Skip to main content
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.



The Coalfields

The coalfields of the West Coast contain all the measured bituminous reserves of the Dominion. The 905,532 tons which were produced in 1960 represents 30·06 per cent of the total New Zealand coal production, 493,888 tons coming from the Grey field, 300,630 tons from the Buller, and 111,014 tons from the Reefton field. In 1910, when the national coal production was 2,197,362 tons, the West Coast accounted for 60 per cent of that total (1,312,312 tons), so that present production is 30·99 per cent below the levels obtained 50 years ago. Since that period the contribution made by the Grey field to the total West Coast production has increased from approximately one-third to a half, whilst the Buller's contribution has decreased from approximately two-thirds to one-third. The production of the Reefton field has risen from 1 per cent of the total in 1910 to 12·25 per cent of the 1960 total. These figures suggest both the varied histories of the different fields and the general, if slow decline which the whole industry has experienced. In the Grey coalfield there is little opencast mining, and State mines account for most of the employment. Production has declined since the war years, but not to the same extent as in the case of the Buller fields. Most of the miners reside in Runanga, Brunner, or Blackball, and in Greymouth. Characteristically, these settlements have relatively high ratios of males to females and a low proportion of people over 65 years of age. The bulk of the coal produced in the Buller field comes from the mines high up on the coastal range (smaller fields exist at Charleston and near Inangahua). In addition to bituminous, sub-bituminous coal and lignite are produced and, while much of the coal is exploited underground, opencast pits are to be found. This field achieved its greatest level of production about the time of the First World War, since when the production has declined. The State again is the principal employer. The mining settlements are notoriously unattractive and their populations have declined markedly as the miners have been rehoused in the lower and coastal localities. In the Reefton district the State is not such an important employer and the mines tend to be smaller with opencast mining supplying more than a third of the total production. Production has increased continuously since the beginning of the century.