4 reasons why you need to visit Blackball
Gold is hidden in the black sands and gravel creeks of Greymouth and pounamu in the waters of the Arahura River, but the most valuable jewels in this part of the world are the characters who call it home. Travelers need to venture no further to find quirks and curiosity than Blackball, 30 kilometres inland from Greymouth.
Words: Cheree Morrison Photos: Jane Ussher
BLACKBALL SALAMI COMPANY
Popped into a Pak’n’Save, Farro Fresh or New World lately? Purchased some delicious handmade sausages, or carefully cured salami? Then there’s a good chance you’ve already had a taste of Blackball Salami. Since 1992, award-winning meats have been flying off the shelves in a small store in Blackball, and out of the chillers of supermarkets nationwide. Phil and Debbie Russ purchased the Blackball Salami Company seven years back from previous owner Pat Kennedy. After 18 years as a butcher at the Greymouth New World, Phil knew what made a sausage great and could see that Blackball had the recipe for success. Some tips? Low in fat and dried slowly – that’s a good salami. Low in water too – pigs may sometimes fly but bacon should never swim, so watch out for bacon that’s been pumped full of water.
Phil’s current favourite may be the classic pepperoni and Italian salami, but it’s hard to walk past the gourmet sausages without imagining them sizzling away on a BBQ. Lamb and roasted onion or spicy pork? After something a little bolder? The black pudding took a gold medal at the 2014 Great NZ Sausage Competition, and the chorizo scooped a bronze in 2009.
11 Hilton Street, Blackball, (03) 732 4111, blackballsalami.co.nz
FORMERLY THE BLACKBALL HILTON
There is a lot more going for this classic country pub than just the name. But what a great name it is. Thanks to the threat of a lawsuit from global brand Hilton Hotels, the Blackball Hilton had to make a slight branding adjustment back in 1992. And so Formerly The Blackball Hilton was (re)born and is still going strong today. Like many small settlements, the pub is the heart and soul of the village; it’s where the best characters can be found, the best ghost stories are told and the best hearty meals can be enjoyed over a pint or two. There are also dress-up boxes, quirky toilets and history books to be explored – and, helpfully, there are rooms available should a visit turn into a stay.
26 Hart Street, 0800 BLACKBALL, blackballhilton.co.nz
Colin Luff was a builder until he smashed up his foot. Then he thought he’d better find something else to do. The tools didn’t go to waste when Colin went from building to creating. He now spends his time in his Blackball workshop shaping wood – normally kauri and rimu but he’s happy with anything he can get his hands on – into clocks, boxes, mirrors and all manner of wooden objects. He sells everything in the small store connected to his workshop; if he’s not there, just check next door, he’s never far. Colin’s the new boy in town, he’s only been here 15 years so he’s still earning his stripes as a true blue local, but his love of brewing and fermenting must be winning them over – look out for his blackberry wine. Stop in to enjoy Colin’s creativity and stay for a yarn.
29 Hilton Street, Blackball, (03) 732 4048
MAHI TUPUNA, MUSEUM OF WORKING CLASS HISTORY
Despite being a small town of about 300, Blackball’s history is as deep and rich as the coal mines in the surrounding hills. This is the birthplace of unionism in New Zealand, the home of the Labour Party, the town that took on the mining companies – and won. Fifteen minutes for lunch during a 10-hour shift? Not likely. When Pat Hickey decided that he wasn’t quite finished with his pie when the lunch whistle blew, it sparked the 1908 Blackball Strike, which lasted three months and forced one of the great industries of the time to agree to better working conditions. The local community’s dedication to keeping their mining history alive is heartwarming. Mahi Tupuna, or the Blackball Museum, is run by volunteers and funded by trade unions, with support from grants. It’s a charming place, made up mainly of informative panels, some as dark as coal, others that will bring an unexpected smile. It is outdoors, so keep coats on during winter, but the changing exhibits are tucked away inside onsite containers.
The Blackball Memorial Wheel stands behind the main museum. It has 29 panels, 29 tiles, for the 29 men lost in the 2010 Pike River disaster. Blackball will also be the starting point for the Pike29 Memorial Track, a walking route from Blackball to Punakaiki with a track to the now-closed mine site. Chosen by the families of those lost at Pike River as a public memorial, the track is due to open in 2018 and will span 45 kilometres of limestone landscape and native bush.
This is an extract from the 2017 edition of the Insider’s Guide to New Zealand. For more on interesting and unusual things to do around the country, pick up a copy of the Insider’s Guide to New Zealand 2018, on sale now or available online here.