Saturday 28 March 2015

Denniston Incline - Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1

We followed the track away from the Incline area passing through regenerating bush on our self-guided walking tour. It’s along this steep bank that the Camp took shape. There was no order; shacks & huts, some still half canvas, sprouted wherever their owners decided. There were no roads either, just a track down to the Camp then winding paths between dwellings. A few sturdier chimneys still stand….

….elsewhere iron and rubble from buildings has been pushed over the side, left to weather and eventually rot away or be overtaken by the slowly encroaching bush. I spoke to a old-timer who was manning the information kiosk where ‘The Denniston Experience’ tours depart from. He told me that all the management houses and camp buildings were demolished when the Incline was closed because they were worried that squatters (or his words, ‘a commune of hippies’) would set up camp in the empty buildings.

The track eventually led to the Banbury Arches; a dry stone wall bridge and tramway that carried coal from the Banbury Mine (1879-1890) to the Incline. This mine was one of the first mines to open on the plateau but after a few years it was used as an access tunnel to the bigger mines behind it, bringing their coal through the mine and on to the Incline.

The Banbury Mine entrance (the dark patch) can be seen just to the left and above the smaller arch. In the early days horses were used to haul the tubs of coal to the Incline, nowadays the Denniston Experience tour uses the mine & tramway for their small rail carriages, taking people into the mine on a ‘real miner’ experience. Originally the mine was only 1 metre high, it has now been increased to 2 metres. Which is just as well, as I’m sure there would have been many suffering from claustrophobia.

We wander back along the track and end up on the Rope Road. A surface rope road was built in 1904 to haul the coal from the distant mines, it replaced a steam driven overhead chain which in turn had replaced the horses (remember to click on the photos if you’d like to read the information boards)

If you are a fan of the ‘Denniston Rose’, the fictional novel written by Jenny Pattrick, or her sequel ‘Heart of Coal’, about life on Denniston Plateau, you can follow the Denniston Rose trail which contains 17 numbered stops for key events in the books. Look out for the rose & coal symbols along the way. You can download a free “Denniston Rose’ app (iphone only) that will talk you through the tour or collect a Denniston Rose Trail booklet ($2 from the information Kiosk at the entrance- not always open)

The chimney in the photo below belonged to the smoko shed and it was here the men (& boys) working nearby used to warm their hands on cold winter mornings. We’re approaching the level above the Incline where the rope road haulage engine was located. The engine pulled the rope that hauled the coal tubs from the distant mines of Burnetts Face.

Boys as young as 14 started their working lives here at the clipping shed, clipping and unclipping the tubs of coal to and from the endless rope.

We come to the end of our walking tour and find a table near the motorhome parking area, overlooking the Incline and that fabulous view, to have lunch. We’re joined by a small party on a cycling tour of New Zealand. That's my idea of a cycling tour; they cycle small sections of the journey- the interesting bits- then the bikes and passengers are carted up and/or through any difficult parts. This group were about to ride the Denniston Plateau road- down, all the way!

After lunch we drove further on into the plateau to the old Burnetts Face, passing old historic mining sites along the way. There were a number of townships along this road; Denniston, Burnetts Face, Coalbrookdale & Marshvale (also known as Pommy Town). Burnetts Face School was located near the DOC sign in the photo, bottom left. Now it's just barren rock and scrub.

Then it was back down the winding road with the perfect view out over Westport with Cape Fourwind behind. I can even pick out the NZMCA Park on the beach- the white speck in that second curve of the first bay.

Once at the bottom we make our way to Conn’s Creek to look at the Incline from the bottom of the bluff….

…along with more mining relics. Located around the plateau and down the road are a number of signs from the ‘Friends of the Hill’ museum, showing where houses were built and information about some of the people that settled on the plateau.

Here’s an extract from the Denniston Rose, about Mary's first encounter with the Incline-
‘A grey mist lies over the bush. The wagons appear out of it, ascending and descending eerily. Mary climbs aboard willingly enough….But as the wretched jerking thing rises she loses her balance and tumbles backwards, with the twins, several bundles and the bed-head on top of her. For a moment she fears she she will fall out and screams aloud as the jagged ends of cut branches tear past, a nose-breadth away’
I climbed up the first short section to where the creek crosses underneath and where part of the Incline had been washed away.

Our final stop was out near the mouth of the Waimangaroa River, at the Waimangaroa Cemetery. The cutting of the Incline shows clearly from a distance. I hope they always keep the line clear, it would be a shame to loose the impact of the cutting to the regenerating bush.

The rock on the plateau was too hard for digging graves, many of the people that lived and died on the plateau are buried here. In the early days the coffins with their precious cargo were sent down the Incline, the only way to get them to the bottom.

In the shadow of the Incline.

Often the loved ones could not be at the burial or visit afterwards. After their initial ride up the Incline, they had a fear of riding it again. Many never left the Plateau alive again.

The final resting place for many of Dennistons’ brave & hardy residents, overlooking the West Coast’s wild Tasman Sea, although on this day it’s calm and serene.

The Department of Conservation, with the help of many volunteers & workers has done an amazing job in restoring and bringing alive the Denniston Plateau, and in particular the Denniston Incline, what a wonderful tribute to the men & women who eked out a living and survived the harshest mine site in the country.


  1. Have been there, but many years ago, we are planning a south Island trip in our caravan ,so will have to have another look. Fantastic pics, Handyandy24/7.

    1. Thanks Handyandy, much appreciated. You'll definitely notice a change on the Plateau, DOC have down a great job in keeping the history alive. Keep an eye out for us on the road and do stop and say hello if you see us. Safe travels, cheers, Shellie


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