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Category Archives: NZ Flora and Fauna

Hidden World of West Coast Coal Mining History

Posted by Jan Roberts on April 08, 2017

Growing up as a kid down in Southland was all about farming – rolling green hills dotted with sheep.  In the winter our homes were generally heated with wood and coal.  Never gave a thought to where that coal came from until I moved to the West Coast.

The history to be found on coal mining is in abundance on the West Coast – much of it hidden deep in the bush slowly but inevitably being reclaimed by nature.  Some of New Zealand’s first coal mines were established on the West Coast.

We are lucky to have access to some of this history right across the road from Breakers.  To say there is a track in the bush might be pushing it a bit – certainly not a normal well-formed DOC track.  Is is more of a trail through the bush, under the bush and over the bush leading you through some magnificent ancient native forest including our own Nikau Palm trees and loads of towering Rimu trees meandering up high into the tree line following a little creek before coming to some coal mining relics slowly disappearing into the undergrowth.

Recently we had some lovely German guests Claus and Monika, staying with us that were interested in history so what better place to share with them.  With Stephen and Ziggy as  their guides they headed off to be immersed in a sea of green and gold.

The Nine Mile Valley hides a wealth of coal history including the school of mines – about three small mines we think were used as a training ground for miners back in the early 1900s.  You can still see the main drives and their return in the sides of the mountain among the undergrowth.  They definitely have an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding them.

After some delicate foot placement and wonderful balancing acts on the part of Claus and Monika the history lesson for the day is over and the intrepid explorers return back down to civilisation as we know it.

It is always a pleasure to share our backyard with our guests and share the beauty and the history of this region that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by day in and day out.  To see the smile on their faces upon their return and hear their enthusiasm as they relived their explorations was a pure delight.

Discovering our history – not just West Coast but New Zealand history is exciting and rewarding but even more rewarding is having the opportunity of sharing it with our guests.

Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation on the Great Coast Road north of Greymouth.  They enjoy getting out and about and exploring their “backyard” – nature’s playground.


Blackball - Discovering Hidden Treasures

Posted by Jan Roberts on September 02, 2016

Totally felt like we should be in an Indiana Jones movie on our latest adventure of discovery “A Lost World Uncovered”…….

 

 

We had headed to Blackball – little mining town inland from Greymouth at the base of the Paparoa mountains.  There was plenty of misty clouds hanging in the mountains helping give a real sense of atmosphere for exploration into some real West Coast history.

Blackball is ripe with coal mining history and the last time we were here on a walk of discovery around the town, we came across a map showing the various walking options and swore we’d be back to explore them.

 

 

Well our return visit may have taken longer than planned but explore we did.  Starting out with the River Gorge walk.  Without any proper signage to show us the way we weren’t 100% sure we were on the right track.  Shown on the outskirts of the township behind the Community Centre and described as a steep descent down through the forest into the river bed and then a walk up the river and gorge.  Well it was certainly a steep descent.  With only a very basic track down through the trees it was also a very slow and careful descent.  There was a slight reprieve in among a sea of green.  So green it was almost glistening and I was waiting for a fairy or two to come out and show us the way.  Unfortunately no fairies were forthcoming so it was onwards and downwards again with great caution.

 

 

The river bed is safely reached and all I can say is – WOW!  Huge boulders covered in more of those unreal greens, steep mossy banks embedded with huge moss-covered trees erupting up into the skyline, and yes green, green, green – top that off with a couple of waterfalls and we really had landed in GodZone.

 

 

The water was flowing quite deep down through the gorge as we tiptoed our way around the edges as far as we could.  There were mining relics slowly rusting away on the river bank.  We truly felt like we were in another world – could all this really be right here at our doorstep.  Yep!

 

 

We couldn’t see anyway through the gorge other than swimming and again with not really knowing if we were in the right place and what was up ahead, we felt it best to head back the way we came.  It was a fun hike back up the bank – clinging onto tree roots and hauling ourselves up – good full body workout, who needs to go to the gym.

 

 

We were parked up at the Community Centre and knew there was another hike within walking distance that would loop back to the car – the Blackball Coal Mine and Kings Knob track.  I’m going to cover it in separate blog as it is another piece of significant West Coast history and a great exploration in its own right – deserved of a bit more blogging space……..

 

 

By the time we stumble back to the car after completion of the loop track we are well and truly ready for a late lunch and you can’t come to Blackball without a stop-in at the Formally the Blackball Hilton.  With tummy bugs rumbling noisily we ordered our lunch and had a nice chat with Cynthia the publican.  She informed us that the River Gorge hike is exactly what we suspected it might be – a hike/swim/hike and best left for a return summer visit.  Lunch arrived and I’m happy to say it would have satisfied Indiana Jones himself after a morning of exploring.

Our bellies may be full now but we weren’t done with our day of exploring Blackball just yet – we had one more area we wanted to explore – the old tunnels under the town. Yes I know – tunnels under the town.  Again – doing Indiana Jones proud we ventured down the obscure trail in the back of the footy field.  With our gummies on and armed with our flashlights two intrepid explorers headed into the undergrowth.

 

 

After a short scramble down through the bush and tree roots we found what we were looking for.  Hidden nicely in the bank with hanging mosses and twigs, it would have been easy to overlook if not for the little stream emanating out from the tunnel.  It was a crouch down affair to start with – an ominous looking tunnel entrance with a very watery bottom.  Shining the torch in though we could see it was worthy of a little explore, we were guessing this was the tunnel mentioned.

