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Fiordland facts for kids

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Rolla Island in front of Commander Peak and entrance to Hall Arm of Doubtful Sound
Fiordland's landscape is characterised by deep fiords along the coast...
View from the Mackinnon Pass 2014 4
...and U-shaped valleys carved by glaciers

Fiordland is a geographical region of New Zealand in the south-western corner of the South Island, comprising the westernmost third of Southland. Most of Fiordland is dominated by the steep sides of the snow-capped Southern Alps, deep lakes, and its steep, glacier-carved and now ocean-flooded western valleys. The name "Fiordland" comes from a variant spelling of the Scandinavian word for this type of steep valley, "fjord". The area of Fiordland is dominated by, and very roughly coterminous with, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand's largest National Park.

Due to the often steep terrain and high amount of rainfall supporting dense vegetation, the interior of the Fiordland region is largely inaccessible. As a result, Fiordland was never subjected to notable logging operations, and even attempts at whaling, seal hunting, and mining were on a small scale and short-lived, partly also because of the challenging weather. Today, Fiordland contains by far the greatest extent of unmodified vegetation in New Zealand and significant populations of endemic plants and threatened animals, in some cases the only remaining wild populations.

Fiordland features a number of fiords, which in this area are typically named sounds, reflecting the fact that sometimes fiords are considered to be a type of a narrow sound. Of the twelve major fiords on Fiordland's west coast, Milford Sound / Piopiotahi is the most famous and the only one accessible by road. Doubtful Sound / Patea, which is much larger, is also a tourist destination, but is less accessible as it requires both a boat trip over Lake Manapouri and bus transfer over Wilmot Pass.

Also situated within Fiordland are Browne Falls and Sutherland Falls, which rank among the tallest waterfalls in the world, and New Zealand's three deepest lakes, Lake Hauroko, Lake Manapouri, and Lake Te Anau. Several other large lakes lie nearby, and Fiordland and the surrounding parts of Southland and Otago Regions are often referred to as the Southern Lakes. Only a handful of Fiordland's lakes are accessible by road - Lake Poteriteri is the largest lake in New Zealand with no road access. Many of the region's lakes are not even accessible via tramping tracks.

This part of New Zealand, especially to the west of the mountain divide of the Southern Alps, has a very wet climate with annual average of 200 rainy days and annual rainfall varying from 1,200 millimetres (47 in) in Te Anau to 8,000 millimetres (310 in) in Milford Sound. The prevailing westerly winds blow moist air from the Tasman Sea onto the mountains, resulting in high amounts of precipitation as the air rises and cools down.


Fiordland has never had any significant permanent population. Even the Maori only visited temporarily for hunting, fishing and to collect the precious stone pounamu (New Zealand jade) from Anita Bay and the mouth of Milford Sound.

The area was administered as Fiord County from 1876 until it was absorbed into neighbouring Wallace County in 1981. Since 1989 it has been part of Southland District, and the wider Southland Region.

Constituent fiords

Homer Saddle LookingWest
Winter view from west portal of Homer Tunnel

From north to south:

Two inlets – Chalky and Preservation – lead into Cunaris Sound and Long Sound respectively


The area has been categorised as the Fiordland temperate forests ecoregion, having a variety of habitats and due to its isolation a high number of endemic plants. Much of Fiordland is heavily forested except for locations where surface rock exposures are extensive. The natural habitats are almost completely unspoilt. Nothofagus beech trees are dominant in many locations, silver beech (Nothofagus menziesii) in the fiords and red beech (Nothofagus fusca) in the inland valleys. In the understory there are a wide variety of shrubs and ferns, including crown fern (Blechnum discolor), areas of scrubby herbs above the treeline, patches of bog next to mountain streams and finally an area of rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum)-dominated sandunes in the Waitutu area on the south coast. The area is home to threatened native bird species such as the flightless takahe and kiwi, blue duck (whio), and yellowhead (mohua). There are also a great number of insects and one indigenous reptile, the Fiordland skink (Oligosoma acrinasum).

Milford Sound and Simbad Gulley -New Zealand-9Jan2009
Sinbad Gully, seen between the mountains on the far side of a fjord

Most of the area is covered by the Fiordland National Park, part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site. Fiordland National Park has an area of 12,120 square kilometres, making it the largest national park in New Zealand and one of the larger parks in the world, containing many tourist attractions, such as Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and the Milford Track. The main threat to natural habitats is from introduced species, especially red deer, but these are now being hunted out of the area, and furthermore the park includes a number of small offshore islands which are free from introduced species and are designated Specially Protected Areas.

Several offshore areas are protected as part of Fiordland's marine reserves.

Demographics and economy

Milford Sound Tour Boats
Tour boats at Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

The Fiordland statistical area covers 12,042.36 km2 (4,649.58 sq mi) and had an estimated population of 100 as of June 2021, with a population density of 0.008 people per km2. Almost the entire population live at Milford Sound (village).

Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
2006 144 —    
2013 123 −2.23%
2018 111 −2.03%

Fiordland had a population of 111 at the 2018 New Zealand census, a decrease of 12 people (−9.8%) since the 2013 census, and a decrease of 33 people (−22.9%) since the 2006 census. There were 3 households. There were 54 males and 60 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.9 males per female. The median age was 28.2 years (compared with 37.4 years nationally), with 3 people (2.7%) aged under 15 years, 69 (62.2%) aged 15 to 29, 39 (35.1%) aged 30 to 64, and 3 (2.7%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 73.0% European/Pākehā, 8.1% Māori, 24.3% Asian, and 2.7% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

The proportion of people born overseas was 62.2%, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 67.6% had no religion, 21.6% were Christian, 2.7% were Muslim and 5.4% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 27 (25.0%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 9 (8.3%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $34,000, compared with $31,800 nationally. 3 people (2.8%) earned over $70,000 compared to 17.2% nationally. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 102 (94.4%) people were employed full-time, and 3 (2.8%) were part-time.

Apart from the areas around the townships of Te Anau and Manapouri, which are not included in the Fiordland statistical area, the Fiordland region has never had more than a small number of human inhabitants and is the least-populated area of the South Island, with no villages or towns, and many areas almost inaccessible except by boat or air. The nearest city is Invercargill, about 80 kilometres (50 mi) east of southern end of Fiordland. The only major road in Fiordland is State Highway 94, also referred to as Milford Road, connecting Te Anau with Milford Sound.

Blanket Bay Hotel, not an actual hotel, may be the westernmost inhabited locality of New Zealand. The fishermen's refuelling and supply depot with a small jetty and helipad is located on a small island at the head of Doubtful Sound / Patea.

Except for electricity generation (at the Manapouri Power Station and a smaller hydro-electric power station at Lake Monowai) and some agriculture, tourism is the only other major economic factor of the region. Visitor spending was NZ$92 million in 2003, and 1,017 people were employed full-time in the tourism industry, with an additional 1,900 people considered to be employed in tourism industry support services. Most tourists visit Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, though walking in the more accessible eastern parts of the alps is a popular activity. Nonetheless, the remoteness of the region limits even tourism, and after short visits to the major sites, most tourists return to other areas, such as Queenstown or Invercargill.

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