Fiordland National Park World Heritage AreaFirst reserved in 1904 and covering 1.2 million hectares of pristine New Zealand landscape, the Fiordland National Park was established in 1952. The largest National Park in New Zealand, it stretches from Martins Bay in the north to Waitutu Forest in the south, and from the mighty eastern lakes of Te Anau, Manapouri, Monowai and Hauroko, to the fourteen spectacular Fiords of the West Coast.
The Department of Conservation is a government organisation which administers the park, in order to preserve its natural and historic resources. A 500 kilometre network of walking tracks, and over 60 huts, allow the public to explore the primeval world of mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and moss-carpeted valleys. The Department of Conservation also run endangered species programmes, conservation projects, and manage all recreational and other activities within the park.
Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area
The extraordinary beauty of Fiordland was recognised by the United Nations in 1986, when it was made a World Heritage Area. Fiordland National Park was described as having 'superlative natural phenomena' and 'outstanding examples of the earth's evolutionary history'.
In 1990, Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area was extended to include Fiordland, Westland, and Mt Cook National Parks. It now covers 10% of New Zealand's land mass.
To find out more about World Heritage Areas, visit the UNESCO World Heritage website here.
Fiordland's Flora & Fauna
New Zealand's evolutionary history leads to this country having a high percentage of native bird species, and few native mammals.
Introduced mammals such as mice, rats, stoats, hares, deer and possums have had a detrimental effect on animals and plants. Some control programmes are now carried out to monitor and control the effect these species have on the native environment. Intensive conservation management, undertaken on some offshore islands, has eradicated pests - allowing these islands to become a safe haven for endangered species.
Fiordland is home to several threatened native mammals. The Murchison and Stuart mountains support about 100 Takahe - a flightless alpine bird thought to be extinct earlier this century. The birds are carefully monitored, and their numbers have been boosted by an artificial rearing programme undertaken by the Department of Conservation. The Kakapo in Fiordland is not so lucky. After being threatened by introduced predators to the point of near extinction, the last few birds have been transferred to offshore islands.
Visitors are likely to see common forest birds such as Tomtits, Brown Creepers, Grey Warblers, Fantails, Tui, Bellbirds, and Woodpigeons. The cheeky mountain parrot, the Kea, is a regular entertainment at higher altitudes. The Te Anau Wildlife Park has an excellent array of native birds for all to see, including a 20 year old Takahe.
The underwater environment in the Fiords is one of the most intriguing and unique in the world. This is not only because of the beautiful natural environment and the marine reserves that exist here, but also because of an interesting effect of the high rainfall in the area.
As rainwater drains through the lush forests, it becomes stained with tannins until it is the colour of strong tea. This dark freshwater does not mix with the seawater of the Fiords, but rather sits on top, limiting the amount of light that reaches into the depths, and restricting almost all of the marine life to the top 40 metres of the sea. This 40 metre band is calm, very clear, and relatively warm, home to sponges, coral, and fish of sub-tropical and deep-water varieties. As a result, light-senstitive species that normally love great depths are found much closer to the surface, and therefore divers, and visitors to the Underwater Observatory, get the opportunity to see rare species, such as the red and black coral, at relatively shallow depths.
The Fiords support the world's largest population of black coral trees- about seven million colonies, some of them up to 200 years old. They are also home to brachiopods: primitive, clam-like animals that have remained unchanged in over 300 million years. Bottlenose dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals, and Fiordland Crested Penguins are also residents of the stunning Fiords. Many of these can be seen on the Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound cruises.