The West Coast (Māori: Te Tai Poutini) is a region of New Zealand on the west coast of the South Island, one of the more remote and most sparsely populated areas of the country. It is administered by the West Coast Regional Council. At the territorial authority level, the region comprises Buller District, Grey District and Westland District. The principal towns are Westport, Greymouth and Hokitika.
The region is home to Māori, who valued it for the greenstone (pounamu) found there in abundance..The region was only occasionally visited by Europeans until the discovery of gold near the Taramakau River in 1864 by two Māori, Ihaia Tainui and Haimona Taukau. By the end of the year there were an estimated 1800 prospectors, many of them around the Hokitika area, which in 1866 was briefly the most populous settlement in New Zealand.
The region was divided between Nelson Province and Canterbury Province from 1853: in 1873 the Canterbury portion of the region formed its own province, the Westland Province, until the abolition of the provincial system in 1876.
The West Coast Gold Rush between 1864 and 1867 created numerous gold rush towns such as Okarito, which at one time was the largest town on the West Coast but quickly almost vanished as miners moved on. After that time, the population dwindled, but the main towns that still exist had become established.
Following greenstone and gold, the next valuable mineral was coal. Discovered near the Buller River in the mid-1840s, mining began in earnest during the 1860s. By the 1880s coal had become the region’s main industry, with mines throughout the northern half of the region, especially around Westport. Many of these continued in operation until the mid 20th century, and several survive.
Timber has also long been a major industry, although in recent years there has been an uneasy balance between forestry for wood and forestry for conservation. Much of the region is public land administered by the Department of Conservation and the region has some of the best remaining stands of native forest, along with a wealth of rare wildlife. Ecotourism is now an important industry, and this goes hand in hand with the conservation efforts.
The region is sparsely populated, especially in the south, with the 2006 census recording 31,326 inhabitants, up from 30,303 in 2001, lower than the 1996 figure. The June 2014 estimated population is 32,800.
There are only four towns with a population over 1,000: Greymouth, Westport, Hokitika and Reefton. During the gold rush days, Hokitika had a population of more than 25,000 with more than 100 pubs. A recreation of an early New Zealand settlement is at Shantytown.