It’s a holiday and a hands-on history lesson! Just don’t tell the kids that they’re going to be getting an education on their holiday break.
Take off on a school holiday road trip that steps back in time. Experience the real West Coast and get to meet passionate locals with a visit to six great living, breathing heritage locations.
Hidden deep in the forests of Kahurangi National Park, the Ōpārara Valley is a lost world of magnificent limestone formations and underground caverns.
Getting to Karamea and the Ōpārara Arches is an adventure in itself. The road into one of New Zealand’s least explored regions (SH67) with its forests of rustling nīkau palms and broad sweeping coastline of deserted beaches is a breath-taking, magical entry to the lush western tip of the South Island.
North of Karamea, it’s easy walking to the Ōpārara or Moria Gate arches and the family will love discovering this millions-of-years-old landscape of verdant forests and giant limestone arches carved out by nature. It’s not hard to imagine why the world’s biggest birds – the moa and Haast’s eagle – once roamed the luxuriant Jurassic wonderland of Kahurangi National Park.
You can still see their giant bones lying in the dusty secret passages of Honeycomb Hill where they perished after falling into the caves, hundreds of years ago. Visitors can’t just walk into the protected environment at Honeycomb Hill Caves but you can take an unforgettable guided cave tour to experience this ancient, secret world with Oparara Guided Tours based in Karamea.
Inspired by a traditional Māori cape, the Pounamu Pathway in Māwhera Greymouth is a new cultural storytelling attraction.
Way back before any others were on the scene, early Māori roamed Te Tai o Poutini sourcing pounamu (NZ jade) from West Coast rivers. Human history of the Coast begins with these legendary adventurers who traversed the ocean, mountains and rivers in their quest for the precious green stone.
Stories handed down from generation to generation have inspired a fascinating new cultural experience, The Pounamu Pathway. In central Greymouth, it’s hard to miss the intriguing contours of the impressive new building – inspired by a traditional Māori rain cape – sheltering this unique attraction.
The Pounamu Pathway is a series of diverse story-telling hubs exploring the Coast’s rich history through clever immersive technology and artistry. A fabulous creative collaboration between local Māori – Poutini Ngāi Tahu, made up of Makaawhio and Ngati Waewae rūnanga – and master digital storytellers Wētā Workshop brings these stories to life.
Freshly opened, the Māwhera Greymouth centre, on the site of the original Māwhera Pā settlement, is the first of four visitor centres weaving together legends and tales of early Māori, the search for pounamu, and the evolution of the identity and spirit of Te Tai o Poutini. The new Museum of Kawatiri is now open in Westport continuing this sensory feast of visuals and sound designed to appeal to all ages.
Meet friendly locals around the fire and learn about the old days of gold fever in the Miners' Hut at Reefton.
Gold was first discovered on the West Coast in 1864, starting a gold rush of prospectors from around the world. The true rush may have only lasted for about three years but that was time enough for fabulous fortunes to be made … and lost.
Hokitika, Reefton and Ross were all founded on gold-mining riches and it’s no secret there’s still undiscovered gold in those hills, along with a multitude of old gold mining trails and relics. Reefton – near the South Island’s largest gold-bearing quartz reefs – has three interactive history experiences.
At the cedar-clad 1860s-style Miners’ Hut, on Reefton’s Broadway, the friendly guys known as ‘the bearded miners’ are ex-miners and blacksmiths. You’ll find them any day of the week (up until 2pm), sitting around the fire brewing billy tea or showing off their crafts which include hands-on gold-panning lessons. Meanwhile, check out the nearby Reefton Visitor Centre’s walk-through replica mine experience, and ask about the start of the around-town ‘gold hunt’ for mini-miners.
Learn to pan for gold and experience life in pioneer days in Shantytown — a living museum from colonial times.
Keep the kids enthralled for hours with an immersive history experience that’s a taste of the wild, old-times at Shantytown Heritage Park, near Greymouth.
There’s nothing like Shantytown anywhere else in New Zealand — a living museum with a whole lot of history packed into one complete destination. There’s a working railway line with a station, and two complete village streets with 30 historic shops and heritage buildings that have been transported from elsewhere on the Coast and restored to tell stories of life in early colonial days.
Children and adults can get stuck right into pioneer life, go to school or into jail, dress up in costumes of yesteryear, ride the vintage train into the rainforest, and roll up their sleeves on the sluice line to pan for gold in the ‘gold claim’ where there really is gold to be found.
Fabulous views from the infamous Denniston Plateau — an historic coal mining hub and site of the incredible Denniston Incline railway line.
Known to the locals as ‘The Hill’, the views on a clear day from the Denniston Plateau — at 600m above sea level — are nothing less than spectacular. Once a busy mining hub with a sizable population, a school and community facilities, it was, by many accounts, a rugged life in an often bleak climate in an isolated spot. It’s now a Department of Conservation Tohu Whenua heritage site.
For years, the only way in and out was on a coal wagon descending the gravity-defying Denniston Incline — a steep 1670-metre downhill railway line, an engineering marvel recognised as the ‘eighth wonder’ of the world. Nowadays you can hike up a steep track or drive up to the railhead at the top of the incline, and wander the streets between the ruins. It’s not a ghost town, there are still a few residents who look after the Friends of The Hill museum which, for a donation, is open on request.
Back in the 19th century boys growing up here were expected to go from school to working the mines extracting New Zealand’s highest grade coal. Kids these days can sit back and enjoy the ride in an Outwest Tours 4WD with a passionate and knowledgeable guide.
Abandoned now and preserved as a heritage destination, Waiuta was once a thriving gold mining centre in the hills beyond Reefton.
Discover stories … Wander deserted streets and overnight amongst the ghosts of riches past at Waiuta – a Tohu Whenua Department of Conservation heritage site perched at the end of the road in the gold-bearing hills between Reefton and Greymouth. It’s a little bit of an overland trek to get there but you’ll be rewarded with plenty to see and fantastic interpretation panels telling the stories.
Waiuta was the location of New Zealand’s third biggest mine, and the West Coast’s largest producer of gold — a total of nearly 750,000 ounces of gold (an equivalent value today of NZ$1.6 billion).
Once a bustling and prosperous town of 600 residents, Waiuta has remained deserted since 1951 when the mining company locked the mine gates. No one lives here any more but you can wander around the remnants of what were once houses, shops and an Olympic-sized swimming pool, or even stay with the ghosts in DoC’s 24-bed Waiuta Lodge.