Westland District is located on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The District includes the former Hokitika Borough and Westland County. The geographical extent of the District is shown in Figure 3.
The land area of Westland District comprises approximately 11,400 km2 (1,140,000 hectares). The District stretches for 330 kilometres from the Taramakau River in the north to Big Bay in the south. The western boundary is mean high water springs (MHWS) on the Tasman Coast and the eastern limit is a line running along the Main Divide of the Southern Alps/Ka Tirititi o te Moana.
The District has common boundaries with Grey, Selwyn, Hurunui, Ashburton, Mackenzie, Waitaki, Queenstown-Lakes and Southland Districts and comes within the jurisdiction of the West Coast Regional Council.
1.3.2 Population and Settlement
Westland was first settled by Europeans with the onset of the West Coast gold rushes in the 1860's. The District also has a long history of Maori settlement. Many important cultural sites remain, particularly along the coast and rivers, and reflect early patterns of resource use. Today tangata whenua in Westland is Ngai Tahu represented by three runanga Te Runanga O Tuhuru, Te Runanga O Te Koeti Turanga and Te Runaka O Kati Wae Wae.
Hokitika was, and is, the largest settlement in the District. The town reached a peak population of more than 6,000 in 1866 at the height of the gold rush. Settlement spread south along the coast with activity centred on gold mining, forestry and farming. A wealth of historic places remain today in settlements and in areas which were worked.
The population of the District stands at 10,025 (1996 Census) of which 3,342 live in Hokitika. Other significant settlements include Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier/Waiau, Whataroa, Ross, Harihari and Kumara. The potential for growth associated with the tourist and mining industries cannot be overlooked. Any resultant increase in population will have a positive influence on community viability and associated services.
1.3.3 Natural and Physical Resources and Activities
Westland District is dominated by bush clad foothills and snow-capped mountains which are drained at regular intervals by large rivers. Closer to the coast these rivers have formed coastal plains.
The forest areas of Westland represent a considerable resource and hold a number of significant values. Podocarp species have been utilised for their timber values since early settlement. The principal forest types are the hardwoods at the higher altitudes and mixed podocarps and hardwoods on the lower terraces. With some 85% of the land area in Westland being held under a conservation mandate by the Department of Conservation, little of this resource is available for production forestry. Timberlands West Coast Ltd manages both exotic and indigenous vegetation with exotic plantations occurring principally in the Waimea, Kaniere and Mahinapua forests with substantial plantings in the Ianthe and Wanganui Forests. Forested areas are also valued as wildlife and habitat areas, for soil conservation purposes and for recreation. A number of concessions, leases, easements and rights are held for land administered by the Department of Conservation for activities ranging from jetboating and canoeing, guided walks and climbs, gathering sphagnum moss, to mining and pastoral grazing rights.
The high proportion of forested land in Westland and generally poor quality of the soils means that only relatively small areas of land are available for agricultural use. A strip of narrow, coastal soils and river flats have a medium to high value for food production. Over 173,000 hectares are farmed mostly on alluvial river flats. Dairying and beef farming dominate although sheep, deer and mixed livestock farming are also important.
Mineral resources are plentiful in Westland. Gold, greenstone (pounamu), schist, aggregate and river protection rock are all found in quantities of economic significance. As at 2nd October 1997, the following minerals permits and licences were issued in the District:
· 2 prospecting permits covering 267 ha.
· 53 mining licences covering 3, 549 ha.
· 2 prospecting permits covering 318 km2.
· 16 exploration permits covering 2, 955 ha.
· 60 mining permits covering 2, 849 ha.
These areas include areas of gold mining as well as greenstone and agricultural limestone. (source: Crown Minerals)
Industries include sphagnum moss harvesting with processing plants having been established in the District. Other secondary processing industries include the dairy and meat factories, timber mills, and a fish processing plant.
Physical resources include buildings and infrastructure. The transport network, in particular the State Highways, are vital to the communities in Westland due to the geographical nature of the District and its isolation from other parts of the country. Hokitika Airport, the Franz Josef Glacier/Waiau aerodrome, Waiho Flat Road airstrip, Mount Cook airstrip at Fox, as well as several Helicopter pads are important elements of the districts transport infrastructure which supports the tourist sector.
Tourism has considerable potential to expand in Westland. The New Zealand Tourism Board is promoting a figure of 3 million visitors to New Zealand by the year 2000. Tourism is recognised as a key area of economic growth on the West Coast which is well placed to take advantage of any increases. The District's scenic, recreational and historic attractions mark it as a prime tourist destination. The creation of a World Heritage Area in the south of the District and the establishment of the West Coast Heritage Highway may prove to be significant additional attractions for Westland.