Industry History: Buller

On the West Coast coal was discovered in the Buller by Heaphy and Brunner in 1846 and mining began in the 1860s. Mining began at Ngakawau in 1872, but transport costs were high. In 1877 the railway from Westport to Ngakawau was opened and wharves built at Westport, assuring the future of the industry in the Buller region.

In 1873 the Coalbrookdale Colliery was formed, becoming the Westport Colliery Company in 1878 and the Westport Coal Company in 1881. The first serious attempts to mine coal high on the plateau was made by Westport Colliery in 1878 at Banbury Mine, Denniston. The coal was transported to the railway at Waimangaroa by a two stage self-acting incline, which descended 330 metres in the space of 1.8 km. The Denniston Incline was in operation until 1968. In 1891 the company built the Millerton Incline and the Millerton Mine began production five years later. Mining ceased at Millerton and Denniston in the late 1960’s.

The first coal from Stockton was extracted by the Westport-Stockton Coal Company in 1908. In 1944 the company was bought out by State Coal Mines and a large-scale development programme was initiated at Stockton including the construction in 1953 of a 7.7 km aerial ropeway to transport the coal from the plateau to the railway at Ngakawau. In 1948 State Coal also bought the assets of the Westport Coal Company.

State Coal began exporting coal to Japan in 1975 and in 1980 new coal handling facilities were built at Ngakawau. By 1995 one million tonnes of coal had been mined at Stockton.

The aerial ropeway is still used to transport coal from the plateau, but was shortened to 2.2 km in 2001 to improve efficiency. The coal is now trucked from the plateau to a new aerial infeed near Millerton.