Story: Landscapes – overview

Page 9. Southland and Stewart Island

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Eastern Southland

The green landscapes of eastern Southland reflect the region’s high rainfall. The main ranges, including the Takitimu Mountains, Longwood Range and Hokonui Hills, run from north-west to south-east. Several ranges meet the sea at the Catlins coast, a scenic area of forested hills, rocky headlands and sandy bays.

Four main rivers – the Waiau, Aparima, Oreti and Mataura – drain Southland’s plains. Some of New Zealand’s richest farmlands are on these alluvial plains, as well as on rolling hills and lowlands.

Top track

Fiordland’s Milford Track has been called ‘the finest walk in the world’. Taking three to four days, the trip is so popular that the number of walkers at any one time has had to be restricted. From the head of Lake Te Anau, the track follows the Clinton River, then zigzags up and over the Mackinnon Pass and down the Arthur River to Milford Sound.

Fiordland

The vast wilderness of Fiordland, over 10,000 square kilometres, occupies the south-west corner of the South Island. Glacier-carved mountains, lakes and fiords combine to produce astonishing scenery. Fiordland is New Zealand’s largest national park, and one of the largest in the world. Only a fraction of its landscapes are regularly seen by visitors – mostly around Milford Sound or on the Milford Track.

Fiordland’s mountains are higher in the north, and most of the glaciers today are in the Darran Mountains, north of Milford Sound. The landscape, however, was created by glaciers long ago. In the ice ages, Fiordland was capped by ice that flowed into the Tasman Sea, carving valleys well below present sea level. Glaciers also flowed eastwards, digging basins now filled with large, deep lakes such as Te Anau, Manapōuri, and Monowai.

After the ice ages, the sea level rose and flooded the western coastline, creating 14 major fiords. Extending up to 40 kilometres inland, these arms of the sea are several hundred metres deep, and can accommodate ocean liners. Milford Sound, overlooked by famous Mitre Peak, is the best-known.

Soaked by 7 metres or more of rain each year, Fiordland’s mountains are clad in lush greenery and its valleys teem with waterfalls. Sutherland Falls, New Zealand’s highest waterfall, cascades 580 metres in three stages.

Bright skies

Rakiura, the Māori name for Stewart Island, can be translated as ‘land of the glowing skies’. This might refer to the spectacular summer sunsets – or to the night-time displays of aurora australis, the southern lights.

Stewart Island (Rakiura)

Separated from the South Island by windswept Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island (Rakiura) is largely wilderness. Its only settlement, Oban, lies near the entrance to Paterson Inlet (Whaka a Te Wera), a drowned river valley that cuts more than halfway across the island. At the head of the inlet are the swampy flats of the Freshwater River.

On the western coast, Mason Bay has an expanse of unusual dune fields. The central lowland divides the island into two mountainous areas of forested granite with barren summits. Mt Anglem (Hananui), on the island’s north coast, is its highest peak at 980 metres.

How to cite this page:

Eileen McSaveney, 'Landscapes – overview - Southland and Stewart Island', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/landscapes-overview/page-9 (accessed 21 September 2018)

Story by Eileen McSaveney, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Jul 2015