Shantytown – one of Greymouth’s better known tourist attractions. A town born from the history of the industries of the West Coast – gold mining, sawmilling, coal mining and foundry to service these industries.
Shantytown is a heritage park – an outside museum if you like. It is a combination of all our history in one place so you can get a real sense of feel for the West Coast, how our forefathers worked and lived.
Start your day taking a short trip on a steam train that follows the original bush tram-line through native rain forest to “the end of the line”. The train stops here for a short time so you can get photographs of the engine in the natural bush surroundings and take a closer look at the working steam engine.
At this stop there are fabulous examples of NZ native trees looming in the forest and an audio playing with sounds of workers from our past cutting trees for the sawmill and the winch dragging them along for loading.
We climb on the train and it heads back towards the village, first stopping at the replica typical bush sawmill. You can disembark here and explore the sawmill, gold claim and bush walk back to the village. The sawmill has an audio-visual playing to show you the life of a worker at the mill and loads of information panels explaining the workings and history.
Cross the railway line to the gold claim and watch a sluicing demonstration. You can pay a small fee and actually do some panning for gold. They say all “prospectors” are guaranteed to leave with something……
Alternatively take the little walk to the gold sluice and gold claim area stopping in at New River Hotel. Typical hotel that you would find in the bush close to a gold claim. No beer for sale today unfortunately but gives you a good feel for how it would have been after a hard day’s labour in the gold claim. Leaving here there it is a nice easy meander through the rain forest along a “timeline” walk with information panels explaining the discovery of gold, coal, sawmilling and the foundries used to service these industries. This track leads you back to the township village.
The village has a multitude of buildings from our past – butchers, jewellers, blacksmiths, printers, shoe shop, store, saloon just to name a few. Personally I found the village a bit tacky. There is evidence of work being done to slowly improve some of the buildings and make them more authentic.
We had a quick look in the Jail, Bank of New Zealand, Coronation Hall, Masonic Lodge and Rewa Hospital. The hospital was a bit creepy – seeing all those old hospital relics and it even smelt like an old hospital. We didn’t hang around in there long. You won’t find me complaining next time I have to go to hospital for anything – we have certainly advanced a lot in making hospitals a bit more hospitable!
There is also the old school-house and church. Head round the back though behind the hospital and here you’ll find the foundry and steam shed. The foundry is possibly the newest addition to Shantytown and a real credit to the park. Extremely well done and interesting with an audio-visual playing the whole time and life-like mannequins. It is separated into sections so you can see exactly what was developed at the foundry and its use on the West Coast to the various industries.
The steam shed is also a credit to the park and worthwhile stop. There are three beautifully restored old steam engines together with their stories to read and in the next bay the engines used for Shantytown possibly in for maintenance and available for inspection.
There are a couple of great bush walks at Shantytown also. One heads off to the right called the Manuka Track and was the original roadway for early gold miners and pack horses, to the goldfields of the area. It can be a bit muddy after rain but I liked the fact it hadn’t been cleaned up so to speak – made it all the more authentic and easier to imagine having to walk along something like this everyday just for work.
The other bush walk is on the other side – to the left of the entrance where you come in. It is called the Surveyors Monument Lookout track. The walk to the monument is only 5 minutes and quite well maintained. The Monument beside the viewing platform was built by the Westland Surveyors to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors in 1888. The views from the lookout platform are fantastic, giving you a good perspective of the village of Shantytown.
It is worth carrying on along the actual loop track – only around a 15 minute walk. This part of the track is not well maintained, but again we like it like that. True West Coast bush walk and possibly one of the nicest we have done on the West Coast given it is so short.
Also on the left of the village is the stables and Chinatown. The Chinese played a big part in gold mining on the West Coast arriving from 1867. Originally they came from the goldfields of Otago and Victoria and lately they came directly from China. This is a tastefully done little Chinese village with a store and replica housing – single man and family style.
There are other places of interest for some at Shantytown that we didn’t explore or enter – the saloon where you can dress in period costume and get some old-time photos, a holographic theatre with a free show telling the stories of hardship, weather and isolation of living on the West Coast. There is also the general store for Shantytown branded merchandise or the beehive store for traditional boiled sweets together with ice-creams or milk shakes.
There are parts of Shantytown that are a little tacky but overall the experience was really rewarding and interesting. I have to admit I’ve never been a huge advocate of Shantytown to our guests in the past. There is so much natural history in the hills and bush around Greymouth and the West Coast but overall I’d have to say Shantytown is actually worth a visit.
Shantytown is located on Rutherglen Road, Paroa (suburb), just 10Km south of Greymouth, on the West Coast of the South Island. Allow yourself a good 1.5 to 2 hours to explore and fully appreciate the park.
Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation – a beachfront bed & breakfast just north of Greymouth on the West Coast – home of Shantytown. For more information on accommodation at Breakers or on things to see and do while visiting the area check out their website. Rated #1 on Tripadvisor for Greymouth B&Bs.