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Fiordland - Past and Present

Rich in History
The evolution of the natural world can be found written in Fiordland's wonderful landscapes. Ancient mountains of rock have been slowly shaped by the powerful grinding of ice as glaciers have extended and receded over millions of years.

This are is well-known to the Maori people, and many of their legends pertain to its formation and naming. The Demi-god Tuterakiwhanoa is said to have carved out the Fiords with his adze Te hamo. No other explanation can seem to fit, as this landscape is a true work of art. 

Once remote and isolated, Fiordland’s rugged landscape has a long record of both Maori and European habitation. Adventurous, resilient Maori explored Fiordland from around 800 years ago. Pursued by Ngaitahu tribesmen from the north, remnants of the major southern Maori tribe, Ngatimamoe, fled into remote parts of Fiordland in the late 18th century. They were then known as the 'lost tribe', remaining isolated long after European colonisation. 

Captain Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to visit Fiordland, and in 1773 they spent five weeks in Dusky Sound. Cook's maps and descriptions soon attracted sealers and whalers, who formed the first European settlements in New Zealand. These profitable occupations lasted a couple of decades before seal and whale numbers were reduced to near extinction, and the activity became unprofitable. 

Gold fever was the next to hit Fiordland, with a small rush to Martins Bay in 1886. Pickings were slim however, and within a year all but a few miners had left. The area around Big Bay became a thriving gold-mining town in the 1890. Feeding the demand created by growth of settlement, sawmills in the area also flourished. But with the demise of gold mining, the saw mills soon diminished too, and the area was returned to the quiet, isolated landscape it had always been.  

From the middle of the 19th century, surveyors, explorers and prospectors began to penetrate the unexplored Fiordland. Described by early European explorers as "utterly useless except for mountaineers", the unforgiving land of high ridges, steep bluffs, and deep glacial waterways was home to none but the most hardy. Fiordland is thought to be the location of the first European-built house in New Zealand, the first shipwreck, and the earliest dockyards for ship building. 

1945 saw crayfish fishermen begin to arrive in increasing numbers, from different ports around the South Island. This industry boomed in the 50’s and 60's, soon becoming a major export industry. Hardy fishermen continue to fish these sometimes treacherous waters.

Also a risky business, deer recovery from helicopters gained momentum in the mid 20th century. Though not as lucrative as it was, this is still an important business in Fiordland today.

By far the most important commercial activity in the Fiordland area today is Tourism. Tourism has grown steadily over the years, since the opening of the Milford track in 1890. The area received a great boost with the construction of the Homer Tunnel after the Second World War, providing road access to Milford Sound.

Travellers are drawn from all around the world to experience first-hand the superb natural features this region has to offer. Commercial tour operators and National Park staff collaborate in an effort to protect and preserve this magnificent part of the world, ensuring it will be enjoyed by generations to come.

Reference: Fiordland Explored. Written by John Hall-Jones. Published Reed, 1976.

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