Pike Memorial Track opens: 'We haven’t forgotten the Pike 29'

8:03 pm on 17 February 2024
Members of the Pike River families gather at the entrance of the newly opened Pike 29 Memorial Track.

Members of the Pike River families. Photo: Brendon McMahon

A track in honour of the 29 victims of the Pike River mining disaster has opened after years of challenges to create an enduring memorial.

The Pike 29 Memorial Track was formally dedicated on Friday in a private ceremony attended by the families of the victims, government officials and former minister for Pike River Nick Smith, who was instrumental in the development.

The 11.6km dual mountain bike/walk track, within the Paparoa National Park, represents a partnership between DOC, Te Rununga o Ngāti Waewae and the families of the 29 men.

It is both a memorial to those who lost their lives in November 2010, and a way to create economic stimulus for the communities affected by the tragedy.

The Greymouth mayor at the time of the disaster, Tony Kokshoorn, said 13 years had passed quickly but what happened - including the senselessness of it - remained fresh.

"On many minds, it's still why?" Kokshoorn said.

The government in the 1990s gave the owners of coal mines too much self-determination in their own health and safety methods, Kokshoorn said.

"We can't change that, but what we can do is to put some permanent reminders to the public of what can happen; and this track opening today symbolises we haven't forgotten the Pike 29."

The entrance to the new track with its iron hoop portal mirrors the shape of a traditional mine tunnel.

Photo: Brendon McMahon

Bernie Monk, the father of Michael Monk who died in the disaster, said the families wanted to create something good out of adversity.

The Pike 29 Memorial Walk would be further enhanced by a visitor museum at the former mine administration building.

"It's a monumental day," Monk said.

The injustice of the disaster stuck with him, but the completed memorial track would hopefully bring economic benefit to the community, he said.

Smith said it seemed "like yesterday" when the Pike families raised the idea and to see it completed was "incredibly positive".

"The great irony for me in the debate about the track was that treasury disputed our figures that we would get 30 percent usage."

Smith said it gave him great satisfaction the latest DOC figures for the Paparoa Track was over 90 percent use - delivering on the vision originally presented by the families.

Families spokesperson and a member of the Pike Memorial project, Colin Smith, said the memorial track was key to the original Paparoa Track vision.

"This track will ensure the memory of those family members will live on through the eyes and minds of those who walk and bike the track."

Smith said the valley abounded with natural outstanding beauty with stands of red beech like none seen "anywhere else on the West Coast".

This contrasted with the tragedy in the same place.


"There would be no valley in New Zealand that would hold such stark contrasts between the Pike River disaster and the serenity of the valley.

"The families have achieved their aim that the Pike River tragedy and the loss of family members is never forgotten."

Department of Conservation Western South Island operations director Mark Davies said the new track is of national significance.

Former Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, Former Conservation and Pike Mine minister Nick Smith, and Bernie Monk.

Photo: Brendon McMahon

He praised the generosity of the Pike families who imbued a special quality to the project.

"There's something magic about it," he said.

The new track, with its 800m ascent to the Paparoa Range ridgeline, would be appreciated by adventure cycling enthusiasts, he said.

"This is going to be the premier downhill mountain bike ride in New Zealand."

Davies said it also marked the return of public access to part of the Pike River valley area closed to the public in 2006 under an agreement to develop the now abandoned Pike mine.

The mine portal area remains off limits to the public.

The road developed for the Pike Mine remaining in-situ was now a key part of the new track development as it provided direct access.

"Being able to welcome the public in via national park and enjoy what is honestly one of the most scenic valleys in the park - with a road through the middle of it we wouldn't normally have is significant," Davies said.

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

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