Westport and Denniston

Arriving at the NZMCA camp at Westport. It was nice to be so close to the beach, even if it was now a little cold to be dipping our toes in the water. The smell of the sea does wonders as a pick me up, and the rugged scenery of the coast is so apparent from this point.

It was actually our intention to be here in February when we visited Golden Bay and Takaka. Still, with the first cyclone that came through the country about then. The West Coast was struck with damage to the coastline road, closures and worst of all the camp in Westport closed. Due to the large amount of debris washed up against the fence and over the access road.

The debris is still there in some places it’s metres deep up against the trees that also appear to have been killed off by the storm surge that would have swamped them. It is good to see though that the recycling process has started with people arriving with chainsaws and cutting logs to cart away for firewood although I would imagine it would need quite a bit of drying out.

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As we wandered around the town, coming across an area of housing close to the campsite that had been severely affected during the same storm. Extensive flooding that was waist-deep in some houses. It was sad to see that almost 3 months later the houses were sitting here empty with all carpet lifted and the gib board cut from the walls above the flood level. In some of the streets, multiple homes are waiting to be repaired with no real sign of work starting. All rather sad.

Like almost every other town we have visited if the suns out then so are our bikes. The other day I was thinking about the places we have missed out on seeing because we cannot access them with the motorhome and realised that this pales into insignificance compared to the places we have visited with the bikes or on foot. Not to mention the kilos that have been lost with all this exercise.

So it was a massive milestone for me when my bike kicked over 1000kms since we had brought them late last year. Even though it’s an Ebike these days, we seldom use the battery part of the bike, but it’s great to have it there if needed.

Directly behind the NZMCA camp is a cycle trail that winds through the bushes towards the breakwater were on a beautiful West Coast day we were treated to blue skies flat water and some terrific views. This sort of day is one to be treasured in an area that gets over 200 days of rain a year.

Imagine our surprise when we saw these little pony carts heading along the road. What a great way to keep kids amused during the school holidays.

We have seen all sorts of things on fences along the roadside during our travels with shoes and bra’s seeming to be a common theme. But on a diversion down a quiet side street on the outskirts of town, we came across the above fence containing mostly clocks but also various measuring devices. Maybe someones private collection that they have chosen a rather strange place to mount the stuff? Who knows, but it was great to see.

Also on the outskirts of town are not two but three cemeteries dating from various different periods. I don’t know what it is about these places, but both Sarah and I find it fascinating to wander around looking at multiple gravestones, maybe it helps give us a sense of the history of the area. Anyway, these are two of the wonderful headstones we came across.

Back at the camp and after a short stroll along the beach. It was time to put our feet up and enjoy such a gorgeous day. It’s a tough life sometimes, but I guess someone has to be the one to suffer!

The following day with the sun still shining, maybe this is some sort of record for the coast we decided that we would visit Denniston an old coal mining area that has been extensively restored by DOC and the local preservation society. People we had talked to had all said this is a must view.

It’s not too far up the road from Westport to get to the turn off for Denniston then it’s just a matter of traversing 8 km’s of winding steep road as you work your way towards the mine. It really is a bit of a slog, and we were both glad that we weren’t doing this in the old Mitis camper, it would not have liked this hill.

The views once you arrive at the top are absolutely stunning, especially on a day like this with almost no clouds in the sky. With a dedicated parking area just for motorhomes, where you can spend the night freedom camping if you wish, It was easy to find parking before setting out to explore the area.

Again it was one of those moments of where do I point the camera first there was just so much to see. They do however have it very well organised with the walk starting at what remains of one of the old buildings where multiple signboards explain the history of the mine the people involved and the buildings both past and present. The walk then sets off with a one-way path to follow that will ensure you get to see everything.

Walking down from the reception area (if you can call it that) we walked past this piece of winching equipment that certainly looked like it had the power to pull numerous coal buckets wherever they needed to go. Strangely there was nothing nearby to say what it was actually for but we assumed it might have been part of the aerial ropeway that moved the coal down the hillside later in the history of the mine.

It’s a short walk to the viewing platform that allows you to see the path the coal tenders used to take down the hill on the unmanned rope railway, so as one tender went down the mountain it pulled an empty tender back up the hill, Quite an ingenious system.

