"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Shantytown, Brunner Mine, Greymouth

Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Shantytown, Brunner Mine, Greymouth

Old mine car, Ross.
Thursday, October 31, 2013

It’s Halloween. The festivities seem very subdued here. There are not the pop-up stores with costumes and ghoulery that you see back home. We asked someone if the kids trick-or-treat and they said yes but not a lot of people support it. It will be interesting to see how the day goes.

I can’t believe we are down to our last week. The time seems to have flown by. This last week will be a marathon of sorts as we will be spending only one night in each place we stop. It rained off and on last night and is raining as I stir to look at the clock and see that it’s almost time to get up. I’m enjoying these electric blankets too much. Guess we’ll be getting one for sure when we get home.

Our first stop is not planned until about two hours up the road on the way to Greymouth. I study the map and find a note that there is a white heron colony on the way. The rain slows and stops as we near where I think the colony is. We see a booking place that advertises tours to the white herons but no park signs to indicate where they are. After driving down a gravel road we think might lead us there, we turn around worried that we might end up in a flooded area.

We continue on SH6 headed for the swing bridge Bob has scheduled but again I see on the map that there’s a spot we might want to explore in a town called Ross. It’s a short walk that explores the history of gold mining in that area. It was one of the small towns that sprang up during the gold rush of the 1860s. At its largest, there were about 2500 inhabitants but that fell off sharply when the gold was depleted. I find it interesting that the gold rush in both the US and NZ took place along the west coasts.

Our short walk has revived us and we start off again for the swing bridge. Lady Garmon is showing us a strange route that takes us way off in a different direction than Greymouth. I study the map book a bit and see that she’s correct in wanting us to go that direction. In this case, it’s the trip planner (Bob) who didn’t pay attention to where this spot was. We decide not to drive the 66 km out of the way and continue on the main highway toward Greymouth.

Just outside Greymouth we turn off to a place called Shantytown. The western part of the southern island of New Zealand is where the country’s gold rush took place. Shantytown is a rebuilt typical gold town that was conceived back in 1968 as a way of preserving some of the heritage of the area as well as being a tourist attraction. We arrive in time for lunch and head to the King Dick’s CafĂ©. A sandwich, a bowl of soup and a pot of tea for two and we are ready for a steam train ride.

The steam train is included in the price of entry and takes passengers on a short jaunt to one end of the property where platforms are set up for passengers to file out of the car and up steps to inspect the steam engine. We file into one side of the engine and out the other getting to see all the levers and such that run the engine including the place where the coal is stoked to keep the boiler steaming. I am amazed that the group of school children are allowed through with the hot furnace so accessible. The group of 25 or so five to seven year olds make it through unscathed and we all board the passenger car again to back up to the sawmill.

At the sawmill everyone except the school group exits the train to see the mill as well as the sluice box demonstration and my favorite, gold panning.

I remember panning for gold in Alaska and I wanted to try my hand once more. I get a lesson and begin. The stones and sand in the pan are coarser than what I panned in Alaska. It takes quite a while but finally I am almost to the end of swishing out the stones and sand and finding the gold in the bottom. There is a thin line of glittering gold in the crease of the pan and the attendant takes it from me to put into a bottle. I tell him to give it to a little boy from Australia who was panning next to me. I just wanted the experience. I still have my gold flakes from Alaska in a necklace at home.

Three of the buildings in Shantytown are original, the church, the gem and mineral center, and Coronation Hall which was actually built in Ross in 1902 but was scheduled for demolition and was then moved to Shantytown to preserve it. The church was also moved here from a place called No Town. It is built all from kauri wood, the national tree that is now protected.

The sun shines brightly as we finish our walk through Shantytown. We are off to find our last stop before checking into our motel. When we took the TranzAlpine train trip from Christchurch to Greymouth the commentary told of the industrial area here where they mined coal and produced coke and bricks at one time at the Brunner Mine.

We find this walk easily enough. It is right alongside the highway. We park and find our way down to where we can cross the bridge built in 1887 to carry rail cars full of coal and bricks across the Grey river to the railway on the other side for shipment to other parts of the country and the world. It was restored in 2004.
All that is left of what was once a thriving industrial area are ruins. We walk past the coke ovens and then realize we need to start in the other direction. As we walk the track, there are lots of informational signs that tell the story of what happened here including a major mine explosion in 1896 that killed 65 men and boys working in the mine.

The sun is still shining but there is a cold breeze that sends a chill up my spine. It’s going to be a chilly night if there are trick-or-treaters. After a dinner at a restaurant close to our motel, we get in the car and drive through town and out on the point of the wharf as suggested by our host at the motel. We’re too tired to wait for the sunset though and decide to just get the groceries we need for the next few days and relax in our room.

While we have free internet here in our motel, the WiFi doesn’t make it all the way to our room. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure which rooms are getting it because several people are outside moving closer to the office to connect. With the chill night air, Bob opts to sit in the car to connect. I’m sure he’s out there checking on the aquarium through our webcam and posting some Tripadvisor reviews but I better go check to be sure he hasn’t fallen asleep out there.

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