West Coast, New Zealand

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West Coast

Te Tai Poutini
West Coast inset.png
Coordinates: 42°36′S171°24′E / 42.6°S 171.4°E / -42.6; 171.4 Coordinates: 42°36′S171°24′E / 42.6°S 171.4°E / -42.6; 171.4
Country New Zealand
Island South Island
Constituent territorial authorities
  Type Regional council
  BodyWest Coast Regional Council
  ChairAndrew Robb
  Total23,276 km2 (8,987 sq mi)
 (June 2019) [1]
  Density1.4/km2 (3.6/sq mi)
HDI (2017)0.903 [2]
very high · 11th
Website wcrc.govt.nz

The West Coast (Māori : Te Tai Poutini) is a region of New Zealand on the west coast of the South Island that is administered by the West Coast Regional Council. It comprises the territorial authorities of Buller District, Grey District and Westland District. The principal towns are Westport, Greymouth, and Hokitika. The region is one of the more remote and most sparsely populated areas of the country.



The name Westland is used by some New Zealanders to refer to the whole of the West Coast, including Grey District, Buller District and Fiordland,[ citation needed ] and can also refer to the short-lived Westland Province of 1873–76.

Fiordland is on the west coast, but is in the Southland Region rather than the West Coast Region.

Inhabitants of the West Coast are colloquially known as "Coasters". [3] [4]


A map showing population density in the West Coast Region at the 2006 census WestCoastRegionPopulationDensity.png
A map showing population density in the West Coast Region at the 2006 census

The 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 (which like the Southern Ocean can be very rough, with four-metre swells common), and to the east are the Southern Alps. Much of the land is rugged, with a coastal plain where much of the population resides.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki Punakaiki - looking south.jpg
Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

The land is very scenic, with wild coastlines, mountains and a very high proportion of native bush, much of it native temperate rain forest. It is the only part of New Zealand where significant tracts of lowland forest remain: elsewhere, for instance on the Canterbury Plains and in the Firth of Thames, they have been almost completely destroyed for settlement and agriculture. Scenic areas include the Haast Pass, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, Jordale Rocks, the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and the Heaphy Track.

The region has very high rainfall due to the prevailing northwesterly wind pattern and the location of the Southern Alps, which give rise to heavy orographic precipitation. The rain shadow effect is responsible for the relatively arid climate of the Canterbury Plains on the other side of the Southern Alps.

Highways and passes include:

Flights and train journeys into the region

Climate data for Hokitika Airport (1936−2015, Humidity 1961−2015, Sunshine 1964−2015)
Average high °C (°F)19.4
Average low °C (°F)11.7
Average rainfall mm (inches)242.3
Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm)12.410.412.613.314.713.813.514.816.817.315.015.8170.5
Mean monthly sunshine hours 209.5186.8171.9139.9119.2104.0124.3138.9142.8164.1181.1194.61,877
Source: CliFlo [5]

The region's area is 23,276 km2. It is divided into the three districts of Buller, Grey and Westland.


Dillmanstown, a gold mining town Dillman Town.jpg
Dillmanstown, a gold mining town

The region is home to Ngāi Tahu, who value it for the greenstone (pounamu) found there in abundance.

The region was only occasionally visited by Europeans until the discovery of gold near the Taramakau River in 1864 by two Māori, Ihaia Tainui and Haimona Taukau. By the end of the year there were an estimated 1800 prospectors, many of them around the Hokitika area, which in 1866 was briefly the most populous settlement in New Zealand.

The region was divided between Nelson Province and Canterbury Province from 1853: in 1873 the Canterbury portion of the region formed its own province, the Westland Province, until the abolition of the provincial system in 1876.

The West Coast Gold Rush between 1864 and 1867 created numerous gold rush towns such as Okarito, which at one time was the largest town on the West Coast but quickly almost vanished as miners moved on. After that time, the population dwindled, but the main towns that still exist had become established.

Following greenstone and gold, the next valuable mineral 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 several survive.

Cape Foulwind near Westport Cape Foulwind, NZ.jpg
Cape Foulwind near Westport

Timber has also long been a major industry, although in recent years there has been an uneasy balance between forestry for wood and forestry for conservation. Much of the region is public land administered by the 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 an important industry, and this goes hand in hand with the conservation efforts.


Industries include mining for coal and alluvial gold, forestry and wood processing, fishing (including whitebaiting), tourism and farming. Dairy farming has grown strongly – the local dairy co-operative Westland Milk Products remained independent when most others merged to form Fonterra in 2001. Other industries are the manufacturing and sales of greenstone jewellery, sphagnum moss gathering and stone-collection for garden landscaping. Monteith's brewery is in Greymouth. The region had one of the strongest growing regional economies of New Zealand in 2007, [6] though from a rather small base.

