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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Landscape Regions

To bring some order to a summary account of the diverse landscape forms to be found in New Zealand, the country may be divided into landscape regions. Contrasts in kind of country from area to area are often obvious to the eye. The regional diversity of scene is mainly a function of the structural pattern of the country that, with a brief history of its evolution, has been outlined elsewhere. Very useful, too, is a simplified geological map showing its rocks as belonging only to four main types: the older hard rocks of the understructure (whatever their age or composition); the younger weak rocks laid down over them as a cover (mainly mudstones); volcanic rocks (whatever their kind); and the recent deposits of waste (shingle, sand, or mud) brought down from the wasting uplands to make the bordering plains. From this map, especially, the contrast in kind between North and South Islands is obvious at once; the sharpest contrasts in the North Island, too, are those between hard-rock highland and weak-rock hill country. The lowland plains of recent making are seen at once to be limited in area; indeed, less than a tenth of the country could properly be described as plain.

Division of the North Island into landscape regions is fairly simple; the contrasts in kind between north, east, and west are strongly marked, and recent volcanic activity gives the interior plateau a special character of its own. Division of the South Island, however, is not so easy. The north (i.e., the high country of Nelson and Marlborough) is quite unique because it is made of closely spaced block mountains separated by narrow valley lowlands. A midland zone contains the higher Alpine ranges and the bordering piedmont lowlands of Canterbury and Westland. The broken (schist) plateau of Otago is something unique, too, on account of its pattern of simple fault-bounded block mountains – a typical range and basin region. The Fiordland massif in the far south-west is, perhaps, the most distinctive unit piece of the country. Finally, there is Southland where the change of direction of the mountain axis to the south-east brings a local variety of surface forms.

In this very brief account of landscapes which give some special character to different parts of the country, New Zealand may be divided (more or less arbitrarily) into these regions – North Island: the northern peninsula; the mountain axis and east coast hills; the west; and the interior (volcanic) plateau. South Island: the north; the midland zone; the Otago range and basin country; Fiordland; Southland.