Leaving the beautiful camping area at Lake Brunner it was time to head back towards civilisation to stock up on a few supplies. However the plan was to take a bit of a detour on the way stopping at Blackball a town made famous by a labour strike at the coal mine won in the end by the miners after a very bitter battle.
The Blackball Hilton which is named after the road it stands on and is nothing to do with the famous hotel chain which forced it to change it’s name a few years ago, is an impressive sight dominating the street in this small town. With us arriving early in the morning well before the midday opening time we didn’t get to go inside but judging from the exterior I would imagine it’s just as impressive inside as out.
Next door to the hotel is a small museum dedicated to the history of mining as well as the strikes and the labour movement that sprung from it. The town has spent some time and effort to put all this together and it’s well worth taking the time to read about the people involved in the disputes and how the main strike was eventually resolved with the government stepping in.
Inside the containers that they have used to house the museum there are a number of exhibits based around mining. There is also a container dedicated to the women of the town (no photos) with a life story written by around 10 of the local women ranging in age from 12 to a women well into her 80’s. The story by the 12 year old made me laugh with the word “boring” inserted into the story in a number of places.
The wheel is a memorial to miners who have died on the coast since 1990 and of course tragically contains the names of those lost in the Pike River disaster in 2010 there is also a container that contains the story of this mine.
The town itself is pretty much a main street with a few shops built to support the mining that no longer exists so in someways I understand the “boring”comments but it does have a world famous hotel as well as a really good dump station that’s just off the main street with a gold coin donation to help with the upkeep of the facility.
From Blackball it was down the road to the Brunner Mine a large mining area that spans both sides of the Grey river with car parking on both sides of the river as well so you have no excuse not to visit. The main area of the mine is on the North side of the river but the railway lines are on the South side with all coal and coke moved across the bridge that has these days been rebuilt as a pedestrian bridge to cross over.
These days whats left of the mine and coke factory are mostly ruins but it’s worth taking the time to stop and explore with a number of the now ever present sign boards telling you about the history of the area and what this and that did. It’s all very fascinating.
One of the confusing things about some of these places is that sometimes you are not sure exactly what you are looking at, this was the case with this wheel on the ground and the concrete slabs with the bolts sticking out. So although there are plenty of information boards in the area sometimes you still need to use your imagination.
Just down the road from the mine is the town of Greymouth which surprised both Sarah and I with it’s size. unlike most of the smaller towns we have visited recently this one has both a New World and a Countdown whereas all the others seem to only have a New World so we thought it was time to visit a Countdown store for a few supplies.
Once stocked up it was time to park up. Greymouth is very well set up for freedom campers with a large camping area right next to the Cobden Bridge right on the outskirts of town that has both a dump station as well as fresh water right on site. Even though this site is close to the main road it’s very quiet, maybe because it sits lower than the road.
The West Coast Wilderness cycle trail starts just across the bridge alongside the towns railway station following the river out towards the breakwater, then along the coast. With the sun shining it was a great day for a ride and with the trail almost completely flat it was also easy riding. We had decided that we would ride 12 or 13 kms one way then return making a 25 km ride which was a good way to spend the afternoon.
The ride follows the river past the old abandoned railways port where they used to load the coal for shipping to other parts of the country now all fenced off with nothing really to see except two old cranes that are a testament to busier days. Then past the commercial fishing port and onwards to the breakwater where there is a memorial to all those that have been lost at sea either crossing the bar where the river meats the ocean or swept overboard and drowned. All rather sad really
The comparison between the calmness of the fishing harbour and the waves at the breakwater on what was a very calm day for the sea leave you in no doubt as to the dangers involved in getting your boat out for a fish. Somehow I don’t think you could pay me enough to do this.
Dotted along the cycle trail as it followed the sea shore the information boards continue with tales of the history of the area. I was really interested to read about the amount of gold that they extracted from the beach just washing out of the local rivers. I guess if you got out with a gold pan there might still be some there.
There are also a number of areas along the sea shore where you can freedom camp in parking areas they have made. None of these are equipped with toilet facilities so they are self contained only but some really nice places to stay.
Reaching the 13 km mark on the cycle trail we decided that after having had quite a full day already and the sun getting lower in the sky that we would return to the motorhome. Such an easy ride that I never used the battery part of the bike during the entire ride and commenting to Sarah how much fitter we are getting with all this exercise.
That evening I tried without to much success to capture a photo of the town from our motorhome as it was such a pretty sight, this is the best photo of a bad bunch. Maybe you can visit to take a better one yourself.
From here it’s North to the Pancake Rocks and Westport but that’s the next blog