Kawatiri – Deep and Swift, the apt name given by Māori to the Buller River.
The Northern West Coast bounded on one side by the rugged Tasman Sea, and to the east the Paparoa’s and beyond to the majestic Southern Alps. An area rich in history, with Māori heading south in their search for pounamu and, later, Europeans in pursuit of gold. Each leaving their mark on this unique region, and the generations that followed A place today juxtaposed between the extractive industries of the past and present, and the more recent pursuit of visitors seeking experiences. Both are reliant on, and indelibly forged into, the rugged geography and history that is the West Coast. No other trail in New Zealand has the same mix of scenery, flora and fauna, geology and heritage – Māori and European.
Māori history in the area dates back to the early 1300s when, in their search for Pounamu, they formed the ancient Māori Tai Poutini Pounamu Trail. The Kawatiri Coastal Trail will also pass near an important historic site for Māori, where archaeological investigations have shown occupation about AD 1350.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae and Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō realise the potential of the Kawatiri Coastal Trail to share the history of Māori settlement and raise its profile in the district and region. The Trust is currently in discussions with Iwi to determine how Māori history and current activity will be incorporated into the Trail. There is potential to develop a site of cultural significance housing Taonga in conjunction with CoalTown Museum and to use interpretive panels along the Trail to tell the Māori story.
The Kawatiri Coastal Trail links Westport to the historic town of Charleston. At its peak in 1868, during the gold rush, Charleston and the surrounding goldfield had a population of between 8,000 and 12,000. Charleston boasted 80 hotels, three banks, a library, post office, hospital and a fire brigade. There were three schools and three churches alongside a full array of businesses including bakers, butchers, drapers, bootmakers, carpenters, booksellers, bakers, chemists, blacksmiths, jewellers, tent makers, restaurants, hardware, fruiterers, stables and brewers.
By 1878, with over one million ounces of gold having been extracted from the Charleston Goldfield, the population had dropped to just over 300. Today the sleepy village is rejuvenated with visitors keen to experience what life was like 150 years ago.
Westport, the West Coast’s second biggest town, also went through the gold mining boom and bust experience. Developing around the same time, a small trading settlement grew up on the eastern side of the Buller River. At the height of the gold rushes, the population grew to 1,500. The discovery and mining of high-quality coal led to the progressive development and expansion of the Port. Until, the railway through the lower Buller Gorge was completed in 1944, all coal was exported by sea. Westport’s population peaked at just over 5,500 in the 1950s. The population has gradually declined and now sits at around 4,000.