The Denniston Experience. In 1879, one of the West Coast's largest and longest-serving coal mines started production on the Denniston Plateau. Coal was carried out on "The Incline," an incredibly steep railway dropping off the Dennison Plateau. Miners' families brought up this way were reportedly so terrified of the incline that they never left this barren, windswept plateau—at least until a bridle track was constructed. Today you can be driven in style up a paved road to the top of the incline, where a wagon sits ready to descend. Better still, you get to ride a narrow guage train around the bluff where coal-laden wagons once trundled out of the Banbury Mine, then you'll don your hard hat, be assigned your mining job, and head on into the mine. You'll walk in at least 300 meters (shafts head off in all directions) and get to play hands-on coal miner, maybe shoveling or sifting coal, pushing wagons, or setting off a charge! All the sounds of a working mine are around you, plus an intriguing hologram display tells of the harsh life of an old-time coal miner. You'll be glad you weren't one and you'll probably be glad to get back out in the open, looking down the sweeping vista to the coast. It's a fascinating, two-hour trip.You meet your guide up on the Denniston Plateau car park, about 40 minutes' drive from Westport. Small groups only and reservations essential. Minimum age five years. Denniston Rd., Denniston Plateau, Westport, West Coast, 7891. 0800/881–880. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.denniston.co.nz. NZ$95; child 5 to 14 yrs NZ$65.
NorWest Adventures. So many different adventures at once here—and you might actually pray for rain during a tour with NorWest Adventures. This popular adventure tour takes you into the rain forest then under it, should you wish, off the main highway at Charleston. You can sign up for an open-sided bush-train ride through the dense temperate lowland forest, or take a cave walk into one of the giant limestone mountains up the Nile River valley (a glowworm grotto is a highlight). Their most popular trip is a slow drift in a raft through the glowworm caves before breaking out onto the river (four-hour trip costs NZ$175). For something more challenging, go for the day-long "Full On" caving adventure with a 47-meter (154-foot) abseil (rappel) down into the mountain, before crawling, swimming, and climbing your way back to the surface. Prices range from NZ$20 for the train ride to NZ$425 for the "Full On" adventure. The guides are great. Reservations are essential. Charleston Hotel, State Hwy. 6, Charleston, West Coast, 6332. 03/788–8168. www.caverafting.com.
OutWest Tours. Coal mining is a hot topic on the West Coast where the history and the mines run deep. Past and recent tragedies in mines and current debates on open cast-mining and conservation versus employment are heatedly discussed. OutWest Tours run several interesting tours into coal mining country, making good use of their off-road and 4WD vehicles. Micky will transport you in style up to the Denniston Plateau, site of historic and current mine sites, plus he's the exclusive operator for tours through the current Stockton Open cast site on the Stockton Plateau. He'll give you a local's views on coal mining, which plays a major role in the area's economy. Give Micky a call the day before your trip is planned to remind him. 0800/688–937 or 027/641–8267. www.outwest.co.nz.