WESTLAND, or which is more widely known as the "West Coast" or just "The Coast " is a strip of land in the South Island sandwiched between the majestic Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. The prevailing warm humid Nor West winds sweep down from the tropics, hitting the Alps and as they rise up, deposit their moisture as rain onto the Coast. It continues it's way up over the mountains to blow down into Canterbury, as a hot dry wind. This high rainfall and warm temperatures creates the dense rainforest New Zealand is known for.
As New Zealand began to get colonised, the Coast was getting left behind because of its isolation. There was no ready way linking it to the rest of New Zealand except by ship. Even this was hazardous owing to the frequent rough weather at the ports of Greymouth and Hokitika. Then Gold was discovered in the mid 1800s ! Miners flocked in to make their fortunes. Towns sprang up, Greymouth, Hokitika and Westport flourished.
This goldrush made the need for access across the Southern Alps all the more urgent ! Two main passes were established, Arthurs Pass and the Lewis Pass. These passes opened up the Coast with regular stage coach services ( Cobb and Co ) and pack horse routes to Canterbury.
Inevititably the gold eventually ran out and the miners left to seek their fortunes at other gold fields. The only gold mining that was left was by huge dredges. These mechanical monsters churned their way across the land bringing up gold bearing gravel from well below the surface. These dredges floated on their own lakes sorting out the gold and leaving great mounds of rock and gravel behind them. These tailings, as they are called, made the land virtually useless for growing crops or pastures. The only use they could be put to was to grow pine trees, ( Pinus Radiata ).
This brings us to the forestry industry. With the high rainfall experienced on the Coast, dense rainforest of native trees evolved ( Rimu, Kauri, Kahikatea ). Early settlers set about clearing this rainforest for farmland and house building materials. The government eventually realized that this wholesale logging was ruining the Coast's ecological systems and in about the mid 1980s virtually stopped the logging of native timbers. Today only the odd tree is allowed to be felled due to overcrowding in a particular area.
So with the goldmining exhausted, and the timber trade greatly reduced , great unemployment was looming. To a small extent cattle farming was being established, but the coal mining industry industry established on the Coast in the 19th century was now vital to it's survival. The coal on the Coast is of high grade and is greately sort after in many countries. Again the Southern Alps was a barrier to getting the coal to the main ports of Lyttelton ( Christchurch ) and Dunedin. This was eventually overcome in 1939 by blasting and excavating a 5 mile long tunnel at Arthurs Pass. Coal was a lucrative industry until the word "pollution" became the "buzz-word" and many countries, including New Zealand, converted to cleaner forms of fuel. Many coal mines closed down, again with the loss of many jobs. China is still taking reasonably large quantities of coal but I guess that this will reduce in a few years time.
What else could the "Coasters" do ? One great asset the Coast has is the beautiful scenery ! The majestic Alps, many beautiful lakes and glaciers and of course the dense rainforest. So the tourist industry sprang up, today thousands upon thousands of tourists from within New Zealand and overseas, flock to the Coast. There is a daily Trans-Alpine Express that traverses the Southern Alps via Arthurs Pass through the tunnel and onto Greymouth on the on the coast.