The Grey River forces its way through a break in the coastal Rapahoe Range and over the treacherous sand bar to the sea at GREYMOUTH, the West Coast’s largest settlement. The drab, workaday town is not the highlight of most visitors’ itineraries, but is the end of the line for the TranzAlpine Railway (an increasing number of people take the train from Christchurch and pick up a rental car here) and a convenient stop for drivers. Greymouth, like Hokitika, has a reputation for high-quality greenstone carving. Once you’ve checked out the greenstone galleries, adventure activities and brewery tours, do what you came for and move on, particularly in winter when The Barber, a razor-sharp cold wind whistling down the Grey Valley, envelops the town in thick icy fog.
Greymouth began to take shape during the early years of the gold rush on land purchased in 1860 by James Mackay, who bought most of Westland from the Poutini Ngai Tahu people for 300 gold sovereigns. The town’s defining feature is the river, which is deceptively calm and languid through most of the summer but awesome after heavy rains. Devastating floods swept through Greymouth in 1887, 1905, 1936, 1977 and 1988; since the last great flood, the Greymouth Flood Protection Scheme has successfully held back most of the waters.Read More
The Coast to Coast Race
The Coast to Coast Race
Kiwis are mad on multisport and punch above their weight on the international circuit, and every weekend you’ll see scores of people honing their biking, running and paddling skills. The ultimate goal of all true multisporters is the gruelling 243km Coast to Coast Race (second weekend in Feb; w coasttocoast.co.nz), which requires a pre-dawn start from the beach near Kumara Junction, 15km south of Greymouth. A 3km run leads to a 55km cycle uphill to Otira where jelly-kneed contenders tackle the most gruelling section, a 33km run up and down the boulder-strewn creek beds of the Southern Alps, before kayaking for several hours down Canterbury’s braided Waimakariri River and then cycling the final stretch to Sumner.
From humble beginnings in 1983 – when it was the world’s first major multisport event – the Coast to Coast has blossomed into a professional affair with over a thousand competitors. Serious contenders engage a highly organized support crew and specialized gear; only the most high-tech bikes will do and designers build racing kayaks especially for Waimakariri conditions. Most competitors take two days, but around 150 elite triathletes compete in “The Longest Day”, tackling the same course in under 24 hours. Mere mortals – though admittedly extremely fit ones – can also compete by forming two-person teams sharing the disciplines.
The event remains largely a macho spectacle that draws considerable press interest and correspondingly generous sponsorship – a vehicle manufacturer is usually coaxed into offering a car or truck to the winner if they break a certain time. The course record is an astonishing 10hr 34min and 37 seconds, set in 1994.