Greymouth’s Deadly Bar contrasts with Monteith Brewery’s friendl y Bar.

Wed 8 Mar 2017 04:56

Greymouth’s Deadly Bar contrasts with Monteith Brewery’s friendly Bar.

The ports of Greymouth and, further south, Hokitika were once thriving ports, bringing firstly sealers then whalers to the region, soon to be followed by settlers and hopeful gold prospectors in the rush to the rivers full with gold the Maoris thought insignificant compared to their treasure, pounamu or greenstone, jade to us, found only in the South island.

Exports from these square rigger lined wharves included coal and masses of timber, farm produce, whaling products and gold. Two great harbour walls were built to either side of the Greymouth River, the longest on the south side and called the Blaketown Breakwater. We parked Vicky near to the end where Richard, a French Canadian was busy making delicious coffee and waffles in his ex-dredger’s lifeboat, itself sitting on a substantial road trailer hitched onto his Landrover.

As he prepared our coffee and tended the waffles he told us he once lived on a 32 footer and longed to sail into the blue like us. But his wife was not of the same mind. For some reason he has raised his family by himself and they have just left home so he recently bought the lifeboat, fitted a canopy over the top, turned the old rowlocks into cup holders and installed a little waffle maker.

The waffles were very thin, spread lovingly with a mixture of golden syrup, maple syrup and cinnamon and then topped with another waffle making a mouth-watering sweet sandwich.

Some other folk were tentatively walking towards the little café, “You must try these,” I said “They are delicious”. The lady’s sister was visiting from England and they took my advice. Rob and I wandered across to the railing and watched the power battle between the tide emptying from the river and the massive Tasman rollers powering in against them. Just off the entrance is an extensive sand bar and the turbulence of water over the shallow bar creates a liquid confusion against which even powerful engines have no control.

Plaques mentioned by name and date the plight of numerous fishermen and sailors who have struggled against the elements to enter and leave the river mouth and lost their lives. Ironically it was the crew and passengers on the old tall rigged sailing ships who had a greater chance of survival than the short- handed crew on modern fishing boats. The graceful sailing ships would be thrust onto the northern breakwater rocks with a violent south west wind up their tail. Lines would be shot into the rigging by rocket and the crew could be ferried ashore in baskets. With small modern fishing boats crewed by just two or three their little vessels would be spun and flipped by the turbulent waters, bottom out on the bar and break up with people watching from the safety of the breakwaters unable to do a thing to help them. The big ships and most of the fishing fleet are now long gone, the wharf-side empty and the cranes are rusting memories of past trading wealth.

Greymouth’s past is well documented but her future is less certain. We struck a goldmine of information in the Old Commercial Chambers Photographic Museum. Many rooms filled with records, exhibits, films, but most especially photographs. Being a recent invention, photography has born witness to the birth of New Zealand as a nation of immigrants with their hopes and dreams of a new life. The photo that stands out in my mind was of the old dredger, built on the Clyde in 1908, working in the Grey River here. Clearly to be seen on its chocks on the starboard side of the dredger was Richard’s lifeboat, now at the end of the breakwater enjoying a new lease of life.

Our stay in Greymouth also featured a tour around Monteith’s Brewery. A few years ago they had the choice of expand or close. So the family owners went in to craft brewing, following the global trend of choice local beers. They are now so successful they have to get a national big brewery, DB Beers, to do a lot of their brewing for them. It was a teeth on experience as we crunched our way through different types of grain and chewed on a hop pellet grown and processed in the hop fields of Nelson where the baby doll sheep keep the fields clean. Our guide had a nice sense of humour and sussed out who to use as the brunt of various jokes without becoming offended, me.

After the tour we munched on beer battered chips and supped our free samples with a couple of Head teachers from Basingstoke who have resigned their jobs for a year and are touring the world by plane and car.

I liked Greymouth, its rich history and challenging future, the determined efforts of the locals to survive in a harsh environment not far removed from the recent frontier struggles of their ancestors.

The weather continued to be bright and warm in the day and we set off across the South Island towards Christchurch alongside the railway line that takes the trans-Alpine train through some of the wildest most beautiful scenery in the world. But not on this day or for a while to come as a forest fire had damaged the track and for safety the train was sitting in its tunnel underneath the road that travels over Arthurs Pass. We paused at the Brunner Mine lookout and gazed across the river at what is left of the mine after the disaster that claimed 67 lives as a result of careless cost cutting and greed. We took the Stillwater Route and travelled up the Arnold Valley Road from Westlands District. Wineyards and fir plantations, sheep and native bush up to the top of the mountains. As we ascended snow topped mountains appeared peaking around others and nudging the clear blue sky.

We left behind vast dairy herds on the flat lake district to climb through the steep Otira Gorge, Vicky seemingly making easy work of it. The sheer drops around us were interesting and the engineering workmanship amazed us. On one section of vertical mountain face a cantilever bridge had been built for the road with massive rods screwed into the solid rock and just beyond it a chute was constructed to divert a waterfall above and over the road. Not much further on we crossed a long concrete viaduct as a double trailer straw bale lorry came down hill towards us at no more than 10mph using a combination of brakes and retarders to control its massive weight on the steep descent.

We turned Vicky into the car park for a well-earned break. Her fan was working hard to cool the engine and Rob was in a spin because smoke was rising from underneath her and the smell of burning oil filled the air. I reasoned we couldn’t do much until she had cooled down so I wandered across to where a group of people were gazing off into the distance at a flock of native green parrots that live along the treeline, Keas. They are too friendly for their own good and are endangered. Tiny model cars and lorries were struggling up and down the viaduct and the air was cool, away from Vicky.

Suddenly a kea flew over our heads, the orange feathers under the wings showing clearly and it settled on the ground just the other side of the railing giving us great photo opportunities. They have a long upper beak curving down over the lower one and ending in a sharp point.

What is it that makes people want to feed wild animals with inappropriate food, encouraging them into danger and mischief? They are so cheeky they will tear rubber trim off cars and steal food from people’s hands if they get a chance and unwary folk encourage them.

I dipped Vicky’s engine oil to find we had left most of it on the road behind us. We were so glad we bought the 5 litres of oil back along. We topped her up and slid gently down towards Christchurch, me looking on the road map for the AA office where we, as members, could get a garage referral and arrange for a service, which was now due and hopefully a repair.

My goodness what a contrast in climate on the east side of the Pass. Down off the Torlesse Range onto level land and very straight roads; the farmland was dry and brown, long spindly arches of metal, wheeled irrigators moving slowly across fields giving the only green to the scenery. Fields where thoroughbred horses and stud sheep grazed were a hint of the wealth of this area.

The young blonde lass at the AA took a risk and referred us blind to the Matipo Garage in Lowe Street Christchurch and the boss with an eastern European accent booked Vicky in for the morrow. We settled into our Kiwi rose garden campsite and planned the next day. From the thundering Tasman at Greymouth to racing car engines and a snuffling, grunting hedgehog during the night, it had been a long day.