Kia Ora: Blackball

Librarians and goats are among the lively locals in this tiny town, says Elisabeth Easther.
The Blackball Hilton Hotel has a scandalous history. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Blackball Hilton Hotel has a scandalous history. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Origin of the name: Formerly known as Joliffetown and Moonlight Gully, it was subsequently named for the Blackball Shipping Line, which leased land in the area to mine coal.

Population: About 330.

Best website: blackballhilton.co.nz

Claim to fame: Following the Miners' Strike of 1908, Blackball became known as the home of the NZ Labour Movement.

Secret handshakes: Blackball has been home to the United Ancient Order of Druids (formed in 1906), the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (est. 1941) and a Lodge of the Oddfellows Order: all crucial parts of town life, if a little eccentric,

Baa brawlers: A mob of 16 goats have recently terrorised the town, munching through flower beds. If they don't stop, word is they'll be turned into goat sausages.

Town slogan: Blackball is the centre of the universe - the part where nothing moves.

Famous locals: Paul Maunder (playwright and film director), Nathan McEwan (boxer), Samuel Frickleton (VC), Ces and Ken Mountford and Charlie McBride (rugby league reps)

Town scandal: In the 1970s, the hotel changed its name from The Dominion to the Blackball Hilton then, in 1992, the Hilton Hotel chain got wind of this and fingers were wagged, and lawyers' letters exchanged. It never went to court, but eventually the Blackball Hilton agreed to change its name and the Hilton Hotel chain paid what is now called Formerly The Blackball Hilton an undisclosed sum of money, which was used to build a gargantuan septic tank.

Bump in the night: The Blackball Community Centre is thought to be the South Island's most haunted building. Boo!

Big business: The Blackball Salami Company is an amazing success story, employing quite a few locals in the manufacture of artisan meat products.

The future: The Pike 29 Memorial Great Walk has been given the go-ahead and, once completed will be a 45km trail from Punakaiki to Blackball in memory of the 29 who lost their lives in the Pike River tragedy.

Source of pride: Locals are fiercely proud of the town's history.

Town fiestas: The Easter Fair is the annual fundraiser for the community centre, then there's the Summer Fair, which is just an excuse for a party. The Winter Coalstice includes the annual pub crawl, where participants have to literally crawl between the three main locations - plus there's coal shovelling. For the motorbikes, there's the annual Blackball Blast poker run - held just last Saturday - and in November there's the Tribute 29 Ride.

Sounds historical: Take the self-guided history walk through town using the pamphlet produced by the Historical Society.

Kids love: Panning for gold, so take them to the Blackball mining sites. Moonlight is one of the free fossicking areas, where you can pan without a licence.

Best park: The playground at the school has all the usual fun stuff, or head to the local skate park where there's also plenty of grass to run around on.

The Tribute 29 Ride pays tribute to Pike River victims. Photo / Amanda Paton
The Tribute 29 Ride pays tribute to Pike River victims. Photo / Amanda Paton


Best walks: The Croesus Track from Blackball to Barrytown is a stunning 19km hike and offers the option of spending a night in the hut. Or trot up to Kings Top, passing through the old mine sites (30 minutes).

Best views: Either from Mt Ryall up the Croesus Track for expansive views of the alps or from Kings Top track to look down on Blackball.

Best swim: The Blackball Swimming Pool, dug in the 1920s, by the miners while they were on strike, is still operational, but only in summer.

Best museum: The Working Class History Museum is a fascinating portrayal of how hard work formed the backbone of Blackball, and tells the political and cultural stories of the town (and country). For getting to grips with local history, interpretation panels are dotted around town.

Nice arts: This tiny town has art in its heart; at Kereru Arts you can buy paintings, jewellery and woodcrafts, go to Blackball Bling for beautiful jewellery, or admire the original art on the swimming pool fence.

Top shops: The Blackball Salami Shop is an essential stop for all carnivores, and the Blackball General Store has all the basics plus fabulous ice creams.

Cream of the coffee: Formerly The Blackball Hilton (FTBH) is the place to go.

Best food: FTBH has the most amazing meals like Bambi in a Bag, a stunning rack of lamb and rib eye. There's a range of vegetarian food too.

Sweet as: The puddings at FTBH are epic. Kites over Blackball, with local honey and hazelnuts, is like an adult take on an eskimo pie, or check out the homemade sticky date pudding.

Wet your whistle: Aside from FTBH, The Blackball Workingmen's Club is open Thursdays to Sundays and, to turn it up a notch or two, the local librarians drink there on Thursday nights from 6.30 (but, be warned they can get a bit rowdy).

FYI: The library is in the Working Men's Club.

Where to stay: Formerly The Blackball Hilton is one of few original pubs of its kind. Recently redecorated, the rooms are all different colours and it's like taking a step back in time. Or camp at the Blackball Community Centre where they have coin-operated facilities.

Best mountain biking: Try Heli-biking on the Croesus Track - chopper up, fly down.

Best adventures: Fishing, hunting and four-wheel-driving are popular pursuits.

Best kept secret: Fords Creek Canyon is one of the best examples of a mudstone canyon in New Zealand.

Wildlife: Aside from goats that eat flowers, there's a kiwi creche at Paparoa. The wildlife trust takes eggs to Christchurch to hatch them, the chicks are then raised in the creche and, when they're big enough to fight a stoat they're released in the Paparoa Range. Plus there are plenty of bellbirds, tui and kereru.

Locals say: Better a Blackball than a Jafa.

Thanks to Cynthia.

Checklist

WHERE IS IT

On the West Coast of the South Island, 23km from Greymouth.

- NZ Herald

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