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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 40

The County of Westland, N.Z

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The County of Westland, N.Z.

General Description.

Westland is the central part of the West Coast of the Middle Island. In 1861 this part of the colony was purchased by the Government from the native owners, of whom there were not more than thirty at that time. The district thus acquired extends from the Province of Nelson on the north to the Province of Otag'o on the south, and from the Province of Canterbury on the east to the sea coast on the west; its boundaries being, on the north the river Grey, on the south the river Awarua (flowing into Big Bay), and on the east the watershed of the Southern Alps Of the total area of Westland (4442 square miles), the mountain ranges and forest lands occupy 2,843,141 acres; the rivers aud lakes, 29,759 acres; and open country, 172,800 acres; making in all 3,045,700 acres.

After the purchase and annexation of the West Coast to Canterbury in 1861, the former was occasionally visited by surveyors and others in search of pastoral country; they, however, met with great hardships at that early period, and not a few lost their lives in fording the swiftly running rivers. Little advance was made towards settlement until gold-hunters penetrated its wild and inhospitable interior. This occurred during the latter part of 1863 and the beginning of 1864. The first discovery of gold was reported on the Hohonu, a northern tributary of the Teremakau. The Hohonu rises in Mount French—named after Mr. Michael French, an early settler in the Grey Valley. He was one of the leading prospectors of that and other localities. About the same time, also, a party of Scandinavians, having ventured in a boat from Invercargill, prospected the Totara district, and their labours were rewarded by discovering gold in a small mountain stream taking its rise at Mount Greenland, the ravine through which it flows being known at the present day as Scandinavian Gully. This stream empties itself into Donnelly's Creek by a waterfall just above the junction, and later on joins with the river Totara. Subsequently, the Kanieri and other places were discovered, and from that time a rush set in to the West Coast. During the latter part of 1864 and early in 1865, the main rush commenced, and from that time forward the discoveries of auriferous deposits were continuous in all directions, from one extremity of the coast to the other, and in such rapid succession that, within a short space of time, the West Coast, from north of the river page 2 Grey to the southern boundary, was clearly shown to be a vast continuous goldfield.

In consequence of its increased importance and great natural resources, the West Coast of Canterbury was created an independent district on the 1st of January, 1868, under the appellation of the County of Westland. In 1874 the county was made a province, and on the abolition of the provincial form of government in New Zealand, Westland was again made a county, with a reduced area. The portion north of the river Teremakau, containing an area of 255,460 acres, was added to the Grey County, leaving, however, to the County of Westland the considerable area of 2,790,300 acres, of which 31,950 acres are apportioned as freehold, and 76,637 acres represent lakes, rivers, and general reserves, which leaves the handsome area of 2,681,713 acres to be appropriated at the present time.

Hokitika, the chief town, was founded in 1864. It is situated at the mouth and on the north bank of the Hokitika River, formerly called Okatiki, and has a population of above 3000 souls. It contains a town hall, supreme court-house, and other judicial and administrative buildings, a general post-office and telegraph office, all of considerable architectural pretentions, also a large ana most commodious theatre, and a public library. There is large wharf accommodation, and owing to the improvement of the entrance of the river, caused by the protection works, now nearly completed, an excellent harbour is afforded for vessels of 200 tons burden. The town is well laid out with large public squares and other recreation grounds; and there are, in connection with the town, a public hospital, lunatic asylum, and gaol.

The Kanieri district includes the land between the Arahura and Hokitika Rivers, and the land on the south bank of the Hokitika River as far as Lake Mahinipua. Besides the Kanieri, Kokotahi, and Mahinipua townships, this district contains the mining centres of Blue Spur, Big Paddock, Woodstock, and Eight-mile. The township of Kanieri is situated on the banks of the Hokitika River, and is backed by a large agricultural and grazing district. Woodstock is opposite to it, on the other side of the river. Gold mining, timber-cutting, and farming are the chief industries of this district. The whole of the timber exported from the port of Hokitika is cut in the Kanieri district. There are large areas of agricultural land not sold in the Kokotahi Valley, and between it and the Hokitika River.

The Totara district extends from the Kanieri district to the Mikonui River, and includes the town of Ross, and the mining districts of Donoghue's, Donnelly's Creek, and Redman's; the tributaries of the Totara and Mikonui Rivers being all auriferous. Ross was founded in 1865, and is situated south of Donnelly's Creek, a tributary of the Totara River, in the centre of one of the richest alluvial deposits of gold, if not in New Zealand, at least in Westland. It is a pleasant inland town, about 18 miles south of Hokitika, with which it is connected by an excellent road, which extends to Okarita. All intermediate rivers between Hokitika and Ross are bridged. The population of Ross is above 1170 souls. It possesses a court-house, post and telegraph offices, page 3 town-hall, library, a public and other schools, and an excellent local hospital. The prosperous future of Ross, as a large gold-producing locality, with proper appliances, can hardly be doubted.

