Heritage & culture

A land of many generations of New Zealanders

Rich in heritage and history, the West Coast is home to many generations of New Zealanders, with West Coasters well known as being strong and self-reliant, like their pioneering ancestors.

Named Tai Poutini, Tai is the Coast, Poutini is the guardian of the West Coast, protecting both the people and the spiritual essence of pounamu, greenstone.

Home to Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae, a hapu of Ngāi Tahu, who are based at Arahura, a short distance from Hokitika on West Coast.

The region was only occasionally visited by Europeans until the discovery of gold, which led to Hokitika being New Zealand's most populous settlement in 1866.

Pounamu - Jade – Greenstone

For many New Zealanders Pounamu, also known as Jade or greenstone, is more than a souvenir - it has a treasured spiritual significance. Pounamu is found in many places on the West Coast and is prized for its strength, durability and beauty.

Historically it was used for tools, weapons and personal ornaments and denoted great status. These days its beauty is still well appreciated as it is found in many West Coast shops and galleries. The Arahura River in Jade Country just north of Hokitika is the birthplace of pounamu.

Mountain Jade necklace.JPG

The Legend of Poutini

Legend has it that Poutini, the guardian of Pounamu and a Taniwha (a giant water being), snatched a beautiful Māori woman, Waitaiki, from the North Island. He brought her south eventually to the Arahura River but her husband Tamaahua gave chase.

Fearing Tamaahua's strength and determination, Poutini decided that if he could not have Waitaiki, no-one would. He transformed her into his likeness, Pounamu, and laid her in the cold waters of the river. The jade fragments that break off and roll down the river to the sea are known as Waitaiki’s children.

Buying Pounamu

Pounamu is a strong stone known for its beauty. Māori and local artisans have been drawn to its power over the centuries and it is widely used in making jewellery and sculptures nowadays.

There are 5 main types of Pounamu:

  • Kawakawa,
  • Kahurangi,
  • Inanga,
  • Kokopu,
  • Tangiwai.

Each type has their own unique look and features.

Many arts and crafts stores on the West Coast, especially in Hokitika Jade Country have working carvers who are happy to tell you about the stone, where it came from and the design they are carving.

A piece of Pounamu is a beautiful and meaningful memory of your time on the West Coast. Due to demand, carvers do work with imported jade so if you want New Zealand sourced Pounamu make sure you ask. Māori tradition says it is bad luck to buy Pounamu for yourself so make sure you have someone there to purchase it for you.

Mountain-Jade-Hokitika.JPG

Finding Pounamu on the beach

For those who like to fossick there is still the chance you can find a piece of your own to take home. It’s not uncommon to find small pieces on the beach that have been washed down in a storm. The outer skin of the stone can be grey to milky in colour and has a "soapy" feel to it.

Sometimes you might really luck out and find a green piece already smoothed by natural processes. Please note that any Pounamu found elsewhere cannot be taken - you can only fossick on the beach.

Heritage sites and attractions

Natural resources rich, the West Coast is full of heritage sites and attractions.

Visitor Information Centres and i-Sites have further details on the history and heritage of the West Coast.

Westport and Karamea heritage sites

Charleston area heritage sites

Fox River heritage sites

Runanga and Greymouth heritage sites

Lyell and Reefton heritage sites

Blackwater heritage sites

  • A tiny school: Marks a settlement with gold rush roots. (donation please.)

Waiuta heritage sites

  • Waiuta town and mine.
  • Battery and Powerhouse.
  • Prohibition Hill: Relics of the Coast’s last great gold strike. Foundations linked via a raceman’s track. The top of NZ’s deepest mine shaft (879 metres).

Moonlight heritage sites

  • Sluice Guns.
  • Moonlight Track: Hydraulic sluicing ‘monitors’ mark the Moonlight Road turn-off. Passes tailing walls, hut sites, water race and battery.

Blackball heritage sites

  • Blackball town walk
  • Mine site.
  • Blackball - Roa Railway Line.
  • Croesus Track: Covers the town’s significant remaining buildings and other sites. Chimneys, ventilator and bath house shell adjacent to the road. Includes unusual timber bridges. Crosses the Paparoa range, passing gold workings, miners’ huts and a battery.

Nelson Creek heritage sites

  • Nelson Creek Walks
  • Red Jacks Heritage Sites: Locally built logging locomotive. An unusual footbridge crosses to bush tracks through intriguing gold workings.Beside State Highway 7.

Brunner heritage sites

Lake Brunner heritage sites

  • Moana Rail Precinct.
  • Bain Bay: Greenstone Heritage Sites.
  • Lake Brunner Cemetery.
  • Albert Hunt Plaque: A station, overhead footbridge and station master’s residence (now a café). Bush walk to a former lakeside logging camp and wharf. Scattered graves overlook the site of a vanished gold town. Commemorates the Coast’s first payable gold rush.

Kumara heritage sites

Hokitika area heritage sites

  • Arahura Plaque.
  • Hokitika Cemetery.
  • Hokitika Lighthouse.
  • Heritage Area
  • Carnegie Building: The columned library now serves as the visitor centre, art gallery and museum entrance.
  • Hokitika Museum: Features displays, research archives and audio visual. (Entry fee.)
  • Hokitika Town Walk: Shop window panels trace site histories since the gold rush.
  • Lake Kaniere Water Race Walk: Follows a system built for gold mining and now used to generate electricity.
  • Rimu Lookout: A view over one of the country’s great goldfields.
  • Lake Mahinapua: Paddle steamer and timber truss rail bridge.

Ross heritage sites

  • Ross Information Centre.
  • Walkway.
  • Curio Room: Audiovisual, scale mine models and all-weather panning area. Follows an old water race to the historic cemetery overlooking town. A fantastic collection of onetime everyday objects. Free of charge.

Hari Hari and Okarito heritage sites

  • Trans Tasman Flight: The first solo flight from Australia, by Guy Menzies in 1931, is commemorated where he landed.
  • Wharf Shed: A reconstructed remnant of gold rush shipping days.
  • Donovan's Store.
  • School.

Franz Josef heritage sites

  • Henders Gallery.
  • St James Anglican Church.
  • Tatare Track: Restored upon The Strand, the gold rush main street. A century-old building, now restored as a youth hostel. A wrought iron cliff-side structure on Roberts Point track. Famous for glacier views that come and go. Through old gold workings to intriguing tunnels.

Gillespies Beach heritage sites

  • Walking track(Cemetery, gold dredges, Tack Tunnel)
  • Knights Point Lookout: The only tangible trace of another former gold town. Parts of two machines that worked the sand for gold. Driven through a coastal cliff along the diggers’ beach highway’. Scene of the highway opening in 1965.

Haast heritage sites

  • Haast Visitor Centre.
  • Hapuka Estuary Walk.

Jackson Bay heritage sites

  • Wharf.
  • Lonely Grave: Covers aspects of history from Maori travellers to modern roadmakers. Panels interpret historic aspects of Open Bay Islands, viewed from the track. The Coast’s most southern settlement boasts its sole sea wharf. The earliest known European burial spot on the West Coast.
  • Information shelter: Interprets history from early Maori to a disastrous Government settlement of the 1870s.