A river port near the mouth of the Buller River, Westport is the main commercial and administrative centre for the northern part of the West Coast. After gold was discovered in the middle reaches of the Buller River in the 1860s, a small trading settlement grew up on the eastern side of the river mouth. About 80 people lived there at the end of 1861, in a township known as Buller. At the height of the gold rushes in 1867 the population grew to 1,500. The discovery and mining of high-quality bituminous coal near Westport led to the progressive development and expansion of the port. Breakwaters confined the river to a defined channel.

Meaning of place name
The name Westport was proposed for the settlement by J. C. Richmond in 1863, apparently because of its similarity to Westport in County Mayo, Ireland.