Kawatiri: Drifting Slowly From The 19th Century To Today
Hauauru - Some things never change over in Buller, on the West Coast. The people are great, an amphitheatre of breathtaking natural beauty from the mountains to the sea and its wild beaches; and now it is one of the best performed regions in Aotearoa.
The scenic Kawatiri (Buller) has benefitted from a resurgence in domestic tourism, with locals and Kiwi tourists spending 22.3 percent more last covid year compared with 2019.
A renewed interest in the quieter lifestyle has benefitted Buller, with a 16.2 percent increase in house prices last year.
Buller’s economy has bounced back well after the June quarter lockdown, with Infometrics provisional estimates showing a 3.4 percent increase in GDP in 2020 was the highest in New Zealand.
This was driven by strong performances in the September and December quarters, which offset a decline in June from the covid lockdown.
Overall consumer spending in the district rose 7.5 percent last year, despite the absence of overseas tourists.
The economic effect of the global health crisis could have been particularly severe on the West Coast, a region for the last few decades being increasingly reliant on overseas tourists.
But Kawatiri and Westport’s economy has proved exceptionally robust.
The diversity of the regional economy lends itself to resilience – agriculture and mining remain the dominant sectors.
Kawatiri mayor Jamie Cleine says Hauauru (Westport) retailers have been incredibly healthy throughout the pandemic, with a big push to shop and support locally.
Whitebait is becoming a renewable food source after a government investment to farm the popular little fish in Kawatiri.
Buller District Council received $2 million to get the whitebait farm up and running with commercial partner New Zealand Whitebait. The project aims to produce up to 100 tonnes of whitebait a year. Manāki Premium New Zealand Whitebait is Aotearoa’s first and only 100 percent sustainably produced whitebait. Four of six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction.
Elsewhere, there has been a substantial rise in dairy production, and large areas of previously abandoned land are being farmed. Eleven dairy farms are up for sale in the district, between $1-3.5 million.
The town’s retail precinct has a long way to go to look appealing but there are some signs. Grumpy’s fish and chip shop food is world class. The Whanake café and gallery matches anything similar in Aotearoa.
The old chief post office is such an imposing art deco building, easily the most outstanding building on the coast. The original building collapsed in the 1929 Murchison earthquake and was replaced by the stunning art deco Municipal Chambers, built with reinforced concrete, with interior work in rimu and terrazzo floors.
Buller will profit more from one of its newest projects, the 55km Kawatiri Coastal Trail, a cycle and walking trail from Hauauru to Charleston following in the footsteps of early Maori and the 1860s gold miners.
About 95km north is Karamea, which borders Kahurangi National Park and is a haven for caving, birdwatching, mountain biking, fishing and hunting, kayaking and rafting. The coast drive north is one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand.
Punakaiki, 56km drive south, was hugely popular before covid with tourists, mostly for its Pancake Rocks.
Inland 85km is Reefton, a quirky inland town nestled among the spectacular Paparoa and Victoria ranges. The town lies alongside the wild Inangahua River and is surrounded by the Victoria Conservation Park which at 180,000ha is New Zealand's largest.
Back in the 1870s, Reefton became the first place in New Zealand to have a public supply of electricity.