gold flakes. 
Still under the weather, and having done all that a couple of times already, I took it easy; but did come across this case of gold nuggets which seemed remarkably cheap, considering. Maybe there are jobs even worse paid than being a travel writer...
Then we pressed on to Greymouth, named for being at the mouth of the Grey River, but never in my mind quite able to escape the suggestion of dullness. That's probably unfair, and on a sunny day it was pleasant and bustling, and certainly the girl at the iSite was very helpful and efficient in finding us beds for the night at the Top10 Holiday Park - a well-equipped motel (including, of course, the inevitable slow-cooker, which is always a bit of a mystery. Really? All-day stews fit the holiday-maker lifestyle?)

We went to Buccleuch's for dinner - a big pub-type restaurant again low on ambiance, but friendly. Especially the local man sitting alone at a table for four, who kindly surrendered it to us saying, "I could feel my old mother clouting me over the back of the head if I didn't." 

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