Greymouth to Lake Brunner Via Blackball

We’re now almost two weeks behind with blog posts. Having almost no internet for five days recently hasn’t helped – though admittedly it was a refreshing change to not be able to go online. It’s unusual nowadays to experience that.

Despite the challenges of keeping up to date with our adventures, through writing and images, we’re both determined to record these amazing experiences for you – and us!

Let’s turn back the clock to Tuesday 9th February 2021 …

Greymouth Lived Up To Its Name

It wasn’t the town’s fault of course. Just that we’d gotten used to blue skies and sunshine almost every day since arriving on the West Coast on 1st February. Entering the largest town on the west coast, Greymouth, we were engulfed in cloudy skies and a sharp drop in temperature. Sadly this didn’t give us the best impression. It wasn’t a huge problem though, as I had work to focus on for a couple of days. We hope to return here one day, as it’s the last station on the Trans Alpine Great Train Journey from Christchurch. One of our ‘bucket list’ items.

We soon spotted an unusual outside 24-hour self-service laundrette. Called ‘Laundry or Naked‘ it’s certainly a catchy business name! The Facebook Business Page states “Laundry or Naked have developed state of the art laundromats, that are currently being installed in destinations throughout NZ.” Fantastic idea. We loved it. It was so simple to use! Park up. Put washing in (no need to add washing liquid/powder even). Wait. Move to dryer. Wait. Remove items fresh, clean, and dry. Put away. All in less than 40 minutes. What a brilliant idea! Well done Greymouth.

Following the washing and a spot of grocery (and alcohol of course) shopping, Barry discovered a fabulous free camping spot near the ‘Greymouth Bar’ – not his usual type of bar mind you! He managed to find plenty of photo opportunities while I worked, which you can find in the slide-show at the end.

On Wednesday 10th February, the sun broke free through the clouds. It’s amazing what a difference it makes. On my walk that morning, before we left, I met an amiable chap who informed me his wife died last July (not of covid). How the weather currently was mild in comparison to normal. That often the waves would be so high, they’d break over the building opposite. I certainly saw lots of signs warning of freak and wild waves. I guess we visited when it was at its best?

Check out this incredible video below, to watch how crazy the sea can be at the bar. Who’d be a fisherman?!

A Walk To The Brunner Mine Site

Our first stopping place after Greymouth was to the remains of the Brunner Mine. This was a massive mine in the late nineteenth century, with dozens of families living in the area. In 1896, 65 mine workers died in an explosion. Still the biggest mining disaster ever in New Zealand. Many of those who lost husbands, brothers, sons, friends, had to suddenly find a new place to live, whilst dealing with their grief – as their homes came with the job. The whole nation rallied to raise funds for them. Knowing this was way before Social Media and Crowdfunding – even before TV – makes it quite incredible and heartwarming.

The disaster and the plight of the families caught the attention of the whole nation. It ultimately led to improved workplace safety legislation and practices.

Brunner Mine remains New Zealand’s worst work place accident site. Despite the improvements achieved, workplace safety remains a vital issue.

The memorial includes plaques to other mining disasters.

The Revolutionary Blackball Miners

Our next planned stop was at Blackball. It was here the New Zealand Labour Party began. For a country renowned around the world as having a ‘no strike’ policy, what happened here in 1908 was highly significant and altered the political climate forever.

In the Blackball mine, miners had only 15 minutes to eat their ‘crib’ or lunch – and their manager wanted to increase the working day to 10 hours. The union decided to challenge the arbitration system by striking for a longer crib time and an eight-hour day. In February 1908 one of the union leaders, Pat Hickey, refused to finish his pie at lunchtime when the manager told him his 15 minutes were up. Hickey and six of his supporters were fired. The rest of the Blackball Miners Union went on strike in protest.

It took three months, but finally the mining company gave in and the miners were reinstated – with a half hour lunch break. It would’ve been a fascinating time in history. Challenging too of course. But well done to the miners I say.

We walked around the open-air free museum which recalled the stories of the area, including the Pike River Mine Disaster which cured fairly recently. Sadly that seems to have been a casualty of managers not listening to the workers once again. So sad. I remember in my ‘Quality Co-ordinator’ post, doing my best to explain to a pompous git of an Obstetrician the ‘Crew Resource Management‘ process from my team building knowledge and experience. He couldn’t in any shape or form, acknowledge that the cleaner and porter were just as important as he was in relation to the safety of women and their families using the maternity services. Needless to say we rarely saw eye-to-eye. People like him are generally why incidents and tragedies occur. They think they know best and are better than anyone else. Dangerous people.

Formerly The Blackball Hilton

We stayed overnight in the carpark of the ‘Formerly The Hilton Blackball‘ establishment, for just $10 in an unpowered spot. What an ‘interesting’ place! I found many incredibly sexist notices, and a painting in the bar. Quite outrageous tbh. When we walked in, there were about half a dozen men there. “Are women allowed in“, I remarked facetiously? “Are they all cooking? Or working?” I think they mumbled that they were working. They didn’t seem terribly impressed for some reason. I’m guessing it’s like it was still in the old mining days. Maybe I’m just imagining that …. Definitely a time-warp.

