Learning about New Zealand’s gold mining history is the main reason to visit Reefton, a small town tucked away off the main tourist route on the West Coast. It’s known as the “Town of Light” as it was the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have public electricity — these days Reefton is a cute tourist town perfect for those looking to get off the main tourist trail. Keep reading to find the best things to do in Reefton as well as some tips on where to stay and eat.
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Hang Out on Broadway
Reefton is one of the South Island’s top historic towns, with Broadway, the main street, a throwback to the gold rush era of the late 1800s. Not much has changed through the years — we saw an old photo at the museum and it looked pretty much the same. These old buildings are now home to cafés, shops and galleries, while a couple of the old hotels / pubs seem like they’ve never gone out of business.
We enjoy wandering historic streets and Reefton has one of the more interesting ones in the South Island, with the lush hills giving it a scenic backdrop. The side streets have a few old buildings too and it doesn’t take long to walk a little loop and then get back to Broadway.
Gold Mining History
Reefton was named after the quartz reefs found underground which contained an incredible amount of gold (and apparently there could be heaps more still to be extracted). If you’re keen to see what an old mine shaft looked like, check out the recreation in the museum / I-site in town.
The Bearded Miners is another good place to seek out if you want to learn about Reefton’s goldmining history. It’s a small cottage / museum run by old guys with beards who know lots about mining.
Blacks Point Museum, a 5-minute drive from Reefton, is another good place to learn about the area’s goldmining past. It’s likely John Taylor will show you around — he spent close to an hour with us and a few others and was really informative (he’s a former mining engineer).
It’s only open Wednesday to Sunday 10 am – 4 pm and is closed during winter (open by request though as far as I can tell). There’s lots of information and displays about the general history of the area too — definitely the best museum in these parts.
See Reefton from Above
The easiest way to see Reefton from above is to walk up the track at the end of Broadway (Reefton Walkway). The view there is pretty good and it’s an easy stroll from the main street.
Reefton Lookout, on the other side of the Inangahua River, is closed according to Google Maps, but you may be able to walk up one of the tracks / roads. It rained most of the time we were there so we didn’t try it — if you know of any other good viewpoints above Reefton leave us a comment below this post.
Try the Local Gin
Reefton has been gaining a reputation for gin over the last few years thanks to Reefton Distilling Co. You can try a few flavours for free and the bottles aren’t too expensive considering its artisanal nature. I know nothing about gin (and I never drink it straight), so tasting it didn’t tell me too much, but we bought a bottle anyway.
Swing Bridge / Old Power Station
If you’re keen for a short walk in Reefton you should head to the swing bridge at the top of Broadway. From there it’s a short walk to the old power station. There’s not much to see there these days but it’s an important part of history– it provided Reefton with electricity, the first town to get a public power supply in New Zealand (hence the “Town of Light” tagline).
Other Things to Do in Reefton
There are a few other walks and bike rides close to town. It rained a lot while we were there so we didn’t explore that side of things too much. There’s also the Waihou Mine nearby as well as Big River, an area with walking and cycling trails.
You’ve also got a a golf course in Reefton, rivers for fishing and other walks nearby. That’s about it for the town though — it’s a small place and doesn’t take long to explore. Stay a night or two and move on to one of dozens of other fun spots on the West Coast.
Where to Stay in Reefton
There’s a good range of accommodation in Reefton including motels, boutique hotels and a camping ground / holiday park. We went for something a little more unique — Harold House — an old cottage full of decorations and trinkets from the past.
We had the whole three-bedroom house to ourselves and loved it — such a nice place to relax when the sun finally came out. We paid our own way during this trip but if you book a stay through our affiliate link we’ll get a cut.
Check out Harold House and other Hotels in Reefton on Booking.com.
Eating and Drinking
There are some good eating and drinking options in Reefton, including Nana Ni’s (great pies), Dawson’s Hotel (standard pub food) and The Broadway Tearooms and Bakery (bakery and cabinet food). There are also a couple of small supermarkets if you’re keen to cook your own meals. A few places were closed when we visited — it seems like there’ll be more eating and drinking options in the busier months (we were there in mid-April.
Getting to Reefton
Reefton isn’t on the main Haast — Franz Josef — Hokitika — Punakaiki tourist trail so it’s a place a lot of tourists miss. It’s a short detour off that route, or you’ll drive through it when driving between Nelson and the West Coast.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island itinerary!
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