What the Hell is There to do in Greymouth, Anyway?

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Not all travel days are going to be good travel days.

No matter how much we try to ignore it, the fact is that, even on the road in an amazing country, we can get bored.

Sure, travel is generally more exciting day-to-day than sitting in a cubicle, but even the most fascinating country can’t captivate and entertain every single day of the year. There are bound to be cities or activities that just fall short, or that just aren’t that interesting.

That’s kind of the way I felt about Greymouth, New Zealand.

Greymouth, New Zealand

I’m convinced that Greymouth was designed to be a “just-passing-through” kind of town. It’s the departure and arrival point of the TranzAlpine train to/from Christchurch, and is generally seen as the gateway to New Zealand’s rugged West Coast.

But other than that? There’s really not much to do here.

I arrived in Greymouth around 1 p.m. after my TranzAlpine journey, figuring I would be able to occupy myself for the rest of the day in town.

Well, this may have been possible if it weren’t raining. Or if I liked beer. Or if it wasn’t shoulder season for New Zealand tourism.

But, seeing as how all the conditions seemed to be against me, all I ended up doing was roaming aimlessly around town — about three times, since there are basically only 2 main streets in Greymouth. I grabbed a pizza for dinner at a local place called Bonzai, and tried to make small talk with the handful of other backpackers at my hostel. Eventually, though, I gave up and called it an early night.

Noah's Ark, Greymouth, New Zealand
My hostel, however, was great.

While it was frustrating to feel like I wasted a day being bored in New Zealand, it was important for me to be reminded that travel isn’t always great. And it certainly isn’t always what you expect (or want) it to be.

That being said, though, I decided to come up with some tips for others who may someday pass through Greymouth. I may have had a pretty boring day here, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

Things to do in Greymouth, New Zealand

Monteith’s Brewery

If you talk to anyone in New Zealand and ask them for suggestions on what to do in Greymouth, they’ll probably tell you that a tour of Monteith’s Brewery is a must. Located right smack in the middle of town, this small brewery offers frequent tours – and plenty of free samples. I’ve heard good things about it, and I was almost tempted to do the tour anyway, despite the fact that I don’t drink.

Hiking

There are some short hikes in the area immediately surrounding Greymouth, including the King Domain walk that heads up to 4 lookouts in the Omotomotu Scenic Reserve, and the Point Elizabeth Walkway, which is said to have good sea views. I almost decided to do 1.5-hour King Domain walk, but the rain and low-slung clouds wouldn’t have afforded a very good view. On a good day though (of which there ARE a handful per year here in Greymouth), I imagine the views would be pretty spectacular.

Take a Walk

If you’ve exhausted your other options, take a stroll around town. It won’t take very long, but at least it will get you out of your hostel or hotel.

There’s a nice elevated walkway along the Grey River floodwall, as well as a few interesting-looking buildings in town, including some art galleries. I was a bit disappointed to find many empty shop fronts as I walked down Greymouth’s (few) streets, however.

Greymouth, New Zealand

Visit the Pancake Rocks

Not far north of Greymouth lies the small town Punakaiki, which is home to the “Pancake Rocks.” These limestone rocks have been eroded into weird formations that kind of look like pancakes stacked on top of one another. The sea also tends to burst through a lot of blowholes here at high tide, which makes it a popular destination on the West Coast.

If you have a car, Punakaiki is a just short drive from Greymouth. If you don’t have your own transportation, there are a few tour companies that do half-day trips from Greymouth and can coordinate with you if you're arriving on the TranzAlpine. I had hoped to check out the Pancake Rocks, but most companies require at least two bookings for the tour to go ahead. Bummer I was traveling solo.

Check out Shantytown

Itching for some kitschy gold mining history? Then Shantytown is for you. The West Coast of New Zealand’s was no stranger to the country’s gold rush in the 1860s, and Shantytown aims to recreate the atmosphere that New Zealand’s gold mining pioneers would have been familiar with. Here you can ride a steam train, pan for gold, take an “old time” photo, and more.

An express bus leaves from Greymouth twice daily to coincide with the TranzAlpine's departure and arrival, allowing you a couple of hours at the attraction.

Relax

And, at the end of the day, if you just can’t shake the boredom in Greymouth, stop trying. Just accept that there isn’t much to do here, and take a night off. Just relax. Watch some TV. Chat up a stranger. Take advantage of the fact that you don’t HAVE to be doing anything.

Greymouth, New Zealand

Hopefully, in the end, you can enjoy Greymouth a little more than I did.

How do you deal with a travel day that doesn't quite live up to expectations?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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36 Comments on “What the Hell is There to do in Greymouth, Anyway?

