Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Two West Coast Mining Towns


After our sobering and thoughtful visit to the Pike29 Memorial we carried on towards Greymouth, taking a side road to the old mining settlement of Blackball.

And although the streets around village's few shops and one of the pubs, were lined with vehicles, the streets were deserted of people. The only sign of occupancy were these two characters resting in the shade of an old cottage in the midst of a makeover. 

David dropped me off so I could take the necessary church photos and then drove around the block (the block nearly being the whole village) and pulled up outside the other pub in town and the one I wanted to check out- the 'famous in New Zealand', Blackball Hilton.....now known as the former Blackball Hilton because of a certain international hotel chain's pressure to change the name.

Next door I finally found a single person checking out the Blackball Museum of Working Class History including an exhibition of the 1908 miners strike, which at 10 weeks, is the longest strike in New Zealand. Blackball is also the birthplace of the New Zealand Labour Party.

The Blackball Hilton publican & his wife came out to front table to have a smoko break and we got talking. The town was empty of people but full of vehicles because of a very large funeral for a local identity which was happening at the other hotel in town. When he heard we'd just visited the memorial he said we'd have to come in and see the hotel's memorial to the Pike 29. The first thing he pointed out was the clock, it was fixed on the time of the blast.

He took great pains in pointing out that his wall was the first memorial to the Pike 29 and that the hotel was in fact where many of the families and rescuers stayed and met each day during the early attempts at rescue. There were also memorials and information on the other walls right through the hotel of other mine disasters and important events in the area's history. After thanking them for their hospitality, we continued our journey.

Our destination for the night, as previously mentioned was Jellyman Park near Greymouth. We'd set up camp and were relaxing in the warm late afternoon sun when I had a brainwave (David would say a brainfade)...it was a lovely evening and when I checked my tide app, I saw that sunset was at 8:09 and low tide was at 8:15pm. 

Perfect timing for another visit to the fabulous hidden coastline at Motukiekie, 15kms up the coast- low tide, rock formations, a West Coast sunset & hopefully the special orange starfish, that inhabit the rock pools at very low tide and which I'd failed to find on our previous visit (although we did manage to find a caveman). All that combined (not the caveman though) could make for an epic photo shoot.

I told David I'd be happy to go by myself, but I'd love him to come; as back up and to help me down the steep bank and ladder to the beach. Otherwise I'd have to walk in from a couple of kilometres away and I really didn't fancy finding my way back to the ute after dark. Of course how could he refuse!

We left a couple of hours before sunset, which was a little too early but we were ready to go, so we took a detour via Runanga, another old coal mining town on the West Coast. I wanted to take a photo of the historic 'Miners Hall' which is adorned with famous socialist slogans. British miners brought a strong tradition of industrial unionism to New Zealand, where it quickly established itself, especially on the West Coast.

This Historic Places Category 1 building will hopefully be restored eventually (click to enlarge)

Runanga is also very proud of their mining heritage, rugby league roots and their international players; this large display was on the side of one of the shops.

Unfortunately the Buffalo Butchery didn't stand the test of time. I remember when we were on the Coast many years ago and had a buffalo burger at a cafe out in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Punakaiki. The cafe was actually at a buffalo farm (these are water buffalo), poor things, watching their mates being turned into burgers. It too had disappeared when we travelled that area last year.

While I was taking photos David decided that we'd have 'Chicken 'n Chips' for dinner from the local (the one and only) shop. It was rather surreal eating dinner at a picnic table on a footpath in a deserted and slightly rundown town.

But the 'Chicken 'n Chips'  were very tasty (hey, anything's tasty when you don't have to cook dinner) and we did see a few locals, mainly young people coming in for their daily fix; a packet of fags.

We carried on up the coast and checked out Motukiekie from the beach where I was going to walk in from. Hmmm....the tide looked like it still had a way to go and the sun had disappeared behind a thick band of grey cloud. 

We drove back to our secret track and headed down to the beach, finding the ladder just as it was the last time. 

The rocks came into view at the last turn in the track....that tide still looks a little high and the waves are still rolling in. And the sun has definitely disappeared.  

We swung down the rope (middle right) onto the rocks at the base of the cliffs...

...and walked up the beach to the rock stacks where unfortunately the tide was just not going to go out far enough tonight. It still blocked the way around the last section and the starfish pools were still covered in water. Oh well, it was worth a shot but we decided it just wasn't going to happen tonight so headed off back to the rope.

I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and found this juvenile spotted shag trying desperately to blend into the rock-face behind him. He was actually warming himself in the sun that had finally appeared for a few brief moments...

...but he quickly decided he needed to find an escape route...

"If I tip-toe quietly this way, she won't notice me"

Meanwhile David had disappeared down the beach...

And while I was taking that shot, Master Shag made a quick escape.

As did we; back up the rocks, up the rope, the ladder and through the bush, back to the ute and home again...

...just in time to catch the sun setting!!


  1. After reading in this Blogg post of your visit to the Motukiekie pinnacles and your efforts to persuade David to accompany you I am convinced you are your mother's daughter.Cheers Mr Brown.

    1. Yeah, but you'd do anything for us eh? It's called luv :)


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