Gold mines built the town now famous for its carnivorous snails, says Elisabeth Easther.

Origin of name:

Being a port town west of Nelson, it earned the name Westport. The Maori name for the area is Kawatiri, meaning "deep and swift".

Population: 4111 (2014 Census).

Town slogan: Real Kiwi Experience.


Town icon: The Clock Tower, great for getting your bearings, photo opportunities and, of course, telling the time.

Old news: Westport was built on the back of gold mining and the discovery of coal, and back in the day it used to be quite the bustling hub.

Famous locals: Mel Parsons (singer), Damien O'Connor (politician), Anna Harrison (Silver Fern), Adam Lowe (axeman), Bill Mumm (All Black).

Infamous locals: Biddy Goodwin, aka Biddy of the Buller was a bona fide legend. A gold miner who cohabited with two men without being married, she was as unconventional as they come, a liberated, trouser-wearing pipe-smoking legend who died in 1899 aged 86.

Best website:
Big business: Tourism, mining and dairy.

Famous for: Some of the best hiking, mountain biking and caving in New Zealand, plus there are loads of aquatic activities including surfing, jet boating and white-water rafting.

Just like Hollywood: Some of the BBC's Lost World movie was shot around these parts.

Sources of pride: The beauty of the Buller River, the nearby beaches and the lush rain forest.

Town fiestas: Annually the Buller Marathon attracts thousands of people to its gorgeous terrain, plus there's the Performing Arts Competition, Cape Classic Surf Competition, Best of the West Country Music Festival and the Buller All Ford Day.

Here for a short time: You have to experience the Charming Creek walkway, the Seal Colony at Cape Foulwind on the edge of Tauranga Bay, Denniston's mining experience and the Coaltown Museum.

Best reasons to stop: To get in among it all and make new friends.

Best places to take the kids: The Charleston Nile River Rainforest Train is a charming 90-minute trip. The scenery is primeval plus there's a short walk to a suspension bridge. The seal colony is also popular with nippers but don't get too close to those blubbery beasts, it's not a petting zoo.

Best park: Carters Beach Domain park on the waterfront is a lovely big stretch of green where you'll find a brand new playground.

Best playground: Victoria Square has a running track and play equipment for toddlers to teens including a skate park.

Make sure you: Stop at the Westport i-Site, they can tell you everything you need to know.

Singer Mel Parsons hails from Westport. Photo / Craig Steven
Singer Mel Parsons hails from Westport. Photo / Craig Steven

Best walk:

is a 19km return loop that starts either at Ngakawau, 35km from Westport, or at Seddonville and is a treasure trove of history, scenery, waterfalls, railway remnants and a small suspension bridge.

Best view: Visit Denniston at sunset and look out over Cape Foulwind - rug up though as it can get a bit blowy.

Best swim: The Solid Energy Centre has a stunning swimming facility that includes eight lanes of lap pools, a hydrotherapy pool and children's swimming pools.

Best place to pull over: Go to Kilkenny Lookout to view Hawks Crag, which is reached by a most spectacular road cut into rock.

Best museum: Coaltown Museum is a new addition to Westport's attractions, telling the stories of the early pioneers, from gold mining to coal mining, shipping and beyond - popular with all ages.

Do visit: Denniston, 18km north-east of Westport, sits 600m above sea level. Once a bustling mining hub with a population of more than 1000, today it's little more than a ghost town where you can take tours, enjoy walks or just soak up the history. Reached via the Denniston Incline, (a drop of 510m over 1.7km in two sections), this track was once referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The top of the Denniston Incline which has been partially restored to the way it looked 50 years ago. Photo / Jim Eagles
The top of the Denniston Incline which has been partially restored to the way it looked 50 years ago. Photo / Jim Eagles

Cultural outings:

The Country Music Museum in Granity is a quirky little place in the middle of a rustic West Coast village.

Picture this: The NBS Theatre is a delightful cinema and venue for live performances - a superhub of local life.

Nice arts: Palm Street Gallery is a collective run by local artists who take turns at holding the fort in order to have their work displayed with everything from jewellery to art, tin to pounamu and political pieces. Hector Pottery is another popular studio and gallery.

Cream of the coffee: Whanake is the number one spot, and it's also an art gallery with photos, tiles and paintings. J's and PR's also do great brews.

Baked: Westport is famous for pies with most people saying Freckles Cafe is the top spot.

Best food: Wherever you choose to dine, you have to try the whitebait, which is legendary around Westport. PR's, Denniston Dog and Portside are all superb. Or if you fancy a meal with a view, book a table at The Bay House. Located in an old surf club, it overlooks the sea.

Wet your whistle: The West Coast Brewery is a locally owned microbrewery that does a fine range of beers including the organic Green Fern. The Star Tavern is another beauty: a quirky West Coast pub with an old-school feel, open fires, a place to tie your horse, and a dog that wanders through. Money is stuck all over the ceiling.

Best mountain biking: Old Ghost Road is a hardcore historic trail with 85km of single track. It's a Grade 4 and, yes, you can hire bikes in town if you didn't BYO.

Best adventures: Westport is teaming with engaging tourism operations with everything from Johnny's Journeys, Out West Tours, Underworld Adventures and Buller Adventure Tours to name a few.

Best-kept secret: Oparara Basin in Karamea is a 16km gravel road in Kahutangi National Park where you'll find the biggest stone arches in the Southern Hemisphere and amazing cave systems that you can explore on foot - don't forget your torch though. Plus there's an easy-to-medium grade MTB trail, public toilets, and a sheltered area for picnics - but no camping. What's more, there are 20 species of native carnivorous land snails aka powelliphanta, living here. These sometimes massive creatures are nocturnal and suck earthworms into their mouths like kids slurping spaghetti.

Wildlife: Say howdy to the seals at Tauranga Bay, little blue penguins and weka.

Safety warnings: Do watch for rips at the surf beaches, the sea round these parts is massive.

Locals say: She'll be right.