The mines near Ross were worked with the aid of powerful steam pumping machinery. Gold has been found in them in six different layers, in depths from 50 feet to 450 feet. Most of these mines are at present flooded out, and perhaps will remain so till capital is introduced into the district to work the mines on an extensive system. A large race (surveys and plans of which have been prepared) to carry water from the Mikonui River to near Ross is much needed, and would prove reproductive, as the deep claims can be worked with water-power far less expensively than with steam. The main industry of this district is gold mining, which is extensively carried on in the terraces.

The Okarita distict comprises all that part of the district between the river Mikonui and the southern boundary of the county. Gold mining is the only occupation followed in this district There are scarcely any mines being worked inland, except up one or two of the rivers; the miners rest satisfied with obtaining gold easily in the beach workings. In many of the beaches of this district (as well as in other parts of the coast), after bad weather and a heavy sea, the sand on the sea-beach is found impregnated with gold, and, after the sand has been scraped off the beach, and the gold extracted, there is likely to be, after the next heavy sea, a similar quantity of gold found in the beach sand in the same localities. The district has had but little attention paid to it, either by the miners or settlers. It has two splendid harbours—Bruce Bay and Jackson's Bay—and several rivers with good entrances and depth of water. It has easy access to the Province of Otago and the East Coast by the saddle at the head of the Haast River, and it possesses large tracts of auriferous land, fine agricultural land, and splendid grazing country and timber.

Northward of Hokitika is the Kumara district. The township of Kumara was founded in 1876, and is situated south of the Teremakau, about seven miles inland from the ocean beach. Its site is a large auriferous flat extending many miles in all directions, and the population is above 900 souls. It is a fine inland town, with regular, broad streets, about eighteen miles north-east of Hokitika, with which it is connected by excellent roads, as also with direct roads with Greymouth and Christchurch. There are a court-house, post and telegraph offices, public school, town-hall, and a local hospital.

General Features.

Some of the most picturesque scenery that even New Zealand can boast of is to be found in Westland. Between the Southern Alps, whose snowy peaks pierce the sky at a height of nearly 14,000 feet, and the coast line may be seen an infinite variety of the grandest alpine and forest scenery. One of the largest glaciers on the western slope of the main range of mountains is the Francis Joseph Glacier, descending from Mount Cook. The face of this magnificent glacier is about half a mile page 4 in breadth and of considerable height, and may be easily reached from Hokitika by coach road to Okarito (40 miles), and thence by a fair bridle track some twelve miles up the Waiho river bed. Dense forests, exhibiting new and beautiful forms of vegetation, including the gigantic scarlet flowering myrtle, the rata, one of the largest forest trees, and graceful tree-ferns, clothe the mountain-slopes and much of the undulating lower country towards the sea coast.


Notwithstanding the very heavy rainfall in Westland (118 inches per annum, average), the climate is remarkably healthy; the temperature, compared with other parts of New Zealand, being exceptionally equable. Animal life of all kinds thrives well, and the growth of vegetation is surprisingly rapid and vigorous.


Of the two millions of acres of unsold land in Westland, the larger part consists of mountains and dense forests, but there are, in places, considerable areas of open country, chiefly between the low lying hills and the main range, of splendid agricultural land, having from six to ten feet of rich black soil. There is very little improved land in private hands open for sale to persons of small capital. Most of the holders of improved lands have themselves made the improvements; but any one anxious to secure a homestead, with a market to dispose of his produce, will find it a not very difficult task, as every facility for the purchase of land is offered by the Government.

For the purpose of forming special settlements in the southern portions of Westland, three blocks in the Okarito district have been set apart; one containing 20,000 acres, between the Mikonui and Wanganui Rivers; one containing 50,000 acres, from the Saltwater River southwards for 17 miles, of a depth of three miles and a quarter; and one of 50,000 acres, in the neighbourhood of the Haast River.

Within the last four years a good deal of country has been taken up for pastoral purposes; and although agriculture has not yet become a prominent feature in the industrial aspect of the district, the number of farms dotted over the county is yearly increasing, the favourable nature of the climate, combined with the natural fertility of the soil, rendering farming, when once the land is cleared of bush, a very profitable pursuit.


Considering the important part which mining plays in the prosperity of Westland, and the uncertain character which generally attaches to this industry, the trade of the district for the last three years, or at least that portion represented by the exports, shows remarkable steadiness. In 1877 the imports were valued at £122,326, and the exports at page 5 £213,616; in the year following the imports amounted to £99,680, and exports to £243,068; and in 1879 the imports were valued at £67,696, and the exports at £267,824.


That which was originally the making of Westland—gold-mining—is now also its main industry. Although the population of Westland (about 12,000) is not now so large as in the first fervour of the great rush, the produce of gold has been maintained—a fact which speaks well for the permanency and richness of the district as a gold-producing country.

