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Tohu Whenua: Discover The Places That Tell Our Stories

News: 1 October 2020

Discover the places that tell our stories. That’s what Tohu Whenua is encouraging New Zealanders to do this summer - West Coast locals and visitors included.

That’s because Te Tai Poutini is home to four heritage hot spots that have Tohu Whenua status.

Tohu Whenua identifies some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences, making it easier than ever to find the places where you can walk in the footsteps of extraordinary and everyday Kiwis, and hear the stories of their deeds, struggles, triumphs and innovations that continue to shape our country. Sites chosen as Tohu Whenua are places that have created our defining stories and shaped our unique New Zealand identity.

“The West Coast Tohu Whenua tell the stories of the hardships endured for our country’s most prized resources,” says Tohu Whenua Governance Group Chair Andrew Coleman. “A region known for its incredible beauty and rich bounty, these are places where our people’s limits were tested and rewarded.”

The Coalbrookdale Walk at Denniston is one of the West Coast's best kept secrets. Only one hour long and leading over gentle terrain, it's a great place to stretch your legs and be entertained along the way. Image is courtesy of Tohu Whenua's facebook page ; photo by Claudia Babirat.

Te Tai Poutini’s Tohu Whenua include well-loved landmarks such as historic Hokitika, a place our ancestors determinedly entered in search of pounamu and gold, often at great risk (at least 42 shipwrecks were recorded at Hokitika’s infamously treacherous river mouth). A visit to Reefton is also a must. The character gold mining town was the first to have commercial electric lighting in the Southern Hemisphere, and is well known for its friendly locals who are passionate about restoring countless heritage buildings - including the rebuild of the Bottled Lightning Powerhouse which recently received a $2.87 million grant.

Hidden gems that are slightly off the beaten track include Denniston Mine near Westport, a town of extremes with the highest quality coal and lowest living conditions. Sitting 518 metres high in the clouds, the Denniston plateau originally had one access: an incredibly steep 1670 metre incline railway deservingly referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. This engineering marvel used gravity and West Coast grit to transport coal wagons for almost a century. Another gem is Brunner Mine near Greymouth, which tells the story of New Zealand’s most tragic workplace disaster. In 1896 a coal gas explosion instantly killed 65 men, shattering families, shaking the nation but also sparking better safety legislation. These days you can easily spend an hour or two exploring the mining relics including coke ovens, tall chimney and mine entrance found on either side of the reconstructed suspension bridge.

“We don’t need to go overseas to visit amazing heritage places,” says Mr Coleman. “We have them right here in our own backyard.”

Background about Tohu Whenua

Tohu Whenua is a partnership between Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage, Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, with support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Te Puni Kokiri.

Launched in 2016 in Northland, Tohu Whenua’s aim is to connect New Zealanders with our most important heritage places.

The way Tohu Whenua are chosen is as follows. Regions are asked to put forward their most important heritage sites, which are then assessed against a number of criteria by the Tohu Whenua Governance Group which consists of partner agency representatives. Sites selected as Tohu Whenua are those that have significantly shaped Aotearoa New Zealand and our cultural identity, are rich in stories, and have all the amenities that make visitors comfortable and happy. All Tohu Whenua are located in scenically stunning locations.

The result is a network of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most meaningful heritage experiences.

Tohu Whenua is growing rapidly. There are currently three Tohu Whenua regions, which include Northland, Otago and West Coast, and work to roll out another region next year is underway. The goal is to recognise Tohu Whenua in all 15 regions of New Zealand.

To find out more about Tohu Whenua visit the Tohu Whenua website or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.


Updated on 31st May 2023