Australia: Reopening of Buller tourist attraction in Denniston delayed due to legislative obstacles

 Tuesday, August 29, 2023 


A Buller tourist attraction that was hampered by rules enacted in the aftermath of the Pike River Mine catastrophe has been permanently shuttered. Denniston’s subterranean Banbury Mine, branded as the ‘Denniston Experience,’ has been closed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

The old mine ceased operations as a tourist attraction in 2017, when it became an unintended victim of new rules enacted in the aftermath of the 2010 Pike River tragedy.

The rules made no distinction between an operating coal mine and a tourist mine. WorkSafe determined that a mine manager who was suitably qualified and experienced required to be on-site at all times.

“Since the last Denniston Experience concession was surrendered in 2017, the Banbury Mine, and an area of conservation land around it, has been in care and maintenance,” DOC western South Island operations director Mark Davies said today.

“This requires regular site visits and inspections.

“As the site is no longer feasible as a tourism operation, DOC has decided it would be better to rehabilitate it and offer other opportunities for visitors to explore Denniston and learn about its history.”

The decision has been communicated to the West Coast Conservation Board, according to Davies. The DOC was currently looking at rehabilitation options in order to provide the best possible experience for guests.

“We’re taking the opportunity to work on an overall heritage and visitor plan for Denniston as it’s such an important historic place with so much to offer. We need to strike a balance between heritage values, visitor experience and safety and cost in this planning.”

Davies stated that DOC saw an opportunity to develop a new short walk with spectacular vistas to connect the Brakehead to the mines at Coalbrookdale and Burnetts Face.

The Denniston Experience was designed as part of the DOC’s Denniston Enhancement project in 2007. The new tourist activity was created in collaboration with the Denniston Heritage Trust, Buller District Council, Development West Coast (DWC), Solid Energy, and Friends of The Hill.

The DOC, DWC, Buller District Council, and corporate donors contributed around $3.5 million to the tourism attraction. The Denniston Experience transported visitors back to the 1880s by reenacting the life and work of a mountain miner.

The experience was operated by DOC for five months when it debuted in March 2011, and subsequently by two different concessionaires until 2017.

It was open for roughly six years and attracted about 3000 visitors per year until shutting in February 2017.

“Over this time there were challenges such as lightning strikes, financial viability and maintenance and upkeep of assets,” Davies said.

In 2016, new regulations mandated that the operator hold a First Class Mine Manager’s Certificate, the same as an active underground coal mine. Because the concessionaire was unable to satisfy the criterion, he forfeited the concession.

In 2018, the Westport News reported that Charleston-based Geotech was seeking a DOC concession to revive the mine. At the time, DOC stated that it had replaced the mine’s electrical wiring and was spending around $12,000 to prepare the tourist attraction for reopening.

Davies stated today that the legislative, budgetary, and practical obstacles were insurmountable.

Denniston, which previously had a population of 1500 people, is now a ghost town.

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