Monday 8 October 2018

Stuff Readers Rail Tour, Day 3 - Larks up, ponies down

With thanks to Stuff Readers Rail Tour
As is usual with this sort of tour, it pays to be a lark, rather than an owl. Which I am, fortunately - bags out by 7.15am is no problem for me though others of my acquaintance would be still in their pit for hours after that time, given half a chance. Tough! We set off at 8am for the Coast, stopping for morning tea in little Murchison. It's a pretty low-profile sort of place, famous really just for its 7.3 earthquake in 1929 which killed 17 people. But it's cute, and has some quirkily interesting shops - one an old stable full of quaint arty junk, another a still-original general store with high shelves and a ladder on wheels for accessing them, and the last a very well-endowed thrift shop with everything from old milk bottles to sets of antlers. Well worth a couple of hours' browsing - but of course we had none of that, pressing onwards to our first proper stop, Westport.
I'm ashamed to say that despite having been to the West Coast many times, I never quite got up to Westport - and that was missing out, because it's a cute little place. Our main focus there was the Coaltown Museum - but first I had another duty to fulfil. The Coast is famous for its whitebait, and it was lunchtime so I had a nice big brown bread fritter sandwich. Delicious!
Then the museum - it's surprisingly flash and professional. Sorry, Westport, that's a bit patronising - but you're a little fishing town right out of the way, and there's been some real money spent here. Mind, Westport has generated plenty of that in its time, which no doubt funded the impressive Town Hall next door, and which the museum told me all about - some gold, but mainly coal, and lots of it. And of course, along with the coal, much hardship and suffering and death, none of which the museum glosses over. (I might have preferred not to know just how horrible life was for the pit ponies.)
But it was interesting stuff - as well as canaries, they used mice in boxes to monitor air quality - and the mock-up of the steeply-angled cart from the Denniston Incline was astonishing. There were videos to watch inside a mine, and the guide was keen to share information and personal experience. Speaking of which, I was really glad to be in Steve's bus today, because he was a miner for a while, and he had some graphic and very personal stories to tell that kept us all agog on the drive down to Greymouth. That was a real bonus, and I appreciated his honesty, especially about Pike River, which is currently in the news. It's a terrible job. 
We stopped at the Kilkenny Lookout over Hawk Crag, which is a quite spectacular bit of engineering - or maybe just plain hard work, hewing a roadway across the stony cliff face. And then we got to Punakaiki, where nature shows us what real engineering looks like, with the sculpted stacks of rock and the surge pool that was scarily impressive even without much of a wind today. 
Not that that stopped the person who ignored the warning signs and stood on top of the wall on the very edge of the drop for a selfie. I was waiting for Darwin to strike, but they were lucky this time.
You'll be glad to learn that the busy café across the road hasn't missed a marketing opportunity. And I have to report that Greymouth doesn't seem to have changed much in the five years or so since I was here. Or, in fact, the forty-odd years since I first visited...

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