Te Wahipounamu – World Heritage site New Zealand

Te Wahipounamu – World Heritage site New Zealand

The landscape in this park, situated in south-west New Zealand, has been shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. Two-thirds of the park is covered with southern beech and podocarps, some of which are over 800 years old. The kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, lives in the park, as does the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.

Te Wahipounamu encompasses four national parks in the southwest corner of New Zealand – Aoraki/Mt Cook, Fiordland, Mt Aspiring, and Westland. These parks collectively became a World Heritage Site munder the name “Te Wahipounamu” in 1990.

Te Wahipounamu is spread over a 450km strip extending inland 40 – 90km from the Tasman Sea.

History and Legend of Te Wahipounamu

The rocks, plants, and animals located in Te Wahipounamu can be traced back to over 80 million years ago when New Zealand was part of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.

Gondwana is said to have merged with the supercontinent Euroamerica to form the larger subcontinent named Pangaea, which broke up during the Mesozoic Era.

As the largest and least modified area of New Zealand’s natural ecosystems, the flora and fauna has become the world’s best intact modern representation of the ancient biota of Gondwana.

Te Wahipounamu exhibits many great examples of geological processes that have shaped the earth, including tectonic, climatic, and glacial processes.

The region is divided by a fault line that marks where the Australian and Pacific continental plates makecontact; this is what created the main mountain range, the Southern Alps.

The legend of Te Wahipounamu states that the area was formed when the four sons of Rakinui (the Sky Father) came down from heaven and sailed around Mother Earth; as a result of hitting a reef, the sons became stranded.

Next, their canoe was frozen with ice due to wind from the Tasman Sea, and this is what became the South island of New Zealand.

As a result, each brother became part of the mountain range known as the Southern Alps.

There are some other legends for how Te Wahipounamu came into existence, but this is the most popular one.

The mountains and valleys of Te Wahipounamu are said to be the places of Atua (gods); important cultural identifiers of these places belong to the ancestors who stood on the landscape and performed great deeds in New Zealand.

While there is little permanent physical evidence of past human interaction with the natural environment, tangata whenua (the indigenous people who have customary authority in a place) have long associations with the area which was significant to them for natural resources, particularly pounamu (nephrite). European associations are more recent and initially based on natural resource exploitation. The predominant human uses today are associated with sustainable tourism.

Te Wahipounamu is an excellent example of how geological processes resulted in landforms, unique biota, and evolutionary adaptation over a diverse range of altitudes and climates.

Te Wahipounamu covers almost 10% of New Zealand’s total land area with ice-carved fjords, lakes, mountains, and valleys.The 2.6 million hectare property is least disturbed or modified by human settlement, and is largely in its natural state giving it a high degree of integrity.

Te Wahipounamu includes four national parks (Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, Mount Cook and Westland) covering 1,725,437 ha, two nature reserves, three scientific reserves, 13 scenic reserves, four wildlife management reserves, five ecological areas, conservation areas and one private reserve

It is home to many active glaciers, and is the largest and least-modified area of New Zealand’s natural ecosystem.

The flora and fauna in the area are some of the best modern and intact representations of Gondwana, and are indisputably linked to the processes at work.

The vegetation in Te Wahipounamu is very diverse and has been well-maintained. You might come into contact with shrubs, herbs, and tussocks

Te Wahipounamu is home to the largest population of forest birds in New Zealand.

You may also find fur seals,as well as a variety of Kiwi species, Fiordland Penguins and other birds.

There is a high degree of geo and biodiversity due to largely unmodified habitats and an array of untouched landforms.

All flora and fauna at Te Wahipounamu are excellent examples of ongoing biological evolution.

Tourism and Other Facts about Te Wahipounamu

The Te Wahipounamu area is the least populated area of New Zealand; residents typically work in tourism-related jobs or land use occupations.

Most of the land in Te Wahipounamu is owned by the government and people of New Zealand and there is a legislative mandate that requires the preservation and protection of the natural and historic sites in New Zealand.

There are only two main roads in the region; both referred to as “Heritage Highway”.

Studies have shown that the motivating factor for visiting Te Wahipounamu is for its scenery and recreational activities.

Things visitors can do are hiking, walking, whale-watching, boat tours, rafting, and glacier walks.

Te Wahipounamu offers an extensive assortment of short walking and overnight hiking trails.

We love Te Wahipounamu and inspiration it gives “Put the environment first”.Beacuse it’s the environment which is going to decide our future.


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