The West Coast is famous for its gold mining history, but high in the Papahaua Range north of Westport coal has been mined on a large scale for nearly 130 years. The coal is found in seams high up on the plateau so several towns were constructed at high altitude to service the mines, and in the case of Denniston, an incredibly steep inclined railway called the Denniston incline, which connected the coastal town of Waimangaroa with Denniston on top of the mountain, rising 600m in 1.7 kilometers.
Today Denniston is little more than a ghost town and tourist attraction. A road was built up the hill and it became possible to drive up the hill to work. People began to live at the bottom of the hill where the climate is warmer. Many people also moved their houses down the hill to the coast.
The incline became uneconomic in the late 60s and was closed, with coal being transported down to the coast by trucks, as it is today.
Denniston is accessed by a steep, winding road that climbs up from highway 67 (the road to Karamea from Westport) at Waimangaroa. There are several signposted attractions on the plateau, most notably the brakehead, or top of the incline where you can see old wagons and ruined buildings before gazing out over the precipice that wagons used to travel up and down. There is a car park, information displays and several short walks.
A short walk starting from the car park at the Brakehead, out to ‘the camp,’ the earliest settlement on Denniston and a viewpoint of the impressive Banbury Arch viaduct. Return via an old mine workshop.
Total time – 40 minutes
At first, the only way to get up on the plateau from the coast was in a traincart on the incline – after several deaths this track was built, which can still be walked today. It is gently graded and easy going, but does climb about 600m. There are many nice viewpoints on the way up, and a detour to look out over the incline. Return down the same way, unless transport can be arranged via the road.
Total time – 3 hours up, 2 hours down (these times are quite generous)
This walk starts by the museum and goes through the old town, past abandoned sections and old chimneystacks.
Total Time – 40 mins
An historic walk, starting at the abandoned village of Burnett’s Face – clear spaces of ground and signs being the only clue to the thriving village that once stood here. The walk crosses the plateau along the line of an old roperoad, passing old mining relics including a fanhouse and a haulage winch.
Total Time – 1 Hour each way
Mt William (Myra’s Track)
This is a tramp through bush to the summit of the highest mountain overlooking Denniston, at 1102 metres. Starting at around 600 metres, next to the Coalbrookdale walk, the track passes through regenerating manuka scrub before entering thick, old growth beech forest and climbing steeply up. The track is adequately marked but not obvious, and requires some minor scrambling through scrub brush in the last section before emerging on the top to spectacular views over the Kahurangi interior, Paparoa Ranges, and the Buller and Inangahua valleys.
Total Time – 3 – 6 hours Return