Ok, time to discover the Denniston Incline – often regarded locally as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Friends of the Hill and the Department of Conservation have been working to restore much of this area, with interpretation panels, restoration of some of the artifacts and relics, pathways and boardwalks with lookout and great viewpoint. We have been meaning to come and have a look the last couple of visits to the Denniston plateau, but it has been a bit late by the time we’ve finished our mountain biking fun. Today though, we have some time up our sleeves so decide to go and check the progress on the preservation of this historic area.
Some quick facts for you regarding the historic area of Denniston and the incline.
The Denniston Plateau is home to one of the richest, high quality coal seams in New Zealand. For decades it was the country’s largest producing coal mine, with an estimated 12 million ton carried down the incline during its operation from October 1879 to August 1967. Often referred to as “the Eighth Wonder of the World”, the Denniston incline was recognised the world over as a remarkable engineering feat. The incline linked Denniston with the Conns Creek rail head below, the incline fell 510 metres over 1.7 kilometres in two sections, incorporating dramatically steep gradients. Once home to a proud and busy community of over 1500 people, the closure of the incline in the late 1960s slowly reduced Denniston to a ghost town. A passionate group of former residents and other interested parties who wished to see the unique Denniston history, from “The Camp” to Coalbrookdale, preserved and displayed for everyone to enjoy formed “Friends of the Hill” and together with generous donations and volunteer work, restored the old school hall as the now museum and meeting house. In 2007 the Denniston Heritage Charity Trust was formed. The Trust is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the area’s rich natural, social, industrial and geological history – hence their latest Restoration project and what we have come to see.
We follow the signs to the carparking area. Beautifully laid out with fantastic views out to the Tasman Sea and the Waimangaroa Gorge. Plenty of area for campervans and cars alike. Our walk starts at the Information Kiosk, filled with numerous interpretation panels giving some wonderful background information and photographs. The trail meanders down the hill towards “The Camp” and the incline past old stone steps to long forgotten houses and other buildings. There are barriers to keep people off the old stone walls and help protect these fragile areas and pieces of history. Here there are also great views of the Denniston Brakehead and much of this area has been restored and preserved including some of the rail system and coal wagons.
We wander over the rail system and look down the incline – wow! Amazing to think this was once the only access to Denniston before the bridle path was made and more amazing to think how on earth the coal actually stayed in the wagons without falling out all down the mountain – it really is that steep!
Down the trail and we are now on the same level as the rail system and old brake head. There are more information panels explaining how the incline came about and the brake head worked and numerous relics also including wagon wheels, stone works, pulleys etc. Following the arrow markers we head along a boardwalk into the bush. You can do the original bridle track back down the mountain to Waimangaora – only 4.2kms and they say good level of fitness, back country experience, have plenty of food and water and allow around 2-3 hours – mmmmm maybe not today….. Stephen decides to take a quick peek – just to check out the condition of the trail – we have heard it is an exciting trail to mountain bike, some good skill level required but good honest fun.
Back on the boardwalk and this is beautifully done, meandering around and then out over the incline with the most incrediable views. No wonder this was called the Eighth Wonder of the World – magnificant! We can see back to where we were standing before the rail system and straight down the incline and the Waimangaroa Gorge with Conn’s Creek a mere snake at the bottom on the valley. There is beautiful native bush all around and it is really is huge country with the Tasman Sea off in the distance.
Back to the brake head and rail system itself and then we follow the trail as it heads off into the bush and takes us down to view the stunning stone Banbury Arches which provided the only tramway access over a treacherous gully into the Banbury mine. Part of the development at Denniston and the historic incline has been to re-create a mine experience. We didn’t have the opportunity to partake in this adventure on this visit, but will definitely be tempted on our return visit. You can check out the experience here
This section of the trail is an in and an out before it rejoins the trail back overlooking the brake head and rail system. There are more interpretation panels at the junction together with the entrance to the Mine Experience.
The trail then meanders back up the hill to the carpark. Wow – that is the reaction of myself and Stephen. A great piece of New Zealand history and beautifully displayed and perserved for all to experience. This area gave us a real sense of what it was like for people working and living up at Denniston and to just imagine the conditions they had to endure. On a good day, you probably couldn’t get a more spectacular place to live than Denniston with the vegetation and the magnificant views but on a bad day, I’m sure you felt like you were at the end of the earth – it would have been very bleak. This “experience” has been so well thought out and is so informative we really feel it is probably the single best tourist attraction on the whole of the West Coast and we highly, highly recommend a visit to Denniston!
For more information on things to do on the West Coast visit the activities page at Breakers Boutique Accommodation. You can also check out Tourism West Coast website. For further information on Denniston and the Incline see here