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.