The GDP of the region was estimated at NZ$1,848 million in 2019. [7]

The region has been included in the "Top 10 Coastal Drives of the World" by Lonely Planet . [8]


Knights Point, typical rugged coastline of the West Coast Knight's Point, West Coast.jpg
Knights Point, typical rugged coastline of the West Coast

The region is sparsely populated, especially in the south. The June 2019 population is 32,600. [1]

There are only five towns with a population over 1,000: Greymouth, Westport, Hokitika, Runanga and Reefton. During the gold rush days, Hokitika had a population of more than 25,000 with more than 100 pubs. A recreation of an early New Zealand settlement is at Shantytown.

Urban areaPopulation
(June 2019) [1]
% of region
Greymouth 8,16025.0%
Westport 4,66014.3%
Hokitika 3,0909.5%
Runanga 1,2303.8%
Reefton 1,0103.1%
Typical weather of the West Coast West Coast New Zealand.jpg
Typical weather of the West Coast
Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
Source: [9] [10]

The West Coast Region had a population of 31,575 at the 2018 New Zealand census, a decrease of 573 people (-1.8%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 249 people (0.8%) since the 2006 census. There were 13,503 households. There were 16,041 males and 15,534 females, giving a sex ratio of 1.03 males per female. Of the total population, 5,604 people (17.7%) were aged up to 15 years, 4,920 (15.6%) were 15 to 29, 14,853 (47.0%) were 30 to 64, and 6,204 (19.6%) were 65 or older. Figures may not add up to the total due to rounding.

Ethnicities were 90.5% European/Pākehā, 11.7% Māori, 1.5% Pacific peoples, 3.4% Asian, and 2.4% other ethnicities. People may identify with more than one ethnicity.

The percentage of people born overseas was 12.0, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 53.2% had no religion, 35.1% were Christian, and 3.1% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 2,934 (11.3%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 7,026 (27.1%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $26,400. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 12,501 (48.1%) people were employed full-time, 4,083 (15.7%) were part-time, and 822 (3.2%) were unemployed. [9]

Flora and fauna

The region has the only New Zealand nesting place of the kotuku (white heron), near Okarito Lagoon, visited by tours from the small farming township of Whataroa. This rare bird appears on the $2 coin. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

South Island Southernmost of the two main islands in New Zealand

The South Island, also officially named Te Waipounamu, is the larger of the two major islands of New Zealand in surface area, the other being the smaller but more populous North Island. It is bordered to the north by Cook Strait, to the west by the Tasman Sea, and to the south and east by the Pacific Ocean. The South Island covers 150,437 square kilometres (58,084 sq mi), making it the world's 12th-largest island. It has a temperate climate.

Greymouth Place in West Coast, New Zealand

Greymouth is the largest town in the West Coast region in the South Island of New Zealand, and the seat of the Grey District Council. The population of the whole Grey District is 13,750, which accounts for 42% of the West Coast's inhabitants. The Greymouth urban area had an estimated population of 8,160.

Arthurs Pass (mountain pass) mountain pass in New Zealand

Arthur's Pass, a mountain pass in the Southern Alps of the South Island of New Zealand, marks part of the boundary between the West Coast and Canterbury regions. Located 140 km from Christchurch and 95 km from Greymouth, the pass comprises part of a saddle between the valleys of the Otira River and of the Bealey River. Arthur's Pass lies on the border of the Selwyn and Westland districts.

Westport, New Zealand Place in West Coast, New Zealand

Westport is a town in the West Coast region of the South Island of New Zealand. Originally named Buller, it is on the northern bank and at the mouth of the Buller River, close by the prominent headland of Cape Foulwind. It is connected via State Highway 6 with Greymouth, 100 kilometres (62 mi) to the south, and with Nelson 222 kilometres (138 mi) in the northeast, via the Buller Gorge.

Hokitika Place in West Coast, New Zealand

Hokitika is a small town in the West Coast region of New Zealand's South Island, 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Greymouth, and close to the mouth of the Hokitika River.

Westland District Territorial authority in West Coast, New Zealand

Westland District is a territorial authority on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. It is administered by the Westland District Council. The district's population is 8,960.

Hokitika Airport airport in New Zealand

Hokitika Aerodrome is a small, uncontrolled aerodrome located 1.9 km north east of Hokitika in the suburb of Seaview on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is also the closest domestic airport with scheduled flights to the town of Greymouth 40 km further north, the largest settlement on the coast.

The Ross Branch, officially known as the Hokitika Line since 2011, and previously as the Hokitika Industrial Line, is a branch line railway that forms part of New Zealand's national rail network. It is located in the Westland District of the South Island's West Coast region and opened to Hokitika in 1893. A further extension to Ross operated from 1909 until 1980.

