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5 Heritage Attractions
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A well-preserved and highly evocative taste of a heritage West Coast industrial site. When coal ruled, this was New Zealand’s most important centre of industry. DoC have done a fantastic job illustrating the remains to cast the imagination back to the time when coal smoke hang heavy on the air.
11 km north of Greymouth along SH7 is the Tyneside Carpark by the high Tyneside Chimney. Alternatively, the Taylorville carpark is on the opposite (north) side of the river, 8 km along Taylorville Road from the junction with SH6.. Both sides are linked with the Brunner Suspension Bridge.
The track network is well-formed and at the both entrances is a map showing the layout. Explore the Wheel House and engine, brickworks and kiln remains, beehive coke ovens, suspension bridge and Tyneside Chimney. Well-illustrated and clearly presented interpretation panels with old photos, maps and drawings bring to life the bustle that once echoed around the hills.
The entire site has numerous industrial relics, all connected by the coal source mined from the 1870s.
Thomas Brunner was an early New Zealand explorer and surveyor. He travelled over with the New Zealand Company and was among the first Europeans to undertake serious research into the material resources of the country. Enduring unimaginable hardship and fostering strong bonds with a Maori guide named Kehu, they spent 550 days travelling the Buller and West Coast. He later became Government Surveyor.
From 1864 to 1876, coal was mined in the Brunner area and shipped on barges down river to the port at Greymouth. An Australian consortium trading under the Nelson Coal Mining Company imported fire bricks from Melbourne and built coke ovens. Each portal was filled with around 4 tonnes of coal then lit. In the absence of oxygen (only a little air was permitted to enter), the coal transformed to coke, with the waste gases exiting through rear flues. As with most Aussie goods, the quality just wasn’t there, and once in situ fire bricks were installed the coke was of much better quality.
Later, 25 beehive coke ovens proved much more efficient and form the most intact remnant of the coke making process.
On 26th March 1876 New Zealand’s deadliest industrial accident occurred in the Brunner Mine. A toxic combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen - the dreaded black damp - escaped into the tunnels, killing the manager and mining engineer who had entered the tunnel to recky the situation. Smoke had been seen rising from the pit head and a loud explosion like artillery fire resonated through the Grey Valley walls.
However, the main cause of death for the 65 men - about half the underground workforce - was due to a detonation charge being lit in an area where miners shouldn’t have been working. That was the official story anyway. Other miners said the ventilation system was ineffectual and didn’t adequately clear the methane. Rescuers found rails and trucks twisted from the explosive force and some bodies so badly charred only their clothing gave away their identities. The funeral procession stretched 800 metres, involving 6,000 mourners. 33 miners were buried in a single grave. A memorial today remembers the dead.
The return airway foundation site once housed a massive fan to extract combustible and toxic gases from deep in the mine. As the depth of the mine increased, more substantial power was required to forcibly remove the gases. A 2.9 m Sciele extractor fan was installed in 1888 - sucking upto 18,000 cubic feet per minute of air from the underground tunnels.
The brick works was the warmest place to be on a chilly Greymouth winter morning. Enduring air thick with clay dust, the 12 workers would scoop the perfectly consistent clay into moulds before placing in the ovens. A tramway connected the St. Kilda mine to the back of the pug mill.
During the 1870s, the Government initiated public works schemes promoted the construction of a railway from Brunnerton to Greymouth. A bridge was required to span the Grey River and connect the railway. Despite collapsing in 1876, while still under construction, the remains were salvaged and reinstated for opening in 1877. A stroll over the bridge in the 1880s was a dangerous affair, so a separate walkway kept foot traffic separated from the road and rail below. With peak coal production in 1892 of over 180,000 tonnes, the bridge carried around 100 wagons per day of coal.
Mining ceased in 1921 and the site and bridge lay in disrepair. The bridge has been under the gallows six times since then, but at each moment local and national campaigns have raised the funds needed (the 2003 restoration cost $680,000) to ensure both sides of the Grey River are explorable for visitors to get a taste of the times when coal got a good rap.
South Island ▷ West Coast ▷ Greymouth
Well worth stopping if passing this way. The site has had a lot of work done recently to help remember the local industry and those who died in the disaster. Very well maintained walk with lots of the original buildings and machinery.
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Very interesting. Lots of really detailed information about the mine, its origins, the engineers who built it and people who worked there. The detail about the disaster and the follow up on family law suits was very detailed.
Pernille and Flemming
Well signposted and good information boards. Records coal mining on the site from earliest digging to end of commercial mining. Exceptionally good record of Brunner Mine tragedy - sixty-five killed.
Self guided tour with information about the coal mining in the 1800s and detailed information about the mining disaster when 65 people died. Walk over restored bridge to information area.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