Like a proud fly caught in amber, WESTPORT, despite government and tourist money and the council’s zealous desire to modernize, remains fixed in time. Diversions are scarce, except at the seal colony at Cape Foulwind, on the brain-clearing walk to the old lighthouse beyond or exploring the ghostly former coal towns of the Rochford Plateau. Were Westport – once known as “Worstport” – not a transport interchange, few would stay in this workaday fishing port as the temptations of the Heaphy Track and Karamea, 100km north, are too strong. However, stay some must, and time here is made tolerable by good-value accommodation, an engaging museum, some adventure activities and an outstanding restaurant, The Town House, that could hold its own in Auckland, Wellington and well beyond.
Almost everything of consequence in Westport is around Palmerston Street. For tours to the nearby former coal-mining town of Denniston.
Westport was the first of the West Coast towns, established by one Reuben Waite in 1861 as a single store beside the mouth of the Buller River. He made his living provisioning Buller Gorge prospectors in return for gold, but when the miners moved on to richer pickings in Otago, Waite upped sticks and headed south to help found Greymouth. Westport turned to coal and, while the mining towns to the north were becoming established, engineers channelled the river to scour out a port, which fast became the largest coal port in the country, but now lies idle. Westport battles on, with a respectable-sized fishing fleet and the odd ship laden with the produce of New Zealand’s largest cement works, at Cape Foulwind, fuelled by coal from the opencast mine at Stockton.