Families of dead miners gather to remember 2010 disaster at Pike River.

Just after 3.44pm yesterday a lone piper played a lament to mark the moment an explosion ripped through the Pike River Mine, claiming 29 lives, two years before.

About 150 family members, some from overseas, attended a private gathering at the Pike River memorial garden in Atarau on the West Coast, where 29 boulders have been laid to remember the miners who died in the disaster.

Bernie Monk, a spokesman for most of the 29 families, said it was an emotional time. "People from away have not had the support of the other families and community. We have been lucky to have that support."

The Pike River disaster - a series of three explosions between November 19 and 26, 2010 - was New Zealand's worst mining disaster since 43 men died at Ralph's Mine in Huntly in 1914.

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Prime Minister John Key, who is overseas, said his thoughts were with the West Coast people. "New Zealand has immense sympathy for their continuing grief."

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the tragedy was still raw in everyone's minds.

"The West Coast community is very tight-knit, with a lot of community spirit.

"We're moving on but we're doing it in a sensitive way so we don't forget the 29 men still lying up in that mountain."

The families' ceremony was followed by a public memorial at the Blackball Workers' Museum hosted by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, which represents miners. APNZ