Standing on the viewing platform, however, doesn’t seem to convey how steep the drop was until you walk over the edge. It’s really easy to imagine the tenders thundering over the side as they then clatter their way down the hill. The restoration that has been done here by DOC and others is just fantastic. I would suggest that this is also a must view if you are in this part of the West Coast.

The plateau area above the hill has several stations that were needed to run the rope railway, so-called because the coal tenders were lashed to a rope that maintained a steady speed both up and downhill it also allowed the tenders to be brought back up the hill. All of this was powered by an enormous engine that drove this, you can only imagine the noise all of this would create.

Interestingly the workday ran from 5am until 2.30pm with only one shift scheduled for the day, but almost every day they ran overtime till around 5pm (at least according to the signboard) so plenty of work for those employed here.

We took a walk along a ridge that runs below the main working area that was covered in old rusting pieces of equipment it’s like they just tipped the stuff of the edge and left it there to rot. Obviously, they had never heard of recycling.

This same ridge was the home to 45 families in the earlier days of the mine. This is because almost all of the flat land on top of the hill was used by the mine. Given it was 8kms back to the flat area at the bottom of the mountain, it was too far to commute each day.

Following the path down from the ridge, we got to see the remnants of the old arches that were used to help the railway access the more remote parts of the mine. Naturally given the collapsing state of this area, you cannot walk along the top of this area.

After walking back up the path, we went to see just how close we could get to the arches. To get close, you need to walk past the old railway sheds where they repaired anything associated with the railway. However, from here, you cannot get any closer with the old railway line fenced off.

Sadly in early 2017, what was a significant tourist experience here, a ride into the mine along the railway from this point closed due to changes to the health and safety laws. Although I am not sure, I would have done the ride being somewhat claustrophobic it would have been interesting to get a professional tour of the area.

The whole area is one of those places no matter which way you turn, there seems to be something new to see. So making a day out of the trip here would be a relatively easy thing to do.

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Walking back to the motorhome, both Sarah and I were surprised to see these cars parked in an area clearly marked for campervans only especially when the carpark just to the right was completely empty. We worked out that since there were picnic tables here overlooking the ridge with none at the next carpark that’s probably why they had parked here. Just as well there weren’t a lot of motorhomes as the carpark was way too small for a vehicle our size.

Returning to the NZMCA camp for the night but with still plenty of daylight left we decided that we would follow the path into the town. A really lovely walk developed along the sides of the river with boardwalks over the swampy areas. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours.

We had an exciting experience coming across this horse, saddled up but with no rider in sight. The horse was running backwards and forwards looking slightly distressed at times, like where is my master/mistress, in fact, we both wondered if the rider had been thrown off somewhere.

Obvious there were a few concerned people as this was close to the boat ramp. Then Sarah spotted one of the local ladies who suggested that the horse probably belonged to the person who had walked past us with one of his ponies a few minutes before. However later as we walked back past the local racecourse, we saw several horses here running around and wondered if it might have escaped from here as it was very close to the point we saw the horse.

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Westport doesn’t appear to have as many historical places as some of the other towns we have visited on the Wet Coast. (slip of the keyboard here, but I thought it was an apt name) however, this magnificent building looked so majestic with the late afternoon sun lighting up the building.

From here it’s on to the Heapy Track, but that’s the next blog.

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5 thoughts on “Westport and Denniston

  1. Have to agree with Dan about the mine tour, just don’t know why H & S Nazi’s made it impossible to keep running. It was extremely well organised and informative.
    If you want to get a better idea of just how steep the Incline really was then drive in to the bottom section and look up if you haven’t already departed the area.

    1. Thanks for the comments Dave it’s interesting because they still have all the signage in place for the tour but nothing to say it’s not running I only found this out by checking the website

  2. My wife and I did the tour through the Dennistion mine in 2016. She is claustrophic and had no problems doing it. It was really well worth the money and the time. Denniston is a place I always seem to go visit when I’m over on the Coast

    1. Thanks for the comments Dan really sad that the tour is no longer running. We will go back for sure

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