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West Coast, South Island day trip Westport to Denniston Plateau

Follow in the footsteps of prospectors, a heritage gold and coal mining trail. Today you will be on the trail of a nineteenth century gold miner.  You will be travelling north viewing Denniston Plateau to your right as you travel between the mountains and sea delving into the past in Hector, Granity foreshore and Granity Museum, Ngakawau, Millerton, and Stockton.  Hector is the home to the Country Music Museum.  Visit Granity and witness the action of climate change on a small settlement.

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Trip Overview

Follow the trail of coal, heritage trail best things to do

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.
  • Take a journey inward at the place all but forgotten – Denniston Mine Experience mine tours are now closed due to safety regulations
Start Westport
Finish Westport

On your way to the well known Denniston historic coal mining site you will find towns with a coal mining legacy that are now largely forgotten.  Granity, Ngakawau continues as a coal depot for the Stockton mine, Hector, Wainangaroa and Millerton,  As part of the Denniston narrative Stockton Coal Mine is currently operating and, as part of the story of West Coast coal mining.

Start Westport
Finish Westport

Route map

Granity, Millerton, Hector, Ngakawau, Denniston


Granity Museum exhibit, New Zealand
Granity Museum exhibit

As you leave Westport you are aware of the sliver of flat land between the ocean and the soaring mountain ranges. Your first stop will starkly illustrate the lack of arable land and the impact of climate change on the small West Coast settlements. Granity is a must do visit stop for everyone interested in climate change.  You stand on the contructed stoney embankments and watch the sea relentlessly working away at the foundations.  And the nearest houses are very close.  There is a notice and plaque showing where the community hall once stood. It is sobering watching the rising sea rewrite  land boundaries. Granity is a historic gold & coal mining town.

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Ngakawau coal terminus for Stockton mine, New Zealand
Ngakawau coal terminus for Stockton mine

Your second stop is Ngakawau to view current coal operations and the transport of coal, via the railway network to Westport Port. The terminus for the Stockton aerial ropeway which transports the coal in buckets from the current operational mine on the Stockton plateau to be loaded onto rail for export through the Port of Westport and the Port of Lyttelton on the east coast.  Ngakawau is located on the southern side of the Ngakawau River which flows out to sea at Hector.

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Millerton visitor centre, now semi-abandoned, West Coast, NZ
Millerton visitor centre, now semi-abandoned

Take the high road and explore the coal mining, now largely abandoned Millerton settlement.  It has the air of a ghost town with a number of empty buildings and infrastructure. Despite its elevation of 300 m being considerably lower than that of Denniston (494 m), the grade between the coastline and Millerton still meant that the coal was difficult to get down to the railway. The Westport Coal Company built the Millerton Incline in 1891 and the Millerton Mine began production in 1896. Mining at Millerton ended in the late 1960s, similar again to Denniston.

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Mining legacy Cascade Stockton open cast mine tour

Stockton coal mine area, Denniston, New Zealand
Stockton coal mine area

Perhaps you would like a tour of Stockton’s current mining operations at the nearby Cascade mine, New Zealand’s largest opencast mining operation in Stockton.  Tours of Cascade are only through an authorised tour operator,

Stockton Mine Tours – Outwest Tours – Guided scenic off-road 4wd Tours, Westport, West Coast,

  • Departs: Westport Vistor Information Centre
  • Duration: 6 hours for the tour.
  • Booking: Online or Vistor Information Centre, 24 hours notice necessary minimum numbers required.  The tour operator can arrange private tours.  Contact directly to discuss details.
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Denniston historic remains (coal mine), Westport, South Island
Denniston historic remains

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.

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