Air NZ's top 10 picks for Westport

A journey into New Zealand's coal mining past

Denniston might be a ghost town today but once you have signed up for your union membership card, donned your hard hat and collected your lamp you will be set to step back in time to its coal mining hey days.

Just north of Westport, the hub of the Buller region, the Denniston Experience, is a tribute to the lives of the 1500 people who once inhabited this town working what was the richest producing coal mine in New Zealand for many decades.

Between October 1879 and August 1967 12 million tons of coal was extracted and transported down the famous Denniston incline, a remarkable engineering feat dropping fully laden wagons a precarious 510 metres over 1.7 km.

Three different tours will give you a taste of mining life with the chance to:

  • Take an interactive journey underground (hence the hard hat and union card);
  • Board a train for a scenic journey along the gorge to the mine portal
  • Or in the summer to combine the highlights in a twilight tour finishing with a barbecue outdoors.

The Denniston Experience is the latest attraction in the region which has sights and adventures to suit every age, ability and interest.

Our top 10 picks, all within easy reach of Westport include:

  • The Denniston Experience

  • Seal Colony –  just 10 minutes walk from the car park, the seal colony at Tauranga Bay is the most accessible  in the country

  • Cape Foulwind – unkindly named by Captain Cook in 1770 when strong winds thwarted his landing, a well-developed walkway gives visitors the chance to view the rugged coastline and visit the lighthouse at the end. It is just one of many walkways in the area

  • Pancake rocks, Punakiki – weird pancake rock formations and blow holes  56kms south of Westport

  • Mountain biking – the Denniston Plateau has nine tracks for mountain biking

  • Fishing – the region’s rivers are great spots for trout fishing (and white bait in season) while the coastline has a wealth of sea angling opportunities

  • Water sports – rafting, jet boating, canoeing and kayaking

  • Beaches – the wide and largely uninhabited stretches of West Coast beach are ideal for long walks, swimming (seek out the safe spots) and some very rugged surfing

  • Adventure – caving, cave rafting, 4 wheel drive expeditions, quad biking and horse trekking

  • Buller Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon – a scenic , one way course through the scenic gorge  and finishing in Westport ( February 11 2012) 

Air New Zealand flies between Westport and Wellington linking it with 25 other destinations on the domestic network. For bookings and information www.airnewzealand.co.nz

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