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  1. I lived in Greymouth, a sleepy gloomy west-coast township with nothing much touristic, but if you traveled few km away from city & passing farmlands you find amazing countryside settlements like Taylorville & Blackball where beautifully designed over beech forest backyards truly isolated from rest of the world where Blackball Creek cascades through lush montane mystic forest and abandon railway track freeze in deep woodland. That’s real Greymouth and Authentic Westcoast.

      There’s no denying that the landscapes on the West Coast are beautiful!

    […] as I am about new places, there have still been destinations that just haven’t wowed me. Like this one. And this […]

    […] is much more sparsely populated than the North, that means that there are also a ton of really small towns that may not have much to offer other than stunning views. (But really, do they need to offer […]

    I was born in New Zealand and now live in the USA…I will be bringing my Fiance for a trip around New Zealand and spending 2 half days in Greymouth. In my travels around the world, I have found that a place is only as boring as you make it..there is always something to see and do if only you put some effort into getting out and about…meet the locals…We intend to enjoy every minute in Greymouth and if the weather is wet, then relax, watch a movie or put on a raincoat and go for a walk..as for Christchurch, there is lots to see and do if you check it out in advance:)

      Sounds like it’ll be a fun trip back to NZ for you! And you’re right that a place is only as boring as you make it – or as boring as you let it be. I hope you guys enjoy Greymouth!

    When we were in Greymouth during our recent NZ trip, we also felt the same way. We walked at the town center and it was super quiet with almost zero people. We then just decided to do some grocery shopping and cook some dinner at the hostel. We stayed at Noah’s Ark, as well. We also did not join the brewery tour as it is out of budget.

    Good thing that after dinner we decided to stay at the TV lounge and met some good pals. We watched a comedy flick and played with Bez the dog after. I think sometimes, the hostel could make a big difference. We did not enjoy the town but the hostel and the people in there definitely made up for it. (:

      Wasn’t Noah’s Ark great? I really loved that hostel. And I’m glad to hear you guys met some cool people, despite Greymouth being boring.

    I have certainly had these days. The worst is when you hear so much hype about a place and arrive to find it not the case. It sounds like the made the best of the situation. If I have these days, I usually just try to relax and catch up on sleep or work.

      Luckily, Greymouth doesn’t get hyped up very much… haha. So I kind of knew what to expect (or not to expect). I did try to make the best of it, though, which I suppose is all you can really do!

    Sorry to say, but that is how I feel about Christchurch (my least favourite city/town in New Zealand). I am always board, turned around and lost in that confusing flat town.

    Graymouth is a close 2nd, luckily I had a car to get me out to the Pancake Rocks, which besides that and the train were my only reasons for stopping too. That totalllllly sucks about the tour, but classic NZ in not running tours with not enough people, especially on the off season. My least favorite part of traveling solo!!!

      I only really spent time in Christchurch on this trip, and with all the earthquake stuff to see, I wasn’t bored there at all. Sorry to hear you didn’t love it though!

      And I agree about your least favorite part of traveling solo! I had the same problem trying to book a Skipper’s Canyon tour in Queenstown, too. The days I could have gone, no one else was booked! I was dying for a travel buddy in those instances.

    hmmm…did you try the information centre? What was your budget? Did you check out any music at Franks Cafe? Art Gallery? jade carvers. You can rent a car or use public transport or a taxi. How about beachcombing for pounamu or panning for gold in one of the designated creeks. How about a local amateur production? A tour of a gold mine or brewery? An afternoon at an historic Shanty Town. Meet some locals at a cafe or bar and ask them for local knowledge. See a movie at our boutique 3-d picture theatre. Cave rafting anyone? Raining – buy a raincoat or go to On Yr Bike and have the most fun in the mud you’ll ever have.

    I suspect the problem is one of lack of research and a wish not to spend any money while one is here as travellers are often saving their money for the grossly overpriced Queenstown. How much did you contribute to Greymouths economy and how far would that go in a city with all the excitement you might seek?

    Greymouth gets a really bad rep from a few travellers and often they are people who have not got out of their hostels and made an effort beyond walking round the block looking for the neon signs.
    From your experience of other small towns on your travels I would be genuinely interested to hear what it is that you are seeking by coming to a place as remote as the West Coast of NZ. And importantly how much are you prepared to pay for these services and infrastructure?

    Enjoy the rest of your travels.

      Hi Davey, thanks for reading and leaving your two cents. I did visit the information center, and was not on a strict budget. However, I had less than a day in Greymouth (arrived about 1:30 p.m. off the TranzAlpine, and left the following morning), which automatically limited my options. And, visiting during shoulder season, many tours simply were not running, and I was not in the position to rent a car just for an afternoon.

      Lack of research was not a factor here – if you read the whole post, you’ll note that I included a handful of suggestions for things someone could potentially do in Greymouth.

      And, as for what I was seeking by coming to a place as remote as the West Coast, I was simply seeking a visit to somewhere in NZ that I had not yet been. To be honest, Greymouth was just a “passing-through” town for me on my way to Franz Josef. I didn’t visit with the intent to dislike it – this post is just my opinion on my experience there.

