Best things to do
Denniston is an extraordinary evocative landscape that is unforgettable for its messaging about the role of coal mining and modern industry. Denniston was the coal king from 1880 – 1967 with high grade coking coke fueling the British Navy and steel manufacturing throughout the world. The plateau, on a day without the consistent mist offers sweeping views of the coastal plains of the Karamea Bight and mouth of the mouth of the Waimangaroa River. The austere landscape is 518 metres above sea level and originally only had one access, the 1,670 m incline railway.
Denniston self-guided tour walking highlights
- Historic coal mine site.
- Famous Denniston Incline.
- Denniston outdoor Museum.
- Panoramic coastal views.
- Denniston Excursion tour operator OutWest Tours.
GETTING THERE – DENNISTON PLATEAU
40 minutes on State Highway 67
The panoramic coastal view from this plateau is not to be missed.
The story of the early miners’ lives on this wild plateau is a unique part of New Zealand history. Denniston is approximately 30 minutes from Westport. Travel along State Highway 67 and turn right at Waimangaroa. From here the Denniston Hill road twists and turns for 8 km, taking around 15 minutes to arrive at The Denniston Experience. All roads are sealed. You are climbing 1.7 km over 600 metres in elevation. It is a great start to the Denniston journey.
For those with a tramping soul you can actually climb up to the plateau following the historic Denniston incline up the Bridle track. It is a 4.2 km walk (one way) following in the footsteps of the historic track up to the plateau completed in 1884.
Denniston was the economic heart of the district for over a 100 years and the flow of regular wealth is evident in the town buildings.
Walk a 2.5km coal transportation rope road linking Coalbrookdale to the Brakehead and the 1884 Bridle Path and listen to the Denniston Rose app.
The weather could easily be misting, damp drizzle, rain or fog rolling over the hills.
It is atmospheric with locals telling visitors this could be the situation for weeks.
There are plenty of places with spectacular views on the West Coast.
Denniston has a peculiar charm when it’s cool, damp and foggy.
LISTEN TO LOCALS
Listen to ex-miners describe life and what it meant to them.
WHAT IS AN INCLINE
A steep slope that has either tracks or an overhead pulley system to support loaded coal wagons transport extracted coal to the nearest transport depot. The inclines were pitched on steep hillsides meaning the increasing speed of the ascending coal wagon was a hazard. The system was a counter weight system whereby the descending full wagon pulled the empty one up. The drop was 519 metres and the track distance 1670.
Peering over the side of the incline at the top is dizzying and the thought of the hazard quickly comes to mind. The information plaques provide a detailed understanding of the mechanics of braking, the deaths that occurred and how families used the wagons themselves as a transportation system.
For more information about the engineering aspects check Denniston Incline.
The plateau is a must-do visit where you will discover the narrative of what it was like to be a miner on the Denniston Plateau. The extraordinary uplifted plateau is a drive into another world where coal was king. The Denniston Plateau is home to one of the richest, high quality coal seams in New Zealand. For decades it was the country’s largest producing coal mine, with an estimated 12 million ton carried down the incline during its operation from October 1879 to August 1967. Denniston was created by coal and existed only to produce coal. With the mine’s closure, Denniston closed.
The town has disappeared into the efficient recycling world of the west coast with very little evidence of the residences and homes of over 2,000 people. Only two houses remain.
Yet steps to nowhere, abandoned mining equipment is everywhere and extensive industrial foundations, house piles remind visitors of the disappeared people and town. Spectacular mist swirls around the landscape adding to the sense of closure and history where people once stood. Coal is still mined in the area today at the nearby Cascade mine and New Zealand’s largest opencast mining operation in Stockton.
Weather on Denniston is subalpine
The weather at Denniston is sub-alpine and can change quickly, so please bring:
- Sturdy closed in footwear (walking/running shoes are adequate)
- An extra layer of warm clothes
- A raincoat
Denniston Experience Underground Mine Tour is no longer operating.
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