The Denniston Plateau is a great place to explore, history at every turn and a glimpse into what life would have been like in an isolated mining community. We had a great day here, it’s a must visit, near Westport on the South Island’s West Coast.
Once home to over 1500 people, today Denniston is a ghost town. The rocky plateau (494 meters above sea level) offers magnificent views of coastal plains and ocean, the dramatic landscape is breathtaking. For many decades Denniston was New Zealand’s largest producing coal mine, yielding a premium quality coal from underground mines. The coal was loaded into railway wagons and lowered by cable down an extremely steep incline railway: a remarkable feat of engineering.
In its time Denniston was one of the most isolated and difficult mining towns in the country to live in. The current road was not built until 1902, with the first access being either up a steep pack track or in a coal wagon up the Incline.
The miners and their families endured a life ‘living on the edge’, exposed to the elements on a barren windswept plateau. The isolation and difficult living conditions forged a close-knit community. If you have read Jenny Pattrick’s Denniston Rose and Heart of Coal, you will have some idea of how hard life was on Denniston. Well worth a read especially if you are going to visit the area.
The wagons were loaded with coal at the Brakehead, once they descended the incline they would be taken by train to Westport and loaded onto ships. As the demand for coal declined the operation at Denniston was gradually reduced. In 1967 the railway closed and production declined. In 1995 Coalcorp (now Solid Energy) ceased mining at Denniston.
A visit to the area allows you to appreciate the tough working and living conditions endured by miners and their families in this desolate 19th century industrial environment. There are a number of relics and great heritage sites to explore.
Also make time to visit the Coal Museum in Westport, one of the best Museums we have visited. There are many interesting places on the West Coast see more posts coming up.
A photo of the incline and how it worked, it was very dangerous and some people wouldn’t ride in the wagons to get on and off the plateau. Some residents didn’t come down off the plateau for years.
The incline today
A coal wagon at the bottom of the incline
The brakehead, the coal was loaded into the wagons and sent down the incline
Oops wrong road!!!!!! We went down this road for a couple of kilometers – well, the gate was open and it looked interesting. We could see what looked like burning mine shafts so started to think we had gone the wrong way. We went back, closed the gate and looked at the sign. DANGER Unstable ground conditions!! poisonous gasses!! NO ENTRY!!
The wrong road a bit eery and we had the feeling we shouldn’t really be there!
The Coalbrookedale walk which passes the country’s best remaining example of a mine fanhouse is a highlight.
The fanhouse pumped air into the huge Coalbrookdale mine so miners could breathe.
Coalbrookdale Mine – There is a good shingle road behind Denniston which leads to the start of the Coalbrookdale Mine walkway. This follows part of a rope road that carried coal from the mines to the top of the Denniston Incline.
Remnants of the rope road
The view out to sea from the plateau
It’s tempting but don’t enter the mine shafts they are very dangerous
The bath house – where large boilers heated water for miners to wash off the coal dust
The Millerton Incline – The Westport Coal Company built the Millerton Incline in 1891 and the Millerton Mine began production in 1896. Mining ended in the late 1960s, similar again to Denniston. The Millerton Incline was a narrow gauge (2 ft) incline consisting of two parallel tracks on which the coal tubs ran, being hauled by rope.
Coal wagons on the Middleton Incline
Looking towards Westport – so near and yet so far away