Denniston of yesterday
The Denniston Plateau is home to one of the richest, high quality coal seams in New Zealand. For decades it was the country's largest producing coal mine, with an estimated 12 million ton carried down the incline during its operation from October 1879 to August 1967.
Described as "a place either loved or hated - but always with a passion", the people living and working on the 'hill' back in those early days were extremely isolated, with the perilous incline and steep windy tracks forming the only modes of access and transportation.
Denniston was a working town through and through, existing purely for the benefit of extracting black gold from the earth`s depths. It was definitely not a place for the fainthearted. The work was dangerous and a number were injured or died as a result of accidents in the mine or riding the infamous incline. But amid the notorious climate and bleak living conditions on the barren windswept plateau, these people "living on the edge" forged a close-knit community to be proud of.
The Denniston Incline
Widely referred to as "the Eighth Wonder of the World", the Denniston incline was recognised the world over as a remarkable feat of engineering. Linking Denniston with the Conns Creek rail head below, the incline fell 510 metres over 1.7 kilometres in two sections, incorporating dramatically steep gradients.
This type of self-acting rail system was essential to cart the coal down from the plateau while also returning empty wagons to the top. With fully loaded wagons weighing around 12 ton and accelerating up to speeds of 80 kilometres per hour, brakes were an important requirement. Water was used to slow the action of the pistons, which was drawn off and replaced by fresh water upon each stroke because the intense pressure applied would cause the water to boil. A strap brake around the side of the drum could also be utilised in an emergency.
On average, around 14 wagons each hour would arrive at the Denniston brake head. All hell would break loose if a shackle holding a wagon to the incline`s rope pulled loose, creating a runaway and leaving those working further down the incline at its middle brake in peril.
Source: Dorothy Hunt, 2005 http://www.nzine.co.nz/features/dennistonincline.html
Denniston of Today
Once home to a proud and busy community of over 1500 people, the closure of the incline in the late 1960s slowly reduced Denniston to a ghost town. In more recent times, recognition of Denniston as a place of particular historical and industrial significance has seen devoted local people enthusiastically working to preserve its special heritage.
Today, Denniston provides visitors with a unique opportunity to share insight into the rugged way of life on 'the hill' endured by the miners and their families on this isolated mountain plateau.A large number of information panels around the brakehead and carpark areas give details of mining, engineering and social aspects.
The town of Denniston is no longer; only two houses remain as permanent residences. However, evidence of the once thriving community remains all across the plateau - the steps to nowhere, mining equipment and the old foundations all remind visitors of the town that was.
Denniston`s spectacular mist swirling landscapes, along with its glorious views of coastal plains and ocean, attracts visitors eager to feel and explore the beauty of this historical region. Coal is still mined in the area today at the nearby Cascade mine and New Zealand`s largest opencast mining operation in Stockton.
Denniston Heritage Trust
Dedicated to preserving and enhancing the area’s rich natural, social, industrial and geological history, the Denniston Heritage Charitable Trust formed in 2007. It’s members represent the Department of Conservation, Friends of the Hill Society, Buller District Council, Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd and the West Coast Development Trust.
Friends of the Hill
The Friends of the Hill Society is a group of former residents and other interested parties who wish to see the unique Denniston history preserved and displayed for everyone to enjoy. With the help of generous community donations, volunteers completely restored the former Denniston High School building which now opens for 6 weeks over summer displaying artefacts.
Find out more about the Society on their website at http://www.denniston.org.nz.