Early settlers on the West Coast were a special breed, able to withstand the rigours of the early Buller and it’s remoteness. They built a lifestyle around a strong community spirit.
The major influx of settlers arrived between 1864 and 1867, boosting the population of the Coast from 250 to 26,000 in three years of gold fever.
The discovery of coal bearing deposits during the same decade was to eventually lead to the establishment of a more stable and ongoing industry in coal mining. From 1878 the coal mining industry began in earnest, and by 1895 Denniston in the northern Buller had become the largest coal producer in the country Substantial coal production continues into the present, and contributes still to the Buller economy.
Between 1880 and 1967, the Denniston Incline brought coal down from the Rochfort Plateau and the mines of Coalbrookdale, Wharatea and Iron Bridge. The Incline, with it’s steepest section at a gradient of 1 in 2.2 carried 15 wagons a hour, a total of 120 tonnes an hour, to the railway at Conns Creek at the foot of the Incline. In it’s time over 13 million tonnes of coal went down from the plateau to ships at Westport.
Fondly known by the locals as the „eighth wonder of the world“ the Incline was ingeniously engineered, driven simply by gravity and logistics. Rising freight costs, and a number of other factors, saw the final closure of the Incline in 1967.
Reefton, originally called Quartzopolis, and then Reeftown, was the first location in the Southern Hemisphere to have a public electricity supply system. It became operational in 1888, and the original generation system continued in use until 1948, giving way to better systems.
Other small towns in the Buller have come and gone over the years of high gold and coal production. The photographs, the relics and the stories of the era remain. They are part of the base on which today’s Buller community is established.