The quantity of gold exported from the port of Hokitika during the year 1879 was 54,203 ounces, value £216,933. The export for the quarters ending 31st March and 30th June, 1880, were respectively 14,275 ounces, value £57,098, and 13,383 ounces, value £53,533. The total quantity of gold exported from the West Coast, from the first discovery of gold to 30th June, 1880, amounted to 2,485,512 ounces, value £9,849,015.

A map of the County of Westland, prepared by Mr. Gerhard Mueller, chief surveyor, and forwarded to the Melbourne International Exhibition, shows the various localities where gold has been obtained. In no district thus marked, except in the case of Ross, has gold been worked to any considerable depth; so that it has been truly said that as yet the surface of the country has only been scratched over.

Reef and lode mining has hardly yet been entered upon in West-land, but many important and promising discoveries in this direction have been made. Thus, on the Taipo River, in the northern part of the district, quartz reefs, averaging about an ounce of gold to the ton, have been explored; and at Mount Rangitoto, south of Hokitika, a lode band occurs, carrying, besides auriferous pyrites, argentiferous galena, and zinc blende.

In the gorge of the Hokitika River a similar association of magnesian rocks occurs as that which characterises the copper and chrome mineral belts in Nelson, and the general geological structure of the country points to a recurrence throughout the district of isolated areas of a gold-bearing formation similar to that which has proved so rich at Reefton in the Nelson Province.


Westland offers a good many advantages for the development of a large timber trade. The forest lands occupy more than two-thirds of its total area, and are easily accessible. The rivers are not more than four or five miles apart, so that in localities where there are no roads the timber can be floated down to the coast The timber consists of black, red, white, and silver pines; black, red, and white birches; miro, totara, rata, kawhaka, cedar, and manuka. The quality of the timber generally is excellent, and samples have been forwarded to the page 6 Melbourne Exhibition. Considerable quantities have been exported, but the expansion of the trade is much cramped by want of freight facilities, the quantity exported being, in a great measure, limited to the tonnage offered by vessels bringing in cargoes, such vessels carrying away the timber as return cargo.

Other Resources.

One of the exhibits forwarded to the Exhibition is a bale of flax, from Westland.

The flax plant (Phormium tenax) is found in all parts of Westland, the moist climate being very favourable for its growth; yet nothing has been done to utilise it On the banks of the rivers, and in the swamps, flax grows luxuriantly. Samples of the only kind dressed by the Maoris have the appearance of delicate glossed satin. Another kind, the tai, is remarkable for its length of fibre and great strength. The making of flax into rope and all kinds of cordage could be carried on advantageously in Westland, as the supply of flax is inexhaustible. If properly cultivated, and by stripping only the outer leaves of the flax plant twice a year, each acre of land would yield more than two tons of marketable flax.

In other parts of New Zealand, where the climate is not so favourable for the growth of flax, swamps have been drained, and, immediately after, the plants that had a stunted growth of two feet commenced growing till they attained a height of nine feet or ten feet

All the rivers of Westland, and the bays in its southern parts, abound with fish. If parties of men would organise, and settle in the southern parts of the district, they would find fish-curing a profitable occupation, more especially if they fitted out boats for whaling and seal-catching, as whales are frequently cast on our shores, and seals abound on the rocky parts of the coast; at seasons when fishing may be dull the settlers could prospect for gold, as the whole of the coast is auriferous. There are men scattered in the southern parts of this province who, for the last five or six years, have been gold-mining and doing nothing else. These men will not leave the district, preferring to remain there, notwithstanding the difficulties and expense of obtaining provisions. There are blocks of land set apart for special settlements, and immigrants can easily obtain homesteads in the southern parts. Bruce Bay and Jackson's Bay, both well sheltered, are good localities for the establishment of fishing stations.

Sites with water frontages to any of the rivers can be easily obtained, and a supply of bark being at hand, tanneries could be cheaply worked, and would probably give good returns, as the demand for leather is very great, most of the population being engaged in mining, in the bush, or other heavy work. If tanneries were established boot factories would soon follow.

Brickmaking is another industry which might be entered upon much more extensively than it is at present, if capital and labour were more abundant There is a good supply of good brick-clays, and also page 7 of fire-clay of first-class quality. Several varieties of good building stone exist, and a fine marble of close grain is obtainable at Caswell Sound. Lithographic stone exists at the Abbey Rocks, and a sample of this may be seen in the New Zealand Court of the Exhibition.


The system of Education adopted in Westland is the same as that carried out in other parts of New Zealand, and is maintained by the general Government of the colony. It is of the most liberal character and special endowment reserves have been set apart for educational purposes. The head school of Westland is in Hokitika, and is attended by upwards of 400 children, out of a population of about 3000 souls. There are also 25 branch schools, superintended and taught by about 50 teachers of all grades. The average number of scholars on the roll being about 3500.


Mason, Firth & M'Cutcheon, Printers, 51 & 53 Flinders-lane West, Melbourne