Up the Buller and down the Grey

A day after the visit to Greymouth, I was heading home, taking the long road down the Grey Valley and over Arthur’s Pass.  Before I left I went for a walk on the Granity beach to find there had been a change in the weather, it was wild and a visitor could be excused for thinking the Tasman Sea is very polluted with all the foam.  The waters off this coast are relatively warm and high in nutrients encouraging plankton and I am told it is the plankton that result in the foam, an organic froth.  Along the beach a ways I found some arrow grass, Triglochin striata, and a sedge, Carex pumila, growing in what a few years back would have been a dune hollow 2 or 3 dunes back from the beach, but now the big seas are coming into it.  This coast has been creeping inland for at least 20years and recently having worn away the shingle bank has fairly galloped landward.

Anyway by the time I’d messed around, done some chores and was ready to head home to Canterbury the day was drawing on but with such good weather I decided to go the long way over Arthur’s Pass.

Bypassing the worst of Westport by taking a left by the Pig ‘n Whistle and nipping round the back to cross the top of the Orowaiti Estuary I was off back up the Buller to Inangahua Junction and along the straight and narrow to Reefton with the Paparoa Mountains blocking the sea breeze and the Brunner/Victoria Ranges pressing in from the east.

I took time out for photos at Reefton, nearly always just a whistlestop, Reefton was the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric street lights and a municipal supply.  It also has some of the best Port Orford cedar (Lawson’s cypress), some mighty oaks and impressive Japanese cedar in the Domain, where for a modest fee, independent travellers can camp.  It got a bit run down some years back but has had a revival, in part from the money the Oceania gold mine  has brought in and in part from the general increase in tourism and the dairy boom.  With that extra cash quite a few of the old building have been tarted up and the east end really does have an old gold-mining town feel to it, not so sure about the ‘Oddfellows’ Hall.

Then over the low ridge into the Grey River watershed.  Dairy is increasing and it looks like farm size is too, but at the cost of the number of farms so there seems to be even less houses in the Grey Valley than I remember. Both mountain ranges quickly pull away from the valley, giving it has quite an expansive feel.  Ikamatua, Totara Flat and Ngahere feel really strung out but I think it is that so many houses are gone there are now paddocks between the remaining houses.  At Ikamatua you can abandon the main road by turning right and going down the west bank of the Grey to Blackball for a pint at the “Formerly Blackball Hilton Hotel“, a stroll at the Brunner Mine with it’s unique beehive coke ovens and on to Greymouth. This alternative route also goes past the “Pike 29” memorial (listen to this if you follow that link); the route into the Moonlight Diggings (remember George Moonlight), it’s well worth the walk into Meikle’s Hut or to turn off at Blackball and go up to the Croesus Track.  Just as a side note, there is now a proposal to add the area of the Pike River Mine to the Paparoa National Park. However today I’m not going that way.

Crossing the Grey River, cloud was pushing up the valley and quickly cut off the low evening sun.  I was surprised to see hardly anything left at Totara Flat, even the hotel has closed but the B.N.J stained glass window remains (check out the BNJ story here). I hope it is just a phase, although the virtual zero alcohol limits for drivers are hitting a lot of rural pubs hard.  At Ahaura there is a gallery with a heap of wood carvings (logs from the river?) and real budget camping in the domain, a stones throw from both the gallery and pub.  Ahaura is perched on a cliff above the Ahaura River and is exited by a rattling wooden decked single lane bridge.

Ngahere (forest) and Nelson Ck turnoff

Ngahere (forest) and Nelson Ck turnoff

It was getting fairly gloomy by the time I hit the Nelson Creek turnoff but this is a trip down memory lane.  The road has improved and there is still a gold mining operation in the creek downstream from the village.  It was great to see how the native beech trees I helped plant in the DOC run Recreation Reserve have come along.  Most were planted when I arrived in the late ’80’s but some needed replacing and we had to release them from the weeds.  The site was pure mine tailings, washed rocks with no fines, so a hole was dug out, a bucket of soil put in, the tree planted, a generous dollop of sawdust put on top to stop the seeds in the soil.  It was humming, a crowd of happy campers in the reserve with the sound of children at play, swimming in the creek maybe?, and a friendly hubbub coming from the Hotel, just about enought to make a fellow stop for the night.  Across the creek the forest is full of tunnels and water-races with walking tracks for a good look around.  I’ll get to that another day.

Nelson Ck modern gold claim

Nelson Ck modern gold claim

1896 Map Nelson Creek is "Hatters" on this map and Lady L. is on the bottom margin.

1896 Map, from Archives – NZ. Nelson Ck is near “Hatters” on this map (apparently there was a bunch of miners wearing top-hats)  and Lady Lake is on the bottom margin.


The road improves heading toward the Haupiri and Waikiti Station but well before there, a right turn onto a narrow gravel road heads past newly won farms and through tall forest to moody and sandfly infested Lady Lake then back out to civilised parts at Rotomanu, by then there was just enough light to make out Te Kinga with his head in the cloud as I drove southwest along the Alpine Fault to Inchbonnie.  It was truly dark crossing the Taramakau to join the Arthur’s Pass Highway at Jackson’s so aside from telling you that there were well over 200 mice between Arthur’s Pass village and Klondyke Corner with rings of mice eating squashed things off the road (other mice?), the rest of that route  will have to wait until I can get through in daylight.

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