Competitive rugby began in Southland in 1876, and the Southland Rugby Football Union was formed in February 1887. The Otago–Southland clash later that year began one of the great rivalries in New Zealand rugby, between the maroon of Southland and the blue and gold of Otago.
The Southland Stags are the provincial rugby team. In the 2010s they played mainly in the championship (second-tier) competition in the Mitre 10 Cup.
The Ranfurly Shield
Southland rugby’s heyday began in 1938 when it won the Ranfurly Shield, New Zealand’s premier provincial rugby trophy, back from Otago. Southland staved off 11 challenges before losing the shield to Otago in 1947. Since then Southland has held the shield three times, in 1959, 2009 and 2011.
Southland has produced over 50 All Blacks. The first, in 1903, was J. W. ‘Billy’ Stead, vice-captain of the ‘Originals’ – the 1905–6 team that toured Great Britain. A more recent Southland All Black was Clarke Dermody.
Cricket was probably first played by whalers at Riverton/Aparima in the early 1800s. The first recorded match was between the Invercargill and Riverton clubs in 1862.
In 1911, Southland won the Hawke Cup, the symbol of supremacy among the country’s minor associations. After losing it in 1913, the region was not successful again until 1970, when it lost it after two challenges.
Netball began in Invercargill when the Southland Ladies’ Basketball Association was founded in 1925. The first provincial match was against Otago in 1926.
In 1998 Southland’s Southern Sting took part in a new national competition, playing in the old and leaky Centennial Hall. An $11-million stadium was built at Surrey Park, and the Sting won its first national championship there in 1999. They triumphed each year until 2005, when the Sting was runner-up.
In 2008 the Sting was replaced by a combined Southland–Otago team, the Southern Steel, in a trans-Tasman ANZ Championship. When this competition was replaced by a New Zealand-only ANZ Premiership in 2017, the Steel were the first winners.
Sting players Bernice Mene, Tania Dalton, Lesley Rumball, Donna Loffhagen, Belinda Colling and Adine Wilson all starred in the national netball team, the Silver Ferns.
Runner Billy Trembarth, from Gore, won several New Zealand and Australasian titles before turning professional. In 1911, he became professional world champion over 440 yards.
Southland’s first thoroughbred race was held at Myross Bush in 1860. The Southland Racing Club was formed in 1885 and is now based at Ascot Park. In the 2010s five racing clubs and six trotting clubs were active in the region. Cardigan Bay (1956–88), the first pacer to win US$1 million in stakes in North America, was foaled at Mataura.
Alec Pickard (1913–2006), who taught at Southland Boys’ High School for many years, wrote short stories under the pseudonym A. P. Gaskell. A cricket and rugby coach, he was the first New Zealand fiction writer to write about rugby, and stories such as The big game (1947) achieved iconic status. Gaskell was one of the first authors to write in a distinctly New Zealand idiom.
The opening of Kew Bowl in 1949 boosted track cycling in Southland. By the 1960s, crowds upwards of 4,000 were attending its New Year Cycling Festival, which drew top track cyclists from around the country and overseas.
In 1956, local administrators began the Tour of Southland as part of the province’s centenary celebrations. In the 2010s the week-long event was one of New Zealand’s major multi-stage tours. The country’s first indoor velodrome, in Invercargill’s Stadium Southland complex, opened in 2006. It was designed by German expert Ralph Schuermann.
Motorcycle and car racing
Motorcycle racing in Southland is inseparable from the name of Burt Munro. He set world records for the Indian motorcycle in the 1960s and 1970s, and was the subject of the 2005 movie The world’s fastest Indian.
Teretonga motor racing track near Invercargill commemorated its 50th anniversary in 2007. It has hosted the New Zealand grand prix half a dozen times.
Hunting and fishing
The Southland back country provides many opportunities for hunting. Red deer and pigs are found in the forests and mountains, and in Fiordland National Park along with chamois and wapiti. Trout populate all the main Southland rivers, and Lakes Te Anau and Manapōuri also have land-locked salmon. The Mataura River is particularly favoured for brown trout fishing.
Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest at more than 1.2 million hectares, is the heart of Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Established in 1952, the park’s many striking features include:
- a glaciated terrain with deep lakes and sounds
- the country’s highest rainfall
- a wide variety of flora and fauna not found elsewhere in New Zealand, including the takahē
- almost no people, but a huge underground power station (at Deep Cove on Lake Manapōuri) and a 1.2-km road tunnel.
- New Zealand’s earliest major walking track – the Milford Track – and many others.