A historic gold mining town on the West Coast, Reefton is an attractive place to spend time, though five mostly wet days just before Christmas may have been too much. Along with the Coromandel, the area surrounding Reefton was the most important for gold in New Zealand, with the first discoveries in 1870
In 1888 Reefton became the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have electricity, and it’s population reached over 4,000 by the turn of the century. Since WW1 it had been in gradual decline, stablising at around a thousand residents, but it is currently undergoing a boom thanks to farming, tourism, retirees, and new gold mining operations. With average house prices a third of New Zealand’s cities there is some attraction, but it is a relatively isolated place, with the nearest dentist for example being in Greymouth, an hour away by car.
The best views over the town are from Lookout Point, accessed by a mining road behind town, or by mountain bike.
Just up from the lookout was the largest group of foxgloves I’ve ever seen, laden with recent rain.
In 1887 the Inangahua River flooded and took out much of the then town, which was rebuilt further away from the river, adopting a grid system.
The pleasant Powerstation Walk runs along by the river through Rosstown to the remains of the Bottled Lightning Power Station which generated hydro-electricity from 1888. It was decommissioned in 1949 and the power house demolished in 1961 but there are restoration efforts underway to rebuild it.
The track returns you to Reefton via a heritage Suspension Bridge.
Which connects with the Terrace Walk offering more views of the town below.
Along with views of a couple of historic reservoirs, offering good reflections.
One of the more unusual sights in town is the Lavender Flag of New Zealand. Planted in 2016 by local entrepreneur John Bougen, over 2,500 lavender plants cover about 4,000sqm, providing plenty of food for the bees producing lavender honey. Unfortunately there is no good place to see the flag unless you own a drone.
Another unusual sight was this row of closely stacked headstones at the former Reefton cemetery. In the early 1980s the Council decided it would be a good idea to relocate all the decent headstones to one end of the cemetery, remove the others, and turn the space into a public park, without moving any of the bodies below. Hopefully such a thing wouldn’t happen today…
The Reefton War Memorial looks better maintained thankfully.
On the aptly named Church street is Sacred Heart Catholic Church from 1878-9 and across the road St Stephens Anglican Church from 1877-88.
Nearby is the attractive Reefton Court House built in 1872, next to the 1871 Surveyors House, now a private home.
Other notable heritage buildings include Oddfellows Hall from 1876, and Reefton School of Mines, established in 1886.
There are impressive heritage houses around town.
Any many less well preserved houses…
Broadway is Reefton’s main street, home to the Bearded Mining Co Ltd Reeftown, a 1990s replica of an 1870s miners hut which gives an idea of what life was once like.
Reefton’s visitor centre is one of the most extensive I’ve visited in New Zealand, with a replica mine and informative displays.
Nearby is an unexpected Fairlie Steam Engine dating from the late 19th century, one of the last surviving in the world.
A few kilometres up the road from Reefton is Black’s Point, a small former mining town. It is home to Black’s Point Museum, housed since 1966 in an abandoned church. Filled with stuff it’s an interesting place to visit, run by knowledgeable volunteers.
Behind the museum is the still operational Golden Fleece Gold Battery, used to crush the ore to extract gold using mercury originally, then cyanide.