Well, that was an optimistic title, really.
I had some time on the West Coast over the New Year break, and while absolutely enjoying the hospitality of my various hosts, visiting friends and family of my son-in-law, I also had some opportunities to explore some of the less satisfactory side of life on the Coast.
But first: the good bits.
Here’s a lovely picture of natural beauty, the Hokitika Gorge (I’ll leave out the pix with people scattered through them, you’re just getting the unadulterated glacier-fed river and bush-clad gorge).
Then we wandered along towards Greymouth, and discovered Shantytown, which has gone up in price 500% since my son-in-law last visited a couple of years ago. As we weren’t a busload of asian tourists, we had a quick look, used the conveniences and left. It seemed like a good business, and the gift shop was doing a roaring trade in the smallest pieces of gold-flake I’ve ever seen in my life, but there you are, to each his or her own. The working small-guage gold-fields train from Kaitangata looked cute.
Further down the road, on our way to have a look at Lake Brunner, we stopped at the roadside info for the Brunner Mine disaster, the big news of 1896, and the reason we have any mining legislation at all, really. I popped across on the bridge that spans the Grey River, to check out the site remains and the memorial to the 65 miners who died in that incident, and found that there were also memorials to the 19 miners who died in the Strongman mine disaster in 1967, and the very recent Pike River disaster in November 2010.
In conversation with a local woman who was also by the memorial that day, I wondered whether the choice to work in the mines was not as real as she posited, due to the lack of other industry investment in the region. We discussed that one from opposing angles for a few minutes, before both coming to agreement on the fact that Pike River Coal had distinctly transgressed current mining legislation around safety, and that they would have to answer for that in Court in the remainder of the Commission of Inquiry. Meanwhile, there is at least one little boy born since the accident who has never met his dad, and many more family members who still grieve the loss of their brothers, sons, husbands and workmates and want an answer to why it was allowed to happen. Mr Whittall still has some actions to account for.
Greymouth is a pretty town, if prone to ground-level fog for much of the winter, according to my hosts. We had a late-afternoon lovo, the fijian version of hangi, but with a chilli-basted twist to satisfy the spicy palates of my relatives and their friends. With the afternoon sun glinting off the children’s paddling pool, and the surf crashing in the distance, I could fully appreciate why families would come to this part of New Zealand and relish the life it offers them. I left small-town New Zealand behind me when I moved to the city to study in my early adulthood, but I often find myself looking at provincial towns and seeing the beauty in their simplicity, their proximity to recreational areas, the unspoilt compact urban areas, and thinking ‘What if?’. Even the local newspaper had an attractive air to it!
Two days on the West Coast was hardly enough to satisfy me, and my traveller’s bug wants to be sated with a trip to Karamea, a look at Punakaiki Rocks, maybe an expedition to see the Denniston mine historic site before too much longer – there’s a lot to see in this area, and I can see myself coming back again.
Perhaps that is a fitting way to give some help to the Coasters, too – building tourism and art/craft enterprises, showing off the history without degrading the lives of those who remain engaged in local industries, making a sustainable future for those who live in this beautiful but often harsh environment.