Building of memorial, pavilion to take a year

A memorial area at the Pike River Mine on the West Coast is expected to be built in about a year, the Department of Conservation (Doc) says.

However, funding is yet to be confirmed for a planned visitor centre as part of the four-stage project marking the Pike River Mine disaster.

The Pike 29 Memorial Track formally opened on February 16, in conjunction with the Pike River families group, Te Rūnunga o Ngāti Waewae and Doc.

Doc western South Island operations director Mark Davies briefed the West Coast Conservation Board on February 21.

Mr Davies said a pavilion and memorial at the mine portal, the third stage, was funded and expected to be completed in about 12 months.

This included 1km of sealed pedestrian access along the existing road edge to the portal.

The track was the second stage of four, part of plans agreed with representatives of the victims’ families and the government in 2015.

It aimed to provide a permanent memorial to the 29 men who died, as well as providing local economic benefit to the community.

The fourth stage, to turn part of the former mine administration area into a visitor centre, was in planning with funding yet to be confirmed, Mr Davies said.

"The families understand that, the ministers understand that. We will support the families through the process."

He did not specify the original budget, but said timing and inflation had impacted the concept.

The Paparoa Track opened in late 2019, representing the first new "Great Walk" built in decades.

The Pike 29 Memorial Track is an 11km side route off the Paparoa Track, providing a loop for walkers and mountainbikers. It begins and ends near Blackball which has reinvented itself as as a base for the track.

Mr Davies said the original agreement was for the Pike 29 track to be where "the story is told" of the 2011 tragedy.

The track has a view of the mine shaft, but at this stage the portal area remains off-limits.

Mr Davies said the recent opening marked the formal return of some of the Pike River Valley to public access for the first time since 2006.

The valley had been added to the Paparoa National Park in 2016, but Doc had to pause opening it due to the 2017 decision to re-enter the drift of the Pike mine.

The department resumed its work after June 2022, including a significant upgrade of the access road and its bridges, Mr Davies said.

Mr Davies said keeping public vehicles out of the area was respectful to those who died — although the department would continue to use the road for gas monitoring purposes

"The road is quite steep and we don’t want the public to take vehicles up to the portal."

Mr Davies said it was an "absolute privilege to be leading" the second aspect of the project.

He paid tribute to the board for helping facilitate a quick review of the Paparoa National Park management plan in conjunction with Ngati Waewae in 2017.

This enabled the concept including the Great Walk and memorial track.

The process at the time had become "an exemplar" around what could be done to adapt national park plans including "breathing life" into Te Tiriti partnerships, he said.

 - LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

By Brendon McMahon