The West Coast is one of the Administrative Regions of New Zealand, located on the west coast of the South Island.
To most New Zealanders, the west coast of the South Island seems a land apart from the rest of the country. It is an isolated and remote region, albeit one of outstanding beauty, and its inhabitants have an identity which is very much their own. For this reason, it is simply known as "The Coast", and its inhabitants are called "Coasters", almost as though it is the only region in the country to have a coast. The isolation of the North Island's East Coast region similarly gives it the nickname of "The East Coast", again, as though there is no east coast to other parts of the islands.
The West Coast region reaches from Kahurangi Point in the north to Awarua Point in the south, a distance of 600 km. To the west is the Tasman Sea and to the east is the Southern Alps. Much of the land is rugged, although there are coastal plains around which much of the population resides.
The land is very scenic, with wild coaslines, mountains, and a very high proportion of native bush, much of it native temperate rain forest. Scenic areas include the Haast Pass, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and the Heaphy Track.
The region has a very high rainfall due to the prevailing northwesterly wind pattern and the location of the Southern Alps.
The region's area is 23,000 km2. It is divided into the three districts of Buller, Grey and Westland.
The West Coast was home to Maori, who valued it for the taonga of greenstone (pounamu) which was found there in abundance.
Westland was only occasionally visited by early Europeans until the discovery of gold near the Taramakau River in 1864 by two Maori, Ihaia Tainui and Haimona Taukau. By the end of the year there was an estimated 1800 prospectors on the West Coast, many of them around the Hokitika area which, in 1866, briefly became the most populous settlement in New Zealand.
A major goldrush took place between 1864 and 1867. After that time, the population dwindled, but the main towns that still exist on the coast had become established.
Following pounamu and gold, the next mineral to make the West Coast valuable was coal. Discovered near the Buller River in the mid-1840s, mining began in earnest during the 1860s. By the 1880s, coal had become the region’s main industry, with mines throughout the northern half of the region, especially around Westport. Many of these continued in operation until the mid-20th century, and one or two still survive today.
Timber has also long been a major industry in the region, although in recent years there has been an uneasy balance between forestry for wood and forestry for conservation. Much of the region is now in the hands of the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the region has some of the best remaining stands of native forest, along with a wealth of rare wildlife. Ecotourism is now a major industry for the region, and this goes hand in hand with the conservation efforts.
The region is lightly populated, especially in the south, with the 2001 census recording 30,303 inhabitants, a decline of 2,211 (6.8%) since 1996.
Major towns on the West Coast are Greymouth, Westport, and Hokitika. At one time, during the gold rush days, Hokitika had a population of more than 25,000 and boasted more than 100 pubs. A recreation of an early New Zealand settlement can be found at Shantytown.
Industries on the West Coast still include mining for coal and alluvial gold, forestry and wood processing, and also fishing (including whitebaiting) and tourism. Other industries are the manufacturing and sales of greenstone jewellery, sphagnum moss gathering and stone-collection for garden landscaping.
- West Coast Regional Council (http://www.wcrc.govt.nz/)