 

 

Well only after about 10 metres it opened up so we could stand and then it just kept going.  Stephen was ahead of me (with a better flashlight I might add!) and all I could hear was wow, oh wow, wow, oh wow.  Ok wait for me will you.  We probably walked for about 100 metres or so and the tunnel just kept going.  There were lots of side tunnels that had been blocked off – I guess for safety reasons ensuring no-one gets lost down here.

 

 

I may joke about being intrepid explorers but we’re not stupid (keep your comments to yourself please) so we didn’t want to venture too far since we hadn’t left our intentions with anyone to know to raise the alarm if we didn’t return by a reasonable time.  So out we headed again – back into the light of day.

What a day of discovery – so much wonderful West Coast history surrounded by some incredibly outstanding scenery.  I don’t think I’ve seen this much diverse beauty in one small area.  I probably say that all the time – we are just so blessed with all the things the West Coast has to offer.

We’re not done with Blackball yet though.  There are water race tracks still to explore – we need to get further into that river gorge and then of course there are those tunnels to explore deeper into too.

Thinking of coming to the West Coast – slow down and allow plenty of time.  There is so much to see and do.  Trust us we live here and we’re still discovering…….

 

 

 

 


West Coast Wilderness Trail - Old Christchurch Road to Cowboys Paradise

Posted by Jan Roberts on September 02, 2016

It sure is nice to be back out on the bike again.  Not much time for riding over our busy summer season so we’ve (yes I do mean I’ve) been trying to get motivated to get some more time in the saddle.

 

 

When Stephen suggested taking a drive so we could do an alternative to our normal version of the West Coast Wilderness Trail I was all for it.  Our latest jaunt was to park at the Old Christchurch Road at start of the Kawhaka Water Race and bike out to Cowboys Paradise in the Upper Arahura Valley – and back again of course.

 

 

The day wasn’t perfect but was better than forecast – rain was predicted.  It was overcast but not overly cold.  It had rained overnight so the trail was wet in places but we were blessed with patches of blue sky and occasional blasts of sunshine.  Certainly made all the creeks and rivers look super stunning.

To be honest though, when we arrived at the Old Chch Road the last thing I wanted to do was go biking.  I’d developed a pounding headache and to top it off an upset tummy – really, in the short space of a 1/2 hour car ride!  gggrrrrr.  Well we didn’t come all this way only to drive home again so I popped a couple of pills and off we headed.  It was possibly the most uncomfortable 1/2 hour or so of biking I’ve ever done but thankfully the Panadol kicked in eventually and I could start enjoying the ride for what it is – gorgeous West Coast scenery.

 

 

It is a stunning trail of contrasts, initially following the Kawhaka Water Race through to the weir where it meets the Kawhaka River.  Here the trail heads through an old logging tram line in the regenerating native Beech forest skirting the edge of the river up into the valley.  Yes I say up – it is a deceptive track in the respect that you think it is a flat meander but it is actually a gradual climb in this direction for the most part.

 

 

Eventually the trail meets with the Waitaiki reserve and we enter an ancient Podocarp Forest as it makes its descent down through the forest and over a fantastic swingbridge spanning a deep gorge. Down, down, down complete with “caution steep grade” signage – mmmmm going to have to bike back up this……

 

 

After crossing the swingbridge there is a  bit more riding through ancient forest – some of the greenest forest with the trees literally dripping with moss, simply magic.

 

 

We round the corner to come to Cowboys Paradise with a bit more forest riding to reach our final destination in the Upper Arahua Valley with an aptly placed bench seat to sit and admire the fabulous views down into the valley below.

 

 

A quick snack and time to turn around and do it all in reverse.  We anticipate the ride to be a bit quicker on the way out – since there is more of a meander down than the meander up coming in.  Of course we have to negotiate the winding switchbacks back up from the swingbridge first but that doesn’t end up being as difficult as I thought it would be in my mind.

 

 

Soon enough we are zipping our way back along the river’s edge through to the water race and back to the car.  The clouds have all rolled in again but they add some atmosphere to the water race – giving some wonderful late afternoon reflections.  Despite the start, all in all a great afternoon out on the bike and some miles in the legs – got to be good for me!

 

 


Nine Mile Valley's Hidden Coal History

Posted by Jan Roberts on August 30, 2016

 

There’s gold in them there hills – black gold!

 

 

Stephen had the pleasure of playing tour guide recently and taking a photographic artist into the hills behind Breakers to explore some of the fascinating coal mining history hidden away in the forest.

 

 

Chris Corson Scott is an artist based in Auckland and currently working on a project involving NZ history.  We met Chris and his partner Amanda on a recent walk up the 10 mile valley – turns out they found the 10 mile valley and its history thanks to our blog – now that puts a smile on my face.

 

 

There is much history in the Nine Mile Valley and loads of relics to photograph.  To top it off it would have to boast some of the most stunning West Coast native bush (yeah ok NZ native bush but we have the best here on the West….. no bias).

 

 

The sense of history oozes out from all the various relics and mine entrances – trying their best to tell their own story.

 

 

The Nine Mile valley is also a great example of nature reigning supreme with the bush slowly but surely reclaiming her space.

 

 

 

So love having the wonder of the Nine Mile Valley right at our doorstep – one minute we’re by the seaside with the pounding surf and the next we’re immersed in lush green forest and discovering some of the secrets of our heritage. That’s the West Coast for you.

Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation on the Great Coast Road north of Greymouth.  They enjoy getting out and about exploring the region and sharing their discoveries for others to enjoy.


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