Denniston New Zealand: Exploring Denniston Plateau

Denniston Plateau is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island. It offers visitors a glimpse of the past, fascinating walking trails and panoramic views of the coastline.

After eagerly anticipating a visit for quite some time, we finally decided to take a side trip from Westport on a sunny day to personally experience the allure of this significant historic site in New Zealand. Please keep reading to find out the highlights of the Denniston Plateau, how to get there and what to see and do there.

Monocable aerial ropeway at Denniston historic mine

What is there to do in Denniston, NZ?

Denniston offers a chance to see a historic coal mine site and explore abandoned coal mining towns of the Denniston Plateau. The outdoor museum also offers breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline from an elevated level.

Coastal views from Denniston Incline

Getting to Denniston Plateau

The drive from Westport to Denniston Plateau takes about 30 minutes. 

You follow the highway north for 10 minutes from Westport. 

Following the marked sign at Waimangaroa, you take a right turn.

The adventure begins with an uphill drive on a winding road that demands caution due to the debris and twists. 

As you ascend the plateau, you will be greeted by glimpses of the ocean and the coastline, accompanied by the beauty of New Zealand’s native bush views – a truly splendid drive, especially in the sunshine.

Insider Tip: While the drive offers stunning views, remember to take it slow and steady due to its winding nature. Although we have driven on New Zealand’s winding roads many times, we felt we needed to stay alert for obstacles.

Panoramic Views Beyond Imagination

Beyond its historical significance, Denniston Plateau boasts a captivating natural beauty that leaves visitors awe-inspired. As we ventured higher, the views from the plateau left us speechless. 

The vista extended as far as our eyes could reach, the New Zealand coastline stretching many kilometres away. 

The elevation rewarded us with a unique perspective, and along with the rugged terrain decorated with tussock grasslands and native flora, the surrounding landscapes were equally pleasing.

A Glimpse into History

Denniston Plateau has a captivating history that dates back to the late 1800s. This area was once a thriving hub for coal mining, attracting miners and families from all corners of the world. It was one of the richest coal seams and the largest producing coal mine in all of New Zealand.

However, it was said to be one of the bleakest coal mining towns as it was often enveloped by fog.

The Denniston Plateau’s coal journey was an extraordinary feat, guided by the gravity-defying Denniston Incline – a cable railway that transported coal from the plateau to a branch railway line below. Mining ended in the 1990s, and today, a portion of the town stands as a living testament, transformed into a historic reserve.

The echoes of its past can still be heard through the remnants of old mining structures that dot the landscape. As you explore the plateau, you’ll come across rusted machinery, abandoned tunnels, and tales of perseverance in the face of adversity.

What is the Denniston Incline?

Denniston Incline Railway

The Denniston Incline, a gravity-powered railway, was a marvel of engineering that played a pivotal role in transporting coal from the plateau to the valley below. It lowered coal 518 metres in altitude to the rail yard at the base of the hill.

Denniston Brakehead Walk

Our first stop was the Brakehead Walk, where history came alive. 

The walk started at the mine workshop, where we viewed photo displays and information panels. They helped us learn about the area’s history before we commenced our self-guided Denniston mine tours.

We then embarked on a short walk that brought us face-to-face with the relics of the Denniston mine and the famous Denniston Incline.

Denniston historic area relics

The rail, the buckets, coal wagons, and the various coal mining relics spoke of an era long gone but not forgotten. 

The best part? The walks available at the Denniston coalmining historic area are suitable for everyone, even those not fond of long hikes. A brief stroll of approximately 5 to 15 minutes uncovers numerous historical landmarks, including the top of the Dennistone Incline and breathtaking coastline views. You can walk the entire loop in 40 minutes or turn back after seeing the incline. 

Additionally, don’t miss the Incline viewpoint, a brief 5-minute return walk that rewards you with an exceptional highlight – a breathtaking coastal panorama.

Insider Tip: If you have an iPhone, download the Denniston Rose app and take a personal guide with you on your Denniston coal mine tour. 

Man on platform overlooking bush views at Denniston Plateau

Read Next – Things to Do in Westport, New Zealand: Nature’s Gateway.

Exploring Denniston

The plateau offers a range of trails catering to different skill levels, and you can spend a few hours there, or you could spend 15 minutes at the Brakehead walk and then move on to your next West Coast adventure.

A moderate 1-hour walk, Coalbrookdale Trail takes you to historic ruins through diverse flora.

A drive through Denniston will lead you to the Friends of the Hill Museum, where you can see displays about life in the coal mining town.

Insider Tip: Before setting off on your Denniston Plateau adventure, check weather conditions to make the most of your visit. Bring a raincoat and warm clothes as the weather can change quickly in this area.

Coal bin at Denniston historic coalfields

Where to eat?

Need more of the Denniston mine experience? Then, head back to Westport for lunch at the Denniston Dog. Not only do they offer a diverse menu, but their photos and memorabilia give you further insight into Denniston.

Is Denniston NZ worth visiting?

We found our visit to the Denniston Plateau very enjoyable. It was interesting to see a town of over 2000 residents disappear, with the only relics being abandoned mining equipment and house piles. 

Looking over the side of the incline was a thrilling experience, and the views were an added bonus.

So, whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply searching for unforgettable vistas, we highly recommend you visit Denniston Plateau to discover its stories and landscapes.

Denniston Incline view

What to do next


A tiny town north of Denniston is the gateway to walks in the Kahurangi National Park and The Heaphy Track, a 4-5 day New Zealand Great Walk. Read More – A Hidden Gem: Things to Do in Karamea, New Zealand.


The idyllic village and surrounding area offer a unique charm and hidden gems. Read more – Charleston New Zealand: Get Off the Beaten Track in Charleston, NZ.


Punakaiki is famous for its Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. However, it’s one of those places that offer many natural wonders. Read more – NZ Must Do: Best Things To Do in Punakaiki New Zealand.

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