Banbury Tourist Mine

Underground Union Express

Useful Information

Location: Denniston Coalmining Historic Area, Denniston 7891.
Denniston, 20 km from Westport.
(-41.735964, 171.795809)
Open: Currenrly closed due to a change in regulatory mining requirements.
All year daily 9:30, 12:30, 15:15.
Online booking strongly recommended.
Fee: Currenrly closed due to a change in regulatory mining requirements.
Adults NZD 100, Children (10-15) NZD 50, Children (5-9) NZD 35, Children (0-4) not allowed.
Classification: MineCoal Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: T=12 °C
Guided tours: D=2.5 h, 45 min underground.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: The Denniston Experience, The Department of Conservation, 72 Russell Street, Westport, Free: 0800-881-880, Tel: +64-3-789-9021. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


OCT-1879 beginning of coal mining at Banbury Mine.
1950 decline of mining begins.
AUG-1967 mines closed.
2009 start of restoration.
01-MAY-2011 opened to the public.



The tour into Banbury Mine near Denniston is called Underground Union Express. The theme of the trip is the work life of a miner. It starts with reporting in at the mine office and signing the Union Membership Card. Then the work day as a miner begins, the visitors are kitted out with lamp, hard hat and protective gear. Everyone is assigned a work role and the new miners are travelling by train along the dramatic Waimangaroa Gorge to the mine. During the trip the miners are educated in the lost mining language of banjos, sprags and devils.

At the mine entrance the miners are tagging in, which means they take a tag, a small iron plate, with them. They have to return it when they return to the surface, so when the tags are complete again, everybody is out of the mine. It case of an accident it is possible to determine how many are still in the mine. Now the mine is entered on a 170 m long ride on a mine train. There are many interactive displays, so visitors who physically active can actually try any kind of typical work for themselfes. For example swinging banjos, clipping coal tubs and putting up pit props.

The whole tour lasts 105 minutes, it's one hour outside the mine and 45 minutes underground. It starts and ends at the car park in Denniston. Visitors must be able to walk unassisted for 45 minutes and children under 5 are not allowed in the mine for security reasons. Visitors are provided with helmet, headlamp and a waterproof jacket. We recommend extra warm clothes comfortable for walking and Sturdy footwear.

The Banbury Mine is a very new show mine. The whole concept is based on interaction, and it is a sort of mining related theme park. The mine has been abandoned long ago, so all exhibits are actually new or relocated from other sites, including the mine train and all the machinery. The mine train and the train through the rain forest to the mine entrance were constructed by Stelvio Ltd in 2009 and 2010. In 2007, they reconstructed the nearby Denniston Incline which is also worth a visit when you are here.

The Denniston Incline is a site owned by the Historic Places Trust and the DOC. It was renovated in 2007 and the upper end is now again in a working state. An original brake drum is on display in the MineCoaltown Museum. A visit to the incline is a good completion to the mine tour.

This is a funicular or cable railway, a car running on tracks and held by a cable. The incline was 1.7 km long with a height difference of 510 m, some sections have gradients over 1:1.3. Actually there were two inclines, the upper part to the Middle Brake was steeper, then the wagon was disconnected from the rope of the first incline, and placed on the rope of the second incline. From here the descent to Conns Creek was more gentle. The waggons where accumulated at Conns Creek and then marshalled into trains and taken to the port of Westport for unloading into coal ships.

Funiculars have two balanced train cars, if both have the same weight the engines are simply there to overcome inertia and friction. If the upward is heavier, the transport energy has to be produced by the engines. If the lower bound is heavier, the problem is to get rid of the energy. The Denniston incline transported coal downwards, so there were huge brakes which used water to slow the pistons of the drums. There was only a single track, but in the middle was a passing loop, which allowed the empty and full wagon to pass. The up side of the loop was called the Donkey Side, the down side was called the Company Side.

Actually such a system is pretty safe, because the rope, which connects the two wagons makes sure they always meet at the loop. In reality there were numerous near misses and head-ons, some of the destroyed wagons still lie at beside the incline. Numerous workers died and also some people traversing the incline route. We guess the head-ons were a result of the rope changing the length with temperature. If the temperature related expanding of the rope is not compensated, accidents can happen with very low and very high temperatures. A passing loop which is a little longer would actally do the same trick. So at the end the accidents were a result of greed, not the technology.

The village of Denniston existed solely for the mine workers. It grew after coal was discovered and the mining started, as a miner settlement. In the early 20th century it had about 1,500 inhabitants. And in the early years it was really isolated, because the incline was the only means of transportation. The road was built much later. With the end of the mining the number of jobs and thus the number of inhabitants shrank rapidly. Today there are only 50 inhabitants left, and the town resembles a ghost town.