National Parks of Otago and Southland
Neville Peat

The two national parks in Otago and Southland – Fiordland and Mount Aspiring –contain the remotest, wildest landscapes in New Zealand. The parks meet in the region of the Hollyford Valley. To the south lies a vast region of fiords and jumbled topography; to the north is Aspiring country, a mountainous and glaciated region that embraces the southernmost section of the Southern Alps. Both Parks have World Heritage status having been incorporated into Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area in 1990.
Fiordland National park is by far the largest national park in New Zealand, encompassing 1.25 million hectares, while Mpunt Aspiring is the third largest at 350,000 hectares. Fiordland is the older park, created in 1952, although the bulk of the land for it was set aside in 1904 when it was realised that the region was too rugged and untameable for agriculture or any other sort of development. In 1998, a large tract of lowland forest in the Waitutu area, the southern edge of Fiordland , was added to the park with the cooperation of its Maori owners. Only one road, the highway to Milford Sound, crosses the park. Two lesser roads access eastern fringes at Lake Haroko and Lake Manapouri’s South Arm (Borland Saddle Road). A third road, not available to public vehicles, crosses Wilmot Pass and carries tourists from Lake Manapouri’s West arm to Doubtful Sound. Milford Sound thanks to its tarseal access, is a major tourist destination, with some 400,000 visitors annually.
Fiordland has long fascinated visitors because it is a wilderness on a grand scale. The imprints of glaciation are everywhere to be seen in the form of deep high-sided valleys and the fiords themselves, all gouged by glaciers over the past two million years. The region’s heavy rain adds waterfalls, lakes, rivers, streams and mires. Fiordland is one of the world’s wettest regions, with the mean annual rainfall at Milford Sound topping 6,000 millimetres – six metres! Much of Firodland is built of crystalline rocks including granite. Some of the oldest rocks in New Zealand occur there. The hard resistant character of the rocks allows the region to retain its basic glaciated landforms in the face of heavy rainfall.
Biologically, Fiordland is a treasure-chest of rare and endemic plants, birds and invertebrates. Plants found nowhere else include several speciies of snow grass, herbs and tree daisies, speargrasses and buttercups. Sliver beech dominates much of the forest canopy, although red beech and mountain beech also occur, and pockets of podocarp trees are reasonably common at lower altitudes. In the bird world, Fiordland is a last refuge for takahe and the region provides habitat for numerous threatened species including rock wren, brown kiwi, yellowhead, yellow crowned parakeet, brown teal and kea. Where once bird song was rife through the forests of Fiordland large tracts are now silent as the result of the predation by introduced mammals such as stoats and rats.Several islands, notably Breaksea Island, are predator free sanctuaries. Pr-eminent among the popular woalking tracks of Fiordland is the Milford Track, which has been attracting large numbers of trampers for over 100 years.
Rich in landscape character, Mount Aspiring National Park straddles the Southern Alps near where they meet the Fiordland ranges and spreads east and west to encompass the valleys of north-west Otago and south Westland. Just on half the park area is east of the main divide and thus within Otago. Landforms and habitats are diverse. They include New Zealand’s southernmost large glaciers, alpine meadows and shrublands, forested gorges and river flats.
The park is renowned for its extensive lglaciated region, centred on the Olivine Ice Plateau. To the west is the fabled Red Mountain and the Red Hills range, a semi-desert landscape where the mineral composition hinders plant and soil development. IN 1997, the Olivine Wilderness Area was gazetted in recognition of the remote and largely unmodified nature of the mountain core of the park. Here trampers and climbers are essentially on their own, unassisted by tracks, bridges or huts. The park’s outstanding paeak Mount Apsiring(3,027 metres), lies withing the wilderness area. Known to Māori as Tititea (‘GlisteningPeak’) or Te Mākahi o Tuterakiwhanoa (‘The Wedge of [legendary explorer] Tuterakiwhanoa’), Mount Aspiring is the highest and most heavily glaciated mountain outside Mount Cook National Park. It was given its English name in 1857 when surveyor John Turnbull Thompson explored the Otago hinterland.
The park extends about 140 kilometres from the Haast Pass area in the north to the Humboldt Mountains near the head of Lake Wakatipu. The Haast Highway gives travellers a glimpse of northern areas of the park, and trampers using the Routeburn Track are traversing the southern extremity. Since it was created in 1964 as New Zealand’s tenth national park, Mount Aspiring has doubled in size through additions of land justified on the grounds of ecological value or boundary rationalisation. As in Fiordland, silver beech is the commonest canopy tree. Tolerant of wet and coll conditions, it forms the treeline for most of the park. Red and mountain beech occur only in southern areas. Distinctive birds include kea, blue duck, rock wren and wrybill. The Department of Conservation took over management of National Parks from the Department of Lands and Survey in 1987. Each park has a management plan for which policies are developed by the Department in consultation with conservation boards representing the public interest – the Otago or Conservation Board in the case of Mount Aspiring National Park and the Southland Conservation Board for Fiordland National Park.


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