Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
When we set out on this journey, I consciously hoped for authentic experiences that would take our family to offbeat, out-of-the-way places. I wanted us to meet locals, learn about their history and culture, and improve our ability to cope with unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable situations.
A recent 24-hour period gave us that kind of experience in a remote corner of the South Island’s West Coast region — in part because I was gullible enough to fall for a joke.
Many months ago, when I was mostly ignorant about New Zealand and starting to plan our itinerary here, Morgan and I heard of a mountainous trail race that finished at The Blackball Hilton and decided to sign up. The Hilton was part of the draw. What a treat it would be, I thought, to stay at an upscale, familiar hotel chain after so many budget motels and campgrounds — and convenient, too, since it would be right at the finish line. I can still recall the mental picture I had of a typically plush Hilton lounge and lobby.
Only after we registered for the January 16 race did I google Blackball and discover the “Hilton” is a creaky Victorian inn and pub built in 1909, located way off the main road in a dying mining town with only one general store and a couple hundred residents.
“I would never stay here again,” shouted out one TripAdvisor.com reivew. “The rooms had layers of dust and dirty carpets.” Another detailed, “There are many quirky things about this hotel — the dolls staring at you as you turn round a corner upstairs. The poetry in the toilets and washrooms. The gallery in the middle of the upstairs with the drawings and paintings of ladies of the night. The monkeys looking in at you as you sit on the loo.”
In 1992, the Hilton Corp.’s lawyers demanded that the hotel drop the trademarked Hilton name, and the rebellious innkeepers responded by changing the official name to “Formerly The Blackball Hilton,” which it has been ever since.
Hmmm, I pondered, more curious than appalled — maybe it was meant to be that we stayed there. Perhaps part of the adventure of running the remote race would be staying in a historic hole in the wall. I contacted the owners, Chris and Viv, about our babysitting quandary (initially I erroneously assumed “the Hilton” would have a kids’ club or childcare to supervise Colly and Kyle while we ran the race), and they told me no worries, they’d keep an eye on the kids and let them have the run of the pub. I took a deep breath and had faith it’d all work out. (more…)