Compared with the rest of the country, the region has a high percentage of its labour force in transport, 15·23 per cent in 1961, compared with the national figure of 9·69 per cent. This reflects the exploitative nature of the economy and the region's isolation. Greymouth and Westport are the two ports, each handling approximately 200,000 tons of goods every year with hardly any inward cargo. The past three decades have seen a marked decline in tonnage handled, both timber and coal exports suffering. In addition, the proportion of the total coal production exported by sea has fallen off; in 1956 it was 32 per cent, compared with 88 per cent in 1922.
Both ports are difficult ones, being subjected to silting and building up of river-mouth bars, and lacking protection from the prevailing winds. Over the same period of time the movement of goods by rail has increased considerably as coal, timber, and, especially, livestock have been increasingly deflected from the ports and railed to Christchurch. The rail connection between Christchurch and the Coast was completed in 1923 with the opening of the Otira Tunnel. Previously Inangahua, Reefton, and Hokitika had been connected with Greymouth, and the settlements of the Buller coalfields with Westport. Not until 1944 were Westport and Greymouth linked through Inangahua Junction. By road the West Coast can be approached from Nelson and Marlborough via the Buller Gorge, a difficult route which passes through Murchison, a small centre that serves the local dairying population and a few sawmillers. The road via Arthur's Pass is the most spectacular way to reach the Coast and it is consequently largely a tourist route, sometimes closed in winter. The main route is via the Lewis Pass (2,968 ft) and this carries the greatest density of traffic. Air services, however, speedily link the main parts of the region to the rest of the country.