This afternoon, Stephen, Jan and Paul – all members of the Runanga Area Association headed out to explore a wonderful part of West Coast and NZ coal mining history. We were in seach of the Point Elizabeth coal mine – arguably the first state built coal mine in NZ – right here on the West Coast. Stephen and Jan had been out the week before with Ron Butler also from the RAA and a longtime Runanga veteran and we wanted to share the experience with Paul. Unfortunately Ron couldn’t make it today so we had to rely on our memories of last weekend to find the coal mine.
Into the bush in the back of Dunollie and first up we headed to the concrete foundations and remains of the old boiler house – basically the end of the rope road from the mine. There is a basic “bush bashing” trail right around the remains – an easy loop track that with a little bit of hard labour would be easily more accessible. The remains are covered in moss with trees and shrubs growing up out of them – nature is an amazing thing how it can establish itself in the most adverse conditions – my garden just doesn’t seem to work the same!
Together we then take the short drive up Herd Street to find the old rope road hidden in the bush and this leads us right to the entrance of the original Point Elizabeth Mine (1902). Full on nostalgia knowing the history of this area and the magnitude of what we are seeing – the entrance to possibly the first ever State built coal mine in NZ. We have our torches and walk in just a short way – very eerie and we’re not keen to go in too far! We then follow the rope road back towards the office area of the new Springcreek Mine – today’s State mine. The trail meanders through the bush and there are relics hidden in the foiliage – old rail wagons, wheels, axels, actual rope from the rope road. Eventually we come to a gully where a viaduct would have taken the coal wagons across to the other side. There is a track now that leads you down into the gully and back up to the other side. Ideally it would be great to have a swingbridge across here as the gully is very deep and the make shift track steep in places. We find the rope road again and more relics in the bush until we come to a clearing and a stone drive. Fantastic! You can walk through the stone drive without having to hunch over and it is about 30 metres in length. In places you can see stalactites in the cave roof – remembering not to touch just look – totally fascinating.
Out the other side of the “tunnel” and the track meanders down and around and we eventually end up back at our vehicle. Wow! Here is such an important part of West Coast history – of NZ history. All just sitting in the bush, waiting to be discovered and shared. As a community project we hope to make the trails to this mine and stone drive more user friendly and accessible to a wider audience. This is a fantastic piece of NZ history and really needs to be preserved for future generations.
For further information on West Coast History check out Breakers Activity page on their website.