The Grey District is made up of many settlements. Greymouth is the largest town on the West Coast, and is the commercial centre of the region. A range of retail, banking, medical, dental and other services are available to residents and visitors.

Greymouth is broken into several suburbs, mainly Camerons, Gladstone, Paroa and Karoro to the south, central Greymouth, Blaketown and Cobden, which is situated over the bridge on the far side of the Grey River. Just out of Greymouth you will find the small townships Kaiata, Dobson, Taylorville and Stillwater, all overlooking the mighty Grey River.

Ten km north of Greymouth, at the beginning of the famous Coast Road Highway, are ex coal mining towns Runanga and Dunollie.

Further north, past Rapahoe (a cosy beach front township situated 12 km north of Greymouth) and Barrytown is the start of the Paparoa Range and the Paparoa National Park. The park features a diverse landscape with limestone features, rugged coastlines and sub-tropical rainforests.

Situated 20 km north from Greymouth near the foot of the Paparoa Ranges is Blackball. Blackball was founded in 1864 as a base for transient gold seekers, although the really big goldfield of the area was a little further up the Grey Valley at Moonlight. The famous Croesus track takes you from Blackball across the Paparoa range to Barrytown.

In its heyday, Blackball had a population of around 1200 people. From militant miners to salami sausages – Blackball's history is colourful and varied. Thirty years after the gold rush settlement of 1864 prospectors had their sights set on coal. They were a revolutionary bunch, renowned for the infamous "Crib time Strike". For years the Arbitration Court had refused to lengthen the coalmines' lunch break from 15 minutes to half an hour. In 1908, seven workers went out and refused a command to return to their jobs. When the group was fired, fellow workers joined the strike. The management agreed to the longer break. The strike showed the rest of New Zealand that collection action was effective. As a result the Red Feds were established, and from them the Federation of Labour and the NZ Labour Party evolved.

With the Blackball settlement nestled on a plateau with the Paparoa ranges as a back drop, it's easy to forget Blackball's militant past. When the mine closed in 1964, many left and the town was expected to gradually disappear, but it wouldn't and today around 400 people call Blackball home. Blackball mine's ventilation chimneys are still visible.

Lake Brunner and the township of Moana, which is situated on the northern end of the lake, is 37 kilometers inland from Greymouth. This area is known for its brown trout fishing, boating and water sports, and has abundant bird life, wetlands and rainforest ecosystems. It is a popular holiday destination for people from all over the South Island. Lake Brunner's full Māori name is Moana Kōtuku, meaning the sea of white herons. The nearby farming settlement of Kōtuku has a historic school and oil seeps – evidence of the petroleum potential of the West Coast. The area has a rich history in timber milling and logs were transported across the Lake Brunner by steam powered vessels. Now the area boasts the best brown trout fishing and is home of many water based activities. Mt Te Kinga 5 kilometers south-east of Moana is one of the many tramping tracks in the area, offers superb viewing points of Iveagh Bay and the lake.

The middle reaches of the Grey Valley and its tributary valleys are one of the largest areas of flat farmland on the West Coast. In the rain shadow of the Paparoa Range, the western side of the valley has lower rainfall than the surrounding area, and was traditionally regarded as good sheep country, now however dairying is the main farming activity.

The main settlements in the Grey Valley are small farming centres, which from north to south are Totara Flat, Ahaura and Ngahere. The flat farming land is surrounded by dissected hill country, formed mainly of brown gravel and sand. During past ice ages, glaciers extended down most of the eastern tributaries of the Grey. The furthest extent of the glaciers is marked by terminal moraines (a hummocky belt of gravel and mud) that now hold in lakes such as Brunner, Hochstetter and Haupiri.

Page reviewed: 25 Jun 2014 4:28pm