The major trends of the past half century have been the disproportionate growth of Nelson City and Motueka borough and the relative stability of the towns of Westport and Reefton. The population of the provincial district was 48,463 in 1911, 69,111 in 1956 and 74,281 in 1961. In the Tasman Bay lowlands, farming has become more intensive and specialised, as the climatic endowments of high sunshine, mild temperatures, and freedom from strong winds have been utilised for the growing of cash crops of high value. These include tobacco, hops, raspberries, peas, vegetables, and pip fruits. Concentration on the better flat land for annual crops led to neglect of much of the poorer hill country and its general deterioration, particularly during the depression of the 1930s. Some 70,000 acres of reverted land on the Moutere Hills have been planted as State private exotic forests, but since the mid-1950s new areas of pasture land have been broken in with the use of machinery and heavy dressings of lime and fertiliser.
On the West Coast the population has declined since 1936. Quartz mining ceased when the Waiuta mine closed in 1951 and gold dredging in the Grey Valley ceased shortly afterwards. The Reefton district turned from quartz to coal mining in the 1920s and settlement has been relatively stable there, but the Buller coalfield suffered severe curtailment of its markets during the 1950s. There has been a marked migration away from the district as well as a tendency for settlement to concentrate in Westport, leading to the near abandonment of some of the coalfields settlements.
The Nelson Provincial District has long comprised two communities of rather distinct social characteristics. In the Tasman Bay area a large proportion of the population is descended from the predominantly English settlers of the 1840s, but there has been a significant flow to Nelson City of retired people attracted by the climate. There is also a marked seasonal inflow of holiday makers in midsummer and of seasonal labourers, mainly from the North Island, for crop harvesting between January and April. The West Coast portion of the province, on the other hand, was first settled by gold miners and the high proportion of Irish has been reflected in the high proportion of Roman Catholics. Later migration to the coalfields and quartz mines brought groups of Scots, Welsh, Cornishmen, and Australians.
by Murray McCaskill, M.A., PH.D., Reader in Geography, University of Canterbury.
- History of the Port of Nelson, Allan, R. M. (1954)
- The Amuri, Gardner, W. J. (1956)
- Jubilee History of Nelson, Broad, L. (1892)
- Vanguard of the South, Brereton, C. B. (1952)
- Nelson: A History of Early Settlement, Allan, Ruth M. (1965).