Hari Hari Place in West Coast, New Zealand

Hari Hari is a small rural settlement in the south west of the West Coast region of New Zealand's South Island. The name has a Maori meaning, from Te Aka Maori/English Dictionary, as "to take/carry joy" or, as local legend suggests, "come together in unison" from a Maori canoe paddling chant/song. In recent years, Hari Hari has been increasingly referred to as "Harihari" with Maori meaning as "ambulance". No official statutory process has taken place in order for this to happen.

The West Coast Gold Rush on the South Island's West Coast of New Zealand lasted from 1864 to 1867.

Air Travel (NZ) Ltd

Air Travel (NZ) Limited, a small airline based in Hokitika, was the first airline in New Zealand to fly licensed scheduled air services. They took delivery of their first De Havilland biplane aircraft at the end of 1934 and made it their business to carry passengers, mail and freight to remote parts of the West Coast. Their ambulance services were particularly welcome. They were well known outside their region for taking tourists to the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.

Bruce Bay Settlement in West Coast, New Zealand

Bruce Bay or Mahitahi is a bay in South Westland, New Zealand on the Tasman Sea. It is south of the mouth of the Mahitahi River, 80 km from Haast Junction and 224 km from Hokitika. The bay is a nesting ground for local penguins, and endemic Hector's dolphins and southern right whales can be observed from shores on occasions. Some of the bush around the bay has been cleared for farming, and quartz stones can be found on the coast.

Robert Caldwell Reid was a 19th-century Member of Parliament from the West Coast, New Zealand. Born in Scotland and attracted by the gold rushes in Victoria and the West Coast, he was later the proprietor of a series of newspapers.

The Greymouth Star, formerly the Greymouth Evening Star is a daily newspaper published in Greymouth and circulated in Westland, New Zealand from Westport to Haast. It is New Zealand's sixth oldest daily newspaper and was founded by James Snyder Browne as a four-page daily on March 18, 1866. The newspaper celebrated 125 years in 1991 and in the same year Dunedin media company Allied Press purchased a majority shareholding.

The Westport News is an independently owned newspaper published in Westport, New Zealand. It is published on weekdays, and features a combination of national and international wire articles, local news stories and weather forecasts, and specialist coverage of farming, education, the arts and lifestyle issues. In 2008 it had a print run of 2200 copies and a circulation of 1884 people. The newspaper operates a small printing, reporting and weather operation in Westport,

Westland County Provinces of New Zealand in South Island

Westland County, also known as County of Westland, was a local government area on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. It existed from 1868 to 1873, and constituted the government for the area that was split from the Canterbury Province, with the West Coast Gold Rush having given the impetus for that split. It had the same administrative powers as a provincial council, but the legislative power rested with Parliament in Wellington. Westland County was the predecessor to Westland Province.

Westland temperate forests

The Westland temperate forests, also known as the Westland temperate rainforests, is a temperate broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregion located along the central west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, also known as Te Waipounamou. These forests are found in the region of the Westland District, which spans approximately 11,880 square kilometers. It is bounded on the west by the Tasman Sea, and on the east by the Southern Alps. Much of this area is protected by the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

Pounamu green stone of New Zealand

Pounamu are several types of hard and durable stone found in southern New Zealand. They are highly valued by the Māori, and hardstone carvings made from pounamu play an important role in Māori culture. Geologically, pounamu are usually nephrite jade, bowenite, or serpentinite, but the Māori classify pounamu by colour and appearance.

History House Museum museum in Greymouth, New Zealand

History House Museum is a collection of photographic and archival records of the West Coast of New Zealand.


  1. 1 2 3 "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2019". Statistics New Zealand. 22 October 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  2. "Sub-national HDI - Area Database - Global Data Lab". hdi.globaldatalab.org. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  3. West Coast – Regional Information (from 'New Zealand Tourism Online' website)
  4. The West Coast New Zealand (from 'A New Zealand Travel Guide' website)
  5. "CliFlo - National Climate Database". NIWA. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  6. History (from the Buller District Council website)
  7. "West Coast Gross Domestic Product". Infometrics. Infometrics. 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  8. "West Coast, New Zealand official site: Find activities, accommodation, events". Westcoastnz.com. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  9. 1 2 "Statistical area 1 dataset for 2018 Census". Statistics New Zealand. March 2020. West Coast Region (12). 2018 Census place summary: West Coast Region
  10. "2001 Census: Regional summary". archive.stats.govt.nz. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
  11. New Zealand Coinage Specifications (from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand website. Accessed 2008-03-26.)