Heritage Sites on the West Coast of New Zealand
Coal and gold were among some of the first precious commodities found in the West Coast of the South Island. What was otherwise a fairly unattractive place for early settlers to settle dues to the wild weather and risky terrain, became booming with people wanting to make their fortunes in the coal mines and goldfields. They endured unimaginable hardships in dangerous areas. Discover their stories and see what was left behind in the historic places on the West Coast. There are fascinating places that are sure to get the imagination running.
While you’re here you might also be interested in 10 West Coast Must-Dos.
1. Charming Creek & Chasm Creek Walkways
See surviving sections of railways among dramatic river gorge scenery on the Chasm Creek and Charming Creek Walkways. The Chasm Creek Walkway (30-minute return) features a bridge and tunnel where glowworms can be seen at night. The Charming Creek Walkway (3-hours return) has numerous abandoned coal mine and sawmill sites along with abandoned machines and coal wagons.
Location: On the road between Seddonville and Waimangagaroa.
A haunting and isolated place that used to be brimming with mining activity, Denniston is a fascinating place to explore. It’s home to the Denniston Incline which was a major feat of engineering back in the day. Denniston has a small museum, Friends of the Hill, which is open in summer. Otherwise, see what remains of the mining era on the Denniston Bridle Track (5-6 hours return) which gives access to the Incline or on the Brakehead Walk (40-minute loop).
Reefton is rich in fascinating history, from being the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric street lighting to being surrounded by disused gold mines. The Reefton Visitor Centre has a working mine engine, while the BeardedMiners’ Co. allows you to try gold panning for yourself. Check out historic sites in the area like the Blacks Point Battery and the Blacks Point Museum. See what to do in the town in 15 Awesome Things to Do in Reefton.
Check out the information board along the main road of the tiny settlement of Runanga. It tells of the historic and current mines that employed the town’s workforce. A photo opportunity lies at the flamboyant Miners’ Hall, which looks the same today as it does in the old photo below!
5. Brunner Mine
This is the scene of New Zealand’s worst industrial disaster. In 1896, an explosion killed 67 men who were working in the mine. The Brunner Mine was mined from 1864 and also produced coke and brick. Learn about the history of the mine at the Brunner Mine memorial and on a short walk accessible from the restored suspension bridge crossing the Grey River.
Location: 11km east of Greymouth along State Highway 7
This recreated pioneering and mining village is a must-visit for history buffs. The 19th Century village attraction has a steam train ride, a 3D holographic theatre and around 30 buildings to explore. The open-air museum has many hands-on displays including panning for gold, watching sluicing and experiencing a working sawmill. Book your Shantytown ticket here.
Location: Rutherglen Road, Paroa
7. Ross Goldfields
Ross was once one of the most mechanised goldfields on the West Coast thanks to the discovery of120m of alluvial gold under the town. Discover its history at the Ross Goldfields Information & Heritage Centre with gold panning area, models of mining machinery and full-scale replicas. You can also do the Ross Goldfields Walkway (45 minutes one way) following a water race past old gold workings.
Westport is the West Coast’s oldest town and was once the main shipping point for coal to international markets. The history can be seen in the colonial buildings, as well as told in the fantastic Coaltown Museum. Learn more about the museum and other in the region in our 10 Interesting Museums on the West Coast.
Greymouth was established as a port for the first Gold Rush. Visit the Coal River Park to see coal drill sculptures and restored coal wagons. The Pop-Up History House Museum contains lots of relics from the mining past, as well as a 3D map pointing out all of the coal mines in the area. You can also take the Heritage Town Walk taking you around the historic buildings. See what to do in the town in 5 Greymouth Must-Dos.
This town was once the busiest port in New Zealand in 1867 with people wanting to make their fortune on the Westland goldfields. Learn their stories in the Hokitika Museum and see the machinery used during the time at the Westland Industrial Heritage Park. Walks in the area also feature mining relics, such as the Lake Kaniere Walkway (2-3 hours return) following a water race or the Mahinapua Walk (3-hour return) on an old bush tram route. Find out more about these walks in 23 Unforgettable Walks in Hokitika.