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Art & Heritage

West Coast ghosts, cemeteries and quirky personalities

@Find A Grave Cemetery

Seven stories, where to go and what to see when nobody is at home

The West Coast is fertile ground for ghosts, abandoned cemeteries and lost towns. The cycle of boom and bust with kauri logging, gold and coal has left its mark with plenty of room for the imagination to go into overdrive. Let a shiver run down your spine, listen for the ghostly whispers as you visit solitary graves and hear stories about people who time has almost, but not quite forgotten.

Greenstone 1866, New Zealand @westcoast.recollect
Greenstone 1866, New Zealand @westcoast.recollect

GREENSTONE, HISTORIC GOLD MINING SETTLEMENT – DECEASED

Greenstone has a resident ghost. The miner who never made it back home. The solitary Chinese miner suffered from leprosy with its telltale disfiguring scars. He was shunned by the community and forced to live in a lone cabin. He was barred from crossing the Taramakau bridge to Kumara and lived on food scraps left by locals. His death was miserable and he was cremated in his final resting place. His life, his shelter became a pile of ashes.

Greenstone with its shabby timber framed shacks, pop up tented pubs and earthen streets has physically disappeared. The instant town was the result of payable gold discovered in Greenstone Creek, tributary of Taramakau River in 1864. Chinese miners, along with the cosmopolitan band of prospectors quickly followed. Chinese miners were forced to live on the outskirts of the settlement in the area now known as Greenstone Red, at the northern end past the Kumara Cemetery.

ADDISONS FLAT

A ghost town now marked by its cemetery. The overgrown field complete with wonky signage belies a tumultuous history of Addisons Flat.

The battle of Addisons Flat, 1868 was the scene of riots protestant and catholic Irish. Irish leaders had been previously arrested on charges of riot and seditious libel.

Now there is little evidence of the town named after Darkie Addison, American former slave and discover of gold in the area. Imagine over 5,000 people living in the town, now an abandoned cemetery is all that is left.

The poster says it all about the passion of the various viewpoints

Battle of Addisons Flat @Westcoast.recollect

DENNISTON, DEATH AND BURIAL

Denniston, the extraordinary coal mining town, high above Westport has no cemetery although people lived on the bleak, forbidding plateau for many years.  The ground was extremely hard to excavate, thus death meant permanent departure from Denniston. Coffins were transported down the steep incline, attached to a load of valuable coal. Their graves are by the sea at Waimangaroa. Before the road was built many women spent their adult lives at Denniston, only departing when they died.  The Denniston Plateau population was over 1,300 souls.

Denniston, New Zealand @doc
Denniston @doc

FORGOTTEN GRAVES …

Grey District Cemeteries record of Maori Gully, solitary grave

Lace iron surrounds, died 1872. The Maori Gully creek gold mine is now a vanished ghost town. The council is maintaining the solitary grave. There is isn’t any else who cares. The original name for the area was Maori Creek, part of the New River diggings late 1865. Two towns developed, Maori Creek and Clifton. Clifton eventually physically disappeared. Sluicing wiped the place from existence. Only a few graves remain as markers in the nearby regenerating bush. Dunganville (Maori Gully) once contained the New River Hotel, two stores, and a school. Now disappeared into the regrowth. Forgotten except for a solitary grave to mark the site.

Dunganville, Maori Creek.1900. | West Coast New Zealand History

Forgotten names, forgotten graves, West Coast, New Zealand
Forgotten names, forgotten graves, West Coast

FORGOTTEN GRAVES …

Grey District Cemeteries record of Maori Gully, solitary grave

Lace iron surrounds, died 1872. The Maori Gully creek gold mine is now a vanished ghost town. The council is maintaining the solitary grave. There is isn’t any else who cares. The original name for the area was Maori Creek, part of the New River diggings late 1865. Two towns developed, Maori Creek and Clifton. Clifton eventually physically disappeared. Sluicing wiped the place from existence. Only a few graves remain as markers in the nearby regenerating bush. Dunganville (Maori Gully) once contained the New River Hotel, two stores, and a school. Now disappeared into the regrowth. Forgotten except for a solitary grave to mark the site.

Dunganville, Maori Creek.1900. | West Coast New Zealand History

THE OLD GHOST ROAD

An overgrown, receded from memory road has been reimagined as a mountain biking and tramping trail – connecting the old dray road in the Lyell (Upper Buller Gorge) to the mighty Mokihinui River in the north. The 85km-long Old Ghost Road crosses majestic native forest, open tussock tops, river flats and forgotten valleys. The 85km track is close to the spirit of early explorers and prospectors, Maori and later European left relics such as mining tools, stone huts, evocative place names and graves. The Old Ghost Road is one of NZ’s great walks and unique. The ghostly trail follows the shadows of 19th century pack horses and miners as they traversed an unforgiving landscape.

Old Ghost Road entrance, Lyell, West Coast, New Zealand Old Ghost Road entrance, Lyell, West Coast
Old Ghost Road, West Coast, New Zealand Old Ghost Road, West Coast

LYELL CEMETERY

Lyell – once a thriving town is now a ghost town. The vanished town is a grassed area with picnic tables and tents. Imagine two storey timber Victorian facade buildings lining a beaten earth street as you currently stand on a large green space bordered by SH6 between Westport and Murichison. The actual cemetery would have been a test of strength as pallbearers carried coffins up a narrow hillside track to their final resting place. Lyell township faltered and died circa 1900.

Lyell Historic Reserve has ample parking, a Department of Conservation Campground, water and toilet facilities.  The campsite has signposts to Lyell Cemetery. Leaving from the campsite, the track passes the former Catholic Church site and enters native beech forest clinging to a steep hillside and leads on to one of the more picturesque goldfield cemeteries.  The headstones, some in lace iron fenced plots are of young people and tell the story of tragic deaths.  It is quiet and the surrounding beach trees offer a place of contemplation.  Between 30 and 40 people were buried here from 1880 to 1900.

Lyell Cemetery, New Zealand Lyell Cemetery
Historic graveyard of Lyell, New Zealand Historic graveyard of Lyell
Biddy of the Buller, New Zealand @MagicTalk
Biddy of the Buller @MagicTalk

BIDDY OF THE BULLER, HER GHOST AND HER STORY

Today Reefton Distilling Co has a gin named after the redoubtable Bibby. “Little Bibby Gin”

Bridget Goodwin, or “Biddy of the Buller” as she was known, was possibly Lyell’s most famous resident. A formidable woman, even though she was only four feet in height. She left poverty in Ireland for the lure of the Australian goldfields in the mid 1800’s. There she befriended two men, and left with them for New Zealand in the 1880’s, where they worked the Collingwood goldfields. Fossicking their way down the Buller, they arrived in Lyell in the 1890’s – Lyell’s heyday. There she lived with the two miners in a one room hut where the iron bridge crosses the Buller. The community may have been scandalised by her living arrangements, and her drinking, but she did not care – and worked alongside her two men, eventually outliving both, working up until she was 80. At that age she decided her body was worn out and she settled into a two room cottage in Reefton, where she died in 1899 aged 86.

Source You are here: Your Story » Lyell

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