Brakehead Walk

Brakehead Walk - Denniston Coalmining Historic Area

Brakehead Walk

Denniston Coalmining Historic Area

Your Nature Guide

Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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The top of the infamous incline


1.1 km return | 40 minutes return

‘Damn Denniston, Damn the track, Damn the way both there and back, Damn the wind and damn the weather, God damn Denniston altogether’. So the poem goes. A typical story of grit, hardship and the Herculean efforts of settlers to eke the resources in a harsh environment. Comprehensively restored and lavishly illustrated with information boards, the Denniston area throws your imagination back to the coal mining days.


From Westport follow SH67 north to Waimangaroa then head right, following signposts to Denniston Coal mining Historic Area. The steep winding Denniston Road climbs for 7 km to a junction. Head left to the Brakehead Carpark with toilets and lavish interpretation panels.


This track has been thoughtfully and thoroughly restored by DoC and local community group, Friends of the Hill, to provide a comprehensive overview of the old coal mining days. At Brakehead carpark is a track map for the Brakehead Walk, with signs at bollards to follow the restored relics of the incline and its associated infrastructure.


Rich seams of coal were discovered in the late 1800s and worked between 1879 and 1967. Nearby Stockton is still mooted for mining. Situated on an elevated plateau, way above the West Coast, and buffeted by the moist winds perpetually disgorging precipitation in all forms, the living conditions for miners and their families were, to put it mildly - difficult.

European History

The town of Denniston was isolated, tracks were rough and most goods came in and out via the incline. This feat of engineering incorporated two sections with very steep gradients and fell 510 metres over 1.7 km. The self-acting rail system allowed laden coal carts to descent, while transporting empty carts back to the top. It was powered by gravity. Fully laden 12 ton carts accelerated to speeds of 80km per hour and sped down the rails to the head at Waimangaroa. Water arrested the piston action, but boiled with the friction and had to be replaced at each stroke. The system was not fail safe and occasional runaways would cause mayhem further down the line. People died. Over its lifespan, the incline transported over 12.6 million tonnes of coal.


Feature Value Info


DOC West Coast

Central government organisation


South IslandWest CoastWestport


  • Walking
  • Free


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DOC Managed

Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍

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Cymen Crick