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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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The West Coast extends over a distance of some 325 miles on the western side of the Southern Alps in the South Island. Rarely does its width exceed 25 miles and nowhere does it reach much beyond 50 miles. The limits of the region correspond to those of the counties Buller, Murchison, Inangahua, Grey, and Westland, which, together with their interior boroughs, constitute the principal basis for the collection of statistics. The decision to include Murchison county may be disputed, but it is a small point. Greymouth (population 8,881, 1961) is the largest town of the region, which, in 1961, had a total population of 38,875 (1·61 per cent of the New Zealand total population) of which 1·04 per cent were registered as Maoris.

No other region of New Zealand has achieved the celebrity or the degree of individuality which belongs to the West Coast. The gold-rush period, the present dependence upon exploitative industries, the isolation, and the varied landscapes have all contributed to the region's unique social and political solidarity. Nevertheless, in the origins of its renown are to be found also the causes of its decline. The excessive dependence upon coal mining and forestry, the isolation, the scarcity of easily farmed land, the relatively low standard of land use, and the general absence of economic and social development during the past decades, have reduced the West Coast to a position of a marginal region in need of special considerations and assistance. During the last decade, 1951–61, the population of the region declined by 5·22 per cent.


Samuel Harvey Franklin, B.COM.GEOG., M.A.(BIRMINGHAM), Senior Lecturer, Geography Department, Victoria University of Wellington.