History Abound on the West Coast – Part One

At the end of September,  I had my Mum visiting from Invercargill and we decided to do a little history drive to check out some of the amazing coal and gold mining history to be found on the West Coast.

Suspension bridge at historic Brunner coal mine site

Some of the history at Brunner Coal Mine site

Day one we headed to the Brunner Mine Site – an historic coal mining area just out of Greymouth – accessed from either side of the Grey River, north of Taylorville or north of Dobson heading out on SH7.

The carpark at the Taylorville (south side) is beside the statue and Memorial for Sir Thomas Brunner, one of the Grey District’s early explorers and founders of coal in this area.  On the north side of the river the carpark is beside the historic brick chimney stack on SH7.

We started on the Taylorville side and the walk begins with photos and a brief introduction to coal mining in this area in the 1800s.  From the initial start, beside the interpretation panels, you have good views across the river, of the restored historic suspension bridge and the brick chimneystack.  The walk then meanders into the forest with interpretation panels along the way.  There are old mining relics with explanations for their uses and photographs of how things looked in their heyday.  There are also entrances to a couple of the vents from the underground mines with voiceovers telling you about the ciaos of the mining disaster of 1896 – NZ’s worst industrial accident.

In it’s day Brunner Mine had the greatest coal production in New Zealand and at its peak employed over 300 men and boys.  With the explosion all 65 men and boys working underground that day perished.

We followed the trail a bit further and it soon gave us an option of a 30 minute return bush walk or continuing around the relics.  We chose to leave out the bush walk on this occasion and carried on exploring the relics that featured interesting remains of the brick works and coke ovens.  Besides the large output of coal – coke and bricks were produced in large volumes. Brunner firebricks, in particular, were famous products in their own right and established much of the reputation of this area.  The beehive coke ovens are of international significance in that few examples of them remain today.  It was really fascinating and gave us a sense of pride to think that this is what little old West Coast could do.

We then crossed the suspension bridge, built in 1876 and more recently beautifully restored to its original state, and wound our way up the track that leads to the brick chimneystack on the Dobson side of the river.  From here you look back across at the Taylorville side and there are more interpretation panels with great photographs showing the area in all its working glory.  Amazing to think, looking at it now, how much of a bustling little community it was.

historic suspension bridge brunner mine site

historic suspension bridge brunner mine site

Back across the suspension bridge again and we are inside a covered display area dedicated to remembering the lives lost in the tragic events of 1896.  This display area has photographs of some of the families who lived here at the time and then explains how the families were devastated by the tragedy.  In many photos all men and boys of the family were lost, leaving them without husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.  It tries to explain the events of the tragedy unfolding, the rescue operations for the recovery of the bodies, the funerals, and the aftermath for the surviving family members.  Mum and I found it to be a very humbling experience and a reminder of how fortunate or even spoilt we are as New Zealanders today with our welfare systems, ACC and all other benefits and support systems available.

The trail then meandered up a slight incline through the bush with another couple of interpretation panels before bringing us back to the beginning at the carpark and the end of our history tour for the day.

Jan runs Breakers Bed & Breakfast with her partner Stephen and they are often out exploring the gold and coal mining history of the West Coast.  For further details on West Coast history click here


About coastingnz

Jan and Stephen live on the Punakaiki coastline, north of Greymouth on the West Coast, NZ and run Breakers Boutique Accommodation. They both enjoy the outdoors and are passionate about things to see and do on the West Coast and would like to share their experiences with you.
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