Would you live in Westport?
There is nothing like a good West Coast town for a charming but rough and ready experience.
Westport, in the Buller District, has fought boom and bust ever since the first European settlers arrived for the coal and gold in the 1860s. Its rich history is full of larger than life characters; some of them my relatives.
The town's earliest cemetery, right on the Orowaiti River, is testament to the hard living - and that's once people had survived coming ashore. Others drank and gambled far too much.
It's a safer trip these days, with Lonely Planet raving about the driving to be had and stunning scenery. If you prefer to fly, it's a 45 minute hop (albeit on a very small plane) from Wellington.
Why should I move there?
There really is nothing like the wild beauty of the South Island's West Coast. From the glaciers in the south to Punakaiki and the drive to the Heaphy Track in the north. Westport is in spitting distance (relatively) of them all.
It's got miles of empty beaches, the Buller River, heaps of walking tracks, mountains, the incredible Denniston Incline, caves, a seal colony and the closest point in the country to Australia - Cape Foulwind, so named by Captain James Cook after he was blown off course nearby in the 1770s.
Beside the odd gust it is home to a colony of fur seals, a great walking track and a restaurant, the Bay House, with one of the best views in the country.
Why it's not for everyone
It can be a bit wet in spring - though the rain always sounds nice on the iron roofs which dominate the town. The smell of burning coal in winter (my parents don't notice it anymore) gets a bit sulphury and if you are not into the outdoors or sport you may feel a little isolated. Then again, you may want to be.
What's the transport like?
The town itself is made for cycling - being flat and not terribly large. It's what my dad does when the sun is out. There is no public transport, though there is a taxi firm, regular InterCity buses and a few smaller passenger firms that take people to Nelson and Christchurch.
There are three primary schools, two public and one Catholic, and Buller High School. The high school has really lifted its game since I was there.
It's got a great, virtually brand new sports centre with covered swimming pools, two full-sized basketball courts, a gym and turf hockey pitch. The movie theatre is new too, as is the Coaltown Museum on the main drag, Palmerston St. And, if you want a drink, there is no shortage of pubs.
Where to eat out
The Bay House, at Cape Foulwind, has the best view but the town itself is dotted with fairly reasonable cafes. For a touch of the old school - formica tables, a slight up and down floor - head to the Buller Cafe opposite the town library at the far end of Palmerston St.
There is a bit of something for everyone, thanks to that brilliant sports centre but rugby, hockey, netball, cricket and basketball are stalwarts.
Where to buy
That's quite hard. Alma Rd, which is just outside the centre and looks down on both the town and the river out to sea, has become quite popular. Utopia Rd, where the cemeteries are, ha, is another spot where one can find tranquility and eternal peace.
Here's what appears to be a bargain: buy, build and bathe on that beach. This land is just a little outside Westport but is absolute waterfront and close to a great little river called the Nile. There is excellent caving to be had in the hills nearby too.
Or take me to the chapel? This is a wee cutie in the heart of town, and it as cheap as chips. Move from Auckland and save!
Notable Westport peeps:
Can I say my younger brother Troy? Whenever I go anywhere with him there are people who know him. Actually, once when overseas someone said to me: it doesn't matter where in the world you are there is always someone from Westport nearby. Or someone who has met someone from Westport.
What's my view?
As a born and bred Westport person I love it. My wife is not quite so keen on staying for so long.
Would you like to see the Heathcote River cleaned up?Related story: Alasdair Cassels to beautify Heathcote River