Many and varied are the legends of the first visitors to New Zealand, but traditionally the Hawaiki chiefs Kupe and Ngahue discovered New Zealand, including visiting the West Coast of the South Island – some time around the 10th century. Many New Zealand place names are credited to these daring ocean voyagers (including Aotearoa - land of the 'long white cloud'), and also the discovery of greenstone (jade) at Arahura near to Hokitika. Kupe and Ngahue made the long jouney back to their homeland, leaving New Zealand unsettled by humankind.
In the 13th century a number of ocean-going waka (canoes) travelled from east Polynesia to various locations in New Zealand – perhaps guided by Kupe's accounts. The Maori tribe Ngati Wairangi came to settle on the West Coast of the South Island and prospered by trading greenstone with other tribes. The Maori name for greenstone is pounamu and Waipounamu became the Maori name for the West Coast.
And then, the Europeans arrived. On the 13th December 1642 the great Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, commanding two small sailing ships, became the first European to sight New Zealand – the north-west coast of New Zealand's South Island. And on the evening of the following day Tasman described the Cape Foulwind of today “… projecting from the sea, there are some high steep cliffs, resembling steeples or sails. As we saw the high land extend to the north east of us, [we] shaped our course due north ...”. Tasman named the area Clijppijgen Hoeck – 'hoeck' meaning corner. Tasman also named his discovery of New Zealand 'Staete Land', assuming it was part of a great southern continent, but Dutch cartographers renamed Tasman's discovery to Neiuw Zeeland – later anglicised to New Zealand.
On September 1769 James Cook and the British Empire reached New Zealand - 127 years after Abel Tasman. And in March 1770 Cook was battling adverse weather whilst approaching Tasman's Clijppijgen Hoeck. Cook's ship, the Endeavour was blown several miles off course, and upon regaining 'the corner' Cook renamed it Cape Foulwind. Cook wrote in his journal “The Country … consists of woody hills and vallies of various extent both for height and depth and hath much the appearance of fertility ...”.
Perhaps the last great voyage of discovery to New Zealand was that led by the French explorer Jules d'Urville. On the 10th January 1827 d'Urville sighted the northern West Coast and on the 12th January passed close to Cape Foulwind where he named the steep rocks mentioned by Tasman as Trois-Clochers – the three towers, or steeples. Sailing north of Cape Foulwind d'Urville noticed a large stretch of muddy water strewn with tree trucks suggesting the existence of a large river – probably the Buller River.
On the 21st May 1840 New Zealand was proclaimed a distinct British colony, separate from Australia. European exploration and settlement was gathering momentum. In 1846 two hardy British explorers Charles Heaphy and Thomas Brunner, and two Maori Kehu and Etau fought their way through dense bush and across swollen rivers down the West Coast of the South Island, arriving at the Buller River on the 30th April – the first Europeans to make the overland journey. The Buller River was named after the British politician Charles Buller - the Maori name for the river is Kawatiri, meaning deep and swift. On the south side of the Buller River, Heaphy and his companions passed a potato plantation belonging to local Maori, and further south a seam of coal was discovered – perhaps the genesis of the region's future coal industry.
Charles Brunner again returned to the West Coast with Kehu in early 1847 but this time via the Buller River – travel was often very difficult - battling dense bush, deep ravines, fast flowing rivers, and incessant rain. Food was difficult to come by, and Brunner and his companions were compelled to kill and eat his dog Rover. In April the group reached the mouth of the Buller, where they found a Maori pa (village). Brunner explored much of the West Coast over an arduous 550 days – an impressive undertaking.
A decade after Brunner in 1857, James Mackey from Scotland travelled overland to arrive at the mouth of the Buller River. Only three Maori remained at the pa being the survivors of epidemics of measles and influenza. In 1860 Mackay negotiated the purchase of much of the West Coast from local Maori. In the late 1850s and early 1860s the English surveyor John Rochfort carried out several extensive surveys of the northern West Coast and discovered coal and other minerals.
On 17th April, 1858, the 'Nelson Examiner' announced the discovery of gold on the West Coast by two Maori and a Mr G.W.H. Lee. John Rochfort also reported gold whilst traversing the Buller in 1959. In 1860 21 gold prospectors sailed into the Buller River – the gold rush had begun!
In the early 1860s gold prospectors and storekeepers begun arriving. The first storekeepers set up shop in a Maori whare beside the Buller River. A collection of tents and shacks soon followed – and Westport was born. In August 1861 the population on the Buller River was reported as 80 Maori and Europeans. By 1867 Westport was surrounded by prosperous gold fields, and hosted a wide variety of businesses including, a brewery, three casinos, and abundant hotels; the population was 1500 - 1112 males and 388 females.
On the 16th of April 1873 the settlement of Westport was proclaimed as a distinct municipality, free of the long-distance administration of Nelson Provincial Council. Westport, New Zealand may have been named after Westport, County Mayo, in Ireland. There are about 25 'Westport' towns around the world, and Westport, Ireland hosted a 'Westports of the World' in September 2017.
This web-based Westport Walking Tour currently requires an internet connection, and
the geolocation function requires user permission.
An android app - that does not require an internet connection, of Historical Westport is also available from the Google Play store: Historical Westport App.
Westport is at the centre of a region that has had a short, but vibrant history ... from early gold mining days, the development of the local coal industry, immigrants settling in a new land, the ebbs and flows of a river port, and the growing pains of a small town. The Westport Historical Walking Tour aims to promote this fun and interesting history to tourists and locals alike.
There is no strict starting point for the walking tour, but the Westport Information Centre might be a convenient place to start. The historical features are ordered from the Information Centre, then north on the east side of Palmerston Street, down the west side of Palmerston Street, back across to the east side of Palmerston Street - just before Brougham Street, and then south again. The walking distance is around two kilometres, or an easy one hour's walk.
This website is a work in progress. Feedback and contributions to the Historical Walking Tour are welcome. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Westport Genealogy and Historical Society
Esri GIS: http://www.arcgis.com/apps/
Kete West Coast: http://ketewestcoast.peoplesnetworknz.info/
Papers Past: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
Digital NZ: http://digitalnz.org/
National Library of NZ: http://natlib.govt.nz/
Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: http://www.teara.govt.nz/
MacDonald, B. (1973). Westport -- struggle for survival : an illustrated history. Westport Borough Council, 1973.
Photography: Muir and Moodie; Bryan Ryan; C.F. Douthett
Newspapers: Auckland Weekly News; West Coast Times; Westport Times