Glentunnel School is a co-educational contributing primary school. Established in 1879, the school and community have had a rich and varied history. The school is nestled in amongst the foothills of the Southern Alps, with the Selwyn River as a boundary. The school serves the immediate communities of Whitecliffs, Coalgate and Glentunnel itself, however we do have students attend from beyond these townships. Our nearest service centre is Darfield, 14km to the east of the town. The district of South Malvern, which incorporates the three townships, has a past that continues through to today of farming, mining and pottery.

Glentunnel township has a close historical association with local coalmines, potteries and brickworks of the Glentunnel/South Malvern area. Originally named ‘Surveyors Gully’ then ‘The Glen’, then named ‘Glentunnel’ derives from the name Glen and the tunnel, which was built on the bush track to the coal mine. This association, which continued until the 1980s, can still be seen in the brick community buildings including the library and stable, and many of the miners’ cottages are still lived in today.

Whitecliffs takes its name from the river terrace cliffs above the Selwyn River, and was so named by Lady Barker, author of “Station life in New Zealand,” who lived at nearby Steventon. Also known as South Malvern, it was once the terminus of the Whitecliffs Branch railway from Darfield (the engine shed still stands). For a while, Whitecliffs was a centre of pottery, brick, and tile production, and coal and sand mining, with a hotel, church, school, and several shops.

Coalgate has an interesting history, first as a reputed resting place for Māori on eeling expeditions or travelling to the West Coast, and then as the ‘gate’ to the coalfields in the Malvern Hills. The 1950s saw the advent of commercial processing of bentonite – a very fine clay used in oil drilling sites as a lubricant, and in boot polish, toothpaste and cosmetics.

South Malvern today…
The area remains unique to the rest of Canterbury as it still retains the traditions of yester-year.