Barry went for a drink in the evening while I worked, and discovered there’s a local population of 370 residents. In the town there’s currently three pubs. They told Barry (seriously!) if they get another 100 people, they’ll need another pub 😂.

The business was called The Hilton Blackball, but they were contacted by THE Hilton, and told they couldn’t call it that. So they renamed it. Hilarious! Another example of the big boys trying to demean their ‘lower’ humans.

In the 1990s it was renamed the Blackball Hilton, but after protests from an overseas hotel chain this was changed to ‘Formerly the Blackball Hilton’. There is, in fact, good justification for the name as it is opposite Hilton Street, named after one of the directors of the Blackball Coal Company.”

Salami And Attitude

We had a walk around Blackball, our aim was to find The Blackball Salami Company. We surely did, and spent $40 on black pudding, venison salami, and some tasty-looking sausages. The woman there was wonderfully warm and welcoming.

Unlike the woman across the road. She exuded an attitude that felt like we were being a nuisance entering her store and daring to buy something! How strange people can be.

Our visit was short and sweet sadly, but we did enjoy the experience.

Pike River Memorial

The following morning, Friday 5th November, we headed towards our next stop. Soon after learning Blackball we saw a signpost for a Pike River Memorial, and turned in. It was an incredibly reflective, poignant and precious place. In the distance from the sign you can see the location of the Pike Mine.

The 29 men who died, one who was a day off 17 years old, each have a memorial place here. Families have placed personal items nearby. A sign shows where each of the men originated. Some from Scotland, Australia; mostly from around New Zealand.

A Detour Loop To Ikamatua

After stopping longer than expected, to take in the enormity of the memorial, we continued to a loop of road we’d decided to do. Just because we could – and wanted to see as much as possible. Our friend Marilyn (from NB Wakahuia blog) had been a project manager for the Waiuta Prohibition Mine Remediation. She basically organised the clean-up: getting the arsenic on the site removed and/or securely buried near Ikamatua, a few years ago. She’s a clever woman, continuing to work intermittently in her 70s because she enjoys it.

We stopped for a small shop and some pie and chips for lunch at Ikamatua, then headed back south. There’s clusters of small mining communities in this region, each with their own history boards showcasing information of their past. Delightful.

We were on our way to Lake Brunner, as we’d arranged to meet Barry’s daughter Jamie there on Saturday 13th February. She was driving across from Christchurch, just over two hours away.

The scenery became ever more magnificent – and we were thrilled to watch the Trans Alpine train pass us by.

Blissful Lake Brunner

We reached Lake Brunner mid-afternoon on 12th February. Initially we parked up at Moana, where we were frankly appalled at the obscene number of humongous ‘holiday homes’. It would be a travesty to call them baches – even cribs. I guess some may imagine we’re envious – we don’t even have one ‘bricks and mortar’ home. But we don’t think so. We honestly can’t imagine the stress and expense of managing one house never mind two! Seeing the poverty that exists even in New Zealand, makes this show of extreme wealth rather abhorrent to us.

We enjoyed the beautiful Rakaitane Walk after crossing a swing bridge, then through stunning native bush, before heading to a freedom camping spot lakeside further around the lake at Iveagh Bay.

It was an unbelievable location. There we met a gregarious, friendly couple from Hednesford. They said we were the first people they’ve met who know where that is.

Neil and Beth if you’re reading this, sorry we missed saying goodbye – thank you for the note. We hope to bump into you again for a photo. Here or on the cut.

We watched a sublime sunset over the water that evening, then had a peaceful night’s sleep. The following morning Jamie and Ewok arrived, and we walked up the hill of the Ara O Te Kinga track to the first of three viewpoints. It was rather a steep incline even to that point. Along the way I spotted an unusual pointed toadstool (or mushroom?), which hooked me into a future fungi exploration. Can anyone identify it?

We left shortly after our walk. It felt like an intrusion by heaps of jet boats and water-skiers making noise on the previously peaceful lake, which negatively changed the face of our view and experience. Plus we were leaving anyway!

Heading to Arthur’s Pass, we’d booked into the Jackson’s Alpine Retreat with Jamie for the night.

More on that excellent experience in the next post.

Barry’s Super Slideshow

As has become ‘normal’ now, here’s Barry’s favourite shots of these journeys and sights. Just click on the first image for the slide-show to begin:

6 thoughts on “Greymouth to Lake Brunner Via Blackball

  1. Agreed. Beautiful scenery but I much prefer the down to earth North Island East Coast and its wonderful people. x

    • Me too. Great to be seeing it but the SI wouldn’t be my choice of a place to live. Hope you’re both doing well. X

    • One. A beautiful wahine barmaid. It’s much too ‘white’ down here with token gesture stories sadly we feel 😢

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