      But, as always, I would invite other travelers to visit and decide what they think of Greymouth themselves!

      My heart bleads for you folk.
      Do you expect entertainment on tap the moment you arrive on the West Coast. Certainly it rains in greymouth, didn’t it occur to you how close the mountains are to the sea. The prevailing wind drops a load of water to elevate far enough for the air current to get “over the tops”.
      Why bother going if you don’t do your preparation first.
      No matter where you travel, explore your route and study the history of the places you will discover on the way.
      I was born and raised in greymouth and can trurhfully claim I have NEVER been short of something to do when there.
      Chat to the locals.

        Sorry if I’ve offended you. I just tell it like it is, though – I, personally, didn’t have a great time in Greymouth. But, if you read the whole post, you would see that I gave suggestions for things to do that I wasn’t able to in order to hopefully help others out!

        Nicely said Beverly I grew up in greymouth my parents had the house on Mount Street they call the mount street mansion, I moved from there 30+ years ago really cool looking at the old pictures of Gmit brings back memories there was always something to do

    Hey Amanada, Greymouth certainly looks like a sleepy hollow from your pictures. You are certainly right when you describe some travel days as being a little on the boring side. Sometimes it’s the mood we are in, and at others its the company we keep (or lack of it at times).

    One things for sure, you just never know whats around that next corner, and even in quite little towns such as Greymouth you can still find adventure. Safe travels…..

      It’s the “what’s around the next corner” that keeps us traveling, isn’t it?

      It’s important as a traveler to be aware that there will be “off” days, just like there would be if you were at home. As long as you know this, though, you can make the most of even the boring days and places.

    I traveled on the Stray bus last year and we spent one night in Greymouth. Sadly, it was the same day of the Pike River mining tragedy so the whole town was in a collective mourning. I didn’t really get a fair view of the town due to this, but the brief glimpse I had seems to agree with your viewpoint. There’s just not much there.

      Oh that’s so sad that you were there during the Pike River tragedy. 🙁 What a terrible day that must have been for everyone there.

    I laughed out loud at the title of this post! We spent 11 weeks in New Zealand this year and also hated Greymouth. And, yes, it was raining when we were there and, no, there’s nothing to do.

    Punakaiki, on the other hand, was awesome. I’m so sorry you didn’t get up there. Not only is the beach just south of there very cool (desolate, weird driftwood, cliffs), the Pancake Rocks area during high tide is amazing. North of there a couple of kilometers is Truman’s Track, which is an off-the-beaten-path must see for anyone in the area. If you’re driving, just make sure you have enough gas in your tank because there’s no place to fill up between Greymouth and Westport (as we found out to our dismay).

    Great post about reshifting your mindset when necessary!

      Thanks for the great comment, Scott! I wouldn’t go so far as to say I “hated” Greymouth, but it definitely was a bit boring. I’m extra sorry now that I couldn’t make it up to Punakaiki! It really does sound great. Oh well.

    We felt the same way about Greymouth. We really liked the Pancake Rocks though.
    It’s true though, you need a vehicle to truly enjoy the surrounding areas (which are quite beautiful)

      I’m glad I’m not alone in not falling in love with Greymouth. I am sorry I didn’t get to see the Pancake Rocks, though. Guess I’ll have to save it for next time!

    I also really liked Noah’s Ark plus it’s super convenient to the combo bus and train station.

    Greymouth was the one place on the South Island where I felt a pinch not having a vehicle. It was a good place to rest up during an afternoon and evening, though. Got some laundry done!

      Greymouth would be fine if you had a vehicle, because you could explore some of the spots near it. But I (like you) had no car, so I was forced to slow down a bit. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I did feel like I was wasting a day. I only had 2 weeks in NZ, and I was determined to make the most of them! That being said, I did get some photos edited and some writing done. I also had a great conversation with a random stranger on the street who recognized me from the train that morning. So it wasn’t all bad. 🙂

    We refer to these days as “Ooty Moments”.  Several years ago we were touring in India and wound up in the old colonial hill station town of Ootacamund.  From our perspective this was a thoroughly delightful old-fashioned town, from the perspective of the author of our guide book it had no redeeming features at all.  Whenever we wind up somewhere that we just don’t get, we now talk about having an Ooty Moment – recognising that someone else might see it differently.

      An “Ooty Moment…” I like it! And while I’m sure there are some people who might come to really enjoy Greymouth, the majority of opinions I’ve heard on it are very similar to mine. It’s by no means a BAD town. It’s just not a very exciting one, either.

      That’s a bit surprising to me.. I lived in Bangalore for about 3 years, and Ooty was a pretty popular tourist destination. The only reason it would have been less recommended is that it was a bit touristed, and a bit crowded.

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