Pike River memorial to Lake Brunner: 'We ride for 29 men' - Tackling the West Coast of Te Waipounamu - CycleBlaze

March 16, 2022

Pike River memorial to Lake Brunner: 'We ride for 29 men'

It is a sobering start to today's ride to wander around the small roadside Pike River mine memorial.

On November 19, 2010, news of a gas explosion in the mine rocked New Zealand. The entrance was sealed by the blast and the bodies of the 29 trapped miners have never been retrieved.  This memorial site is a repository of headstones, treasures and family tributes, one for each of the 29.

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 To reach this spot, some distance from last night's stopover in St Arnaud, we have spent the morning on a bus. The initial tour itinerary had us riding part of the Buller Gorge but traffic management concerns saw this tweak in the programme.

From the memorial site, it is a gentle ride along another quiet country road. As ever, though, Team Richards falls by the wayside as the peleton  sets off. This time, a cleat and its screws have come apart. By the time we get underway, we have clear road ahead - just the way I like it  -and we remain in a bunch of two for the rest of the ride.

Today's ride is to Lake Brunner, 50km away, and it turns out to be a very pleasant one. I must be finding my bike legs. If asked, just a month ago, to do a 50km ride including some 500 metres of climbing, I'd have quickly  come up with some implausible excuse not to.

After  15km, we turn right then uphill to the small settlement of Blackball...and another history lesson. The only pub in town is world famous, at least on the West Coast, and a popular stopover for Paparoa track hikers/cyclists as well as the local watering hole. 

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Its official name is Formerly the Blackball Hilton. When the owners renamed the pub, tongue in cheek, the Blackball Hilton in the 1990s,the more famous hotel chain of that name obviously felt threatened  -hence the addition of Formerly. FTBH is also a bit of a shrine to the birth of the labour movement  here on the West Coast, displaying lots of memorabilia from the 1930s onwards on its walls.

I'm sorry, this is a terrible photo, but it's very dear to The Prof's heart (I've decided this is his new title after losing Tour Leader) - New Zealand's very first Labour Government cabinet, with Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage front, 3rd from left. To his left is Finance Minister Walter Nash, who I met as a very old man (him, not me).
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(Another lesson for today: It's so easy to while away time in congenial company in pubs and cafés while on bike tours.)

With sufficient time whiled away, we move on. The road meanders alongside the Grey River briefly before we turn inland and up the Arnold Valley towards our destination. We see more traffic on this stretch but Bruce's new rear radar (thanks, boys!) provides good warning . Various pink-shirted whippets also pass us, having ridden an extra chunk at the start of the day. We've also been joined by old acquaintance Head Wind as well as a large family of Undulations for the final 20km. After a final climb, it's a short, sharp downhill to Lake Brunner, a lodge, a verandah, a cider... and surprise whitebait fritters. Perfect.

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Today's ride: 52 km (32 miles)
Total: 170 km (106 miles)

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