Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site
Outstanding among reserves on the South Island is southwest New Zealand U.N. World Heritage Site, Te Wahipounamu, incorporating four national parks—Westland, Mount Cook, MountAspiring and Fiordland—plus extensive state land for a total of 10,000 square miles (25,900 km2) in one of the world’s largest and most pristine as well as beautiful reserves. Here are New Zealand’s highest mountains, longest glaciers, tallest forests, wildest rivers and gorges, most rugged coastline, and largest populations of forest birds. Here is the world’s largest buttercup— the Mount Cook “Lily”; one of its tiniest birds—warbler-like riflemen flitting with spiraling flight from tree to tree; and the entire wild population of red-billed takahes, rare flightless rails. Two thirds of Te Wahipounamu is covered with southern beech-podocarp forest, some trees over 800 years old, descendants of ancient trees of Gondwanaland.
Fiordland (anglicized version of the Norwegian “fjord”) is 4,850 square miles (12,561 km2), bordered (anglicized version of the Norwegian “fjord”) is 4,850 square miles (12,561 km2), bordered on the east by crystalline lakes fed by some of the world’s highest waterfalls and on the west by 14 deeply incised fiords. It is one of the world’s largest national parks with endangered species, marine mammals, and some of the wettest places on earth. Southwest winds drop 236 inches (600 cm) of rain on its mountainsides yearly. Giant forest tree ferns grow 50 feet (15 m) tall. Kiwiswith vestigial wings sniff out grubs in rain forests with nostrils at tips of long curved bills. Takaheswith blue breasts and green backs, believed extinct until rediscovered here, survive in a valley named after them. Glowworms cover cavern walls and roofs. Te Anau and Manapouri have guidesand varied accommodations and are ideal starting-places for exploration by sea kayak or by hiking world-renowned trails, especially the Milford Track, which has been called the world’s most beautiful walk—or stay overnight on a boat cruising the fiords.
Westland Park glaciers are closest to the coast of any in the world, visible from its lush rain glaciers are closest to the coast of any in the world, visible from its lush rainforest—scenically incomparable though raining or misty much of the time. Mount Aspiring is a remote and spectacular Alpine wilderness with gorgeous and popular walking tracks.
ALSO OF INTEREST
In addition is Tongariro on North Island, a U.N. World Heritage Site and one of the world’soldest national parks, and other smaller set-asides throughout the country, most with visitor centers, pamphlets, and guided walks, many with huts, lodges, and/or campgrounds. A recentplan has been to reestablish as many species as possible on predator-free offshore islands and create “mainland islands” within conservation land, with the goal of reversing species decline by the year 2020.
International flights go to Auckland or Wellington on the North Island or Christchurch on the South Island, at all of which one can rent cars to drive everywhere on good roads, or get InterCity Travel passes which cover trains, ferries, and an extensive bus network. Many places have good hotels, motels, backpackers’ hostels, well-equipped campgrounds, and restaurants.
Best times are September–December spring, though warm sunny weather often lasts through March. Mountains can be cool with heavy rains, snow and gales possible year-round, and rain can be almost continuous on the west coast of South Island.
Department of Conservation offices at visitor centers throughout the country offer advice andexcellent pamphlets on “Exploring New Zealand Parks.” Several good books describe New Zealand’s spectacular walks and trails.