Dr Smith described the track as follows: "The Pike29 Memorial Track will be a stunning addition to New Zealand's network of Great Walks. The scenery of the limestone gorges of the Pororari Valley combined with views of the Tasman Coast, the Pancake Rocks, and the Southern Alps from the Moonlight Range will make it a spectacular track. These natural features, combined with the mining heritage sites up Blackball Creek and the information centre on the Pike disaster, also make for an experience of history and remembrance."
The combined walking and cycling track will visit the existing Ces Clark Hut, and require the construction of two new huts near the Moonlight Track and on the Pororari River. It will include the majority of the Croesus Track, and all of the Pororari River Track. A branch of the track will visit the Pike Mine site itself. The track will cost $12 million to build, with Government boosting Department of Conservation budget by $10 million to (not quite) cover construction.
Following are my personal thoughts on this announcement.
The Paparoa Range has endured a long history of human exploitation. West Coast towns were built on gold, coal, and timber. The backcountry about Blackball reflects this -- the Croesus Track is an old gold trail that runs between two gold towns. The Moonlight Track is another gold trail accessing high mine sites. However, the land around Punakaiki tells a different story. At the Fox River mouth, you can cross the old road bridge to the flats where a gold town once stood. You can visit a sea cave where travellers up the rugged coast slept the night. There's the old ilmenite mine. There are the old farm flats of Bullock Creek, still not part of the national park. But ultimately, the story of Punakaiki is a story dominated by landscape: the karst canyons, sinkholes, disappearing rivers, caves, stylobedding (yes, the Pancake Rocks), sheer cliffs, and headlands that are iconic Paparoa.
It makes a lot of sense to locate a memorial trail in the landscape of prospecting huts and stamper batteries to the east. But the awesome beauty of the Pororari Valley is not reinforced by rebranding it as the "Pike29". And nor is the value of a memorial enhanced if visitors come for the scenery.
Spokesperson for the Pike River Families Group Committee, Bernie Monk, indicated the memorial track is supported by victims' families. However, not all families have fallen behind the proposal. Anna Osborne is wife of Grey District Councillor, Milton Osborne, who died in the mine. She states, "John Key promised us he would recover our bodies no matter what. When that was a no go he promised to enter the mine and see if their remains were in the drift. When that became too hard we were railroaded into the Great Walk." Osborne wants accountability, and she feels the track is disrespectful: "Nobody has gone into the mine to try to bring out our men. My husband is under that walkway and I think it's a sacred place. People should not be walking or cycling over it."
Dr Smith stated that the walk would "bring new tourism and economic development opportunities to the West Coast". Great Walks are managed as profit-making, high-capacity tourism products. They attract overseas visitors, here for a well-managed taste of the New Zealand wilderness. Great Walks also provide opportunities for families and new trampers to find a way to get started. However, what Great Walks do not offer are peace, solitude, or quiet reflection.
The solution here is not difficult. A memorial track is one thing and a Great Walk is a different thing. Build both if you like, but don't build a memorial track and discuss its positive economic implications. That is vulgar.
Those miners deserve a memorial. Perhaps a genuine commitment to workplace health and safety legislation might be a good place to start. Following that, an appropriate memorial track might be one that approaches the mine site, allowing people to pay their respects, a few moments of quiet contemplation.
Moments like those will be hard to find on New Zealand's tenth Great Walk.
- Great Walk to honour Pike River miners, Isaac Davison, nzherald.co.nz, 15 November 2015
- Pike River walkway confirmed for West Coast, Stuff, 15 November 2015
- Tourist track an insult to dead Pike River miners, says widow, Stuff, 15 November 2015
- Watered down health and safety proposals will cost lives, say Pike River family members, Nicholas Jones, nzherald.co.nz, 29 July 2015