Port of Westport
Review and History

The Port of Westport lies at the mouth of the Buller River on the northwest shores of New Zealand’s South Island about 150 kilometers west-southwest of the Port Nelson. Coal mines around the Port of Westport area are New Zealand’s main source of bituminous coal, making the Port of Westport important to the nation’s economy and general well-being. The local economy depends on fishing, coal mining, dairy farming, and its port. Until 1999, logging of the native forests was a relatively minor industry. In 2001, over 3700 people called the Port of Westport home.

The Port of Westport exports cement and dairy products. The city is home to breweries; plants making knitwear, furniture, flax, and coal gas. It also supports fish canneries, engineering works, and rail workshops. In the area around the Port of Westport are many popular tourist destinations for people who love the outdoors. Cape Foulwind, with a colony of fur seals, is about 10 kilometers west of the Port of Westport. The Buller Gorge, which connects the Port of Westport and Port Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park, is popular for water sports.

Port History

Archaeological evidence suggests that the area around the Port of Westport was settled by Maori people for a thousand years before Europeans arrived. Maori legends say that Chief Ngahue visited the place in about 950 AD. While they settled the coastal areas, the Maori found jade in the mountains that they used for trade with other tribes or clans (called iwi).

Gold miners were the first Europeans to settle the Port of Westport in about 1860. In 1884, a sealing schooner, the Three Brothers, entered the Buller River. Many geologists and surveyors came to the Port of Westport area in the 1880s searching for natural resources.

The discovery of gold first brought attention to the Port of Westport region, and vast areas were dredged in search of it. Coal mining, however, was the abundant resource, and the Port of Westport became (and is still) famous for coal mining.

The first rail connected the Port of Westport with the coal fields north of town in 1874. Slowly over time, a network of branch lines connected the town with coal fields and other towns in the area, but the Port of Westport remained relatively isolated until 1942 when the Stillwater-Westport Line linked the Port of Westport to the national rail network through Buller Gorge.

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