For all New Zealand’s grandeur, no other region matches the concentration of stupendous landscapes found in its southwestern corner, Fiordland. Almost the entire region (and most of the area covered in this chapter) falls within the 12,500-square-kilometre Fiordland National Park, which stretches from Martins Bay, once the site of New Zealand’s remotest settlement, to the southern forests of Waitutu and Preservation Inlet, where early gold prospectors set up a couple of short-lived towns. It embraces a raw, heroic landscape, with New Zealand’s two deepest lakes, its highest rainfall, fifteen hairline fiords and some of the world’s rarest birds. Such wonder is acknowledged by the United Nations, who gathered the park – along with Mount Aspiring National Park, parts of Westland and the Aoraki/Mount Cook area – into the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area.
One persistent feature of Fiordland is the rain. Milford Sound is particularly favoured, being deluged with up to 7m of rainfall a year – one of the highest in the world. Fortunately the area’s settlements are in a rain shadow and receive less than half the precipitation of the coast. Despite its frequent soakings, Milford Sound sees the greatest concentration of traveller activity – in fact, the Sound is particularly beautiful when it’s raining, with ribbons of water plunging from hanging valleys directly into the fiords where colonies of red and black coral grow and dolphins, fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins cavort. Many visitors on a flying visit from Queenstown see little else, but a greater sense of remoteness is gained by driving there along the achingly scenic Milford Road from the lakeside town of Te Anau. Better still, hike the Milford Track, widely promoted as the “finest walk in the world”, though others in the region – particularly the Hollyford Track and the Kepler Track – are equally strong contenders.
A second lakeside town, Manapouri, is the springboard for trips to the West Arm hydroelectric power station, Doubtful Sound and the isolated fiords to the south. From Manapouri, the Southern Scenic Routewinds through the western quarter of Southland via minor towns along the southwestern coast. The main stops here are Tuatapere, base for the excellent Hump Ridge Track, and pretty coastal Riverton.
Fiordland’s complex geology evolved over the last 500 million years. When thick layers of sea-bed sediment were compressed and heated deep within the earth’s crust, crystalline granite, gneiss and schist were formed. As the land and sea levels rose and fell, layers of softer sandstone and limestone were overlaid; during glacial periods, great ice sheets deepened the valleys and flattened their bases to create the classic U shape which was invaded by the sea.
After experiencing the challenging ambience created by Fiordland’s copious rainfall and vicious sandflies (namu), you’ll appreciate why there is little evidence of permanent Maori settlement, though they spent summers hunting here and passed through in search of greenstone (pounamu). Cook was equally suspicious of Fiordland when, in 1770, he sailed up the coast on his first voyage to New Zealand: anchorages were hard to find; the glowering sky put him off entering Dusky Sound; slight, shifting winds discouraged entry into what he dubbed Doubtful Harbour; and he missed Milford Sound altogether.
Paradoxically for a region that’s now the preserve of hardy trampers and anglers, the southern fiords region was once the best charted in the country. Cook returned in 1773, after four months battling the southern oceans, and spent five weeks in Dusky Sound. His midshipman, George Vancouver, returned in 1791, with bloodthirsty sealers and whalers hot on his heels. Over the mountains, Europeans seized, or paid a pittance for, land on the eastern shores of Lake Te Anau and Manapouri though it offered meagre grazing, while explorers headed for the interior, conferring their names on the passes, waterfalls and valleys they came across – Donald Sutherland lent his name to New Zealand’s highest waterfall and Quintin McKinnon scaled the Mackinnon Pass (but failed to persuade cartographers to spell his name correctly).
It was the building of the Manapouri hydro scheme that opened up Doubtful Sound to visitors. What was previously the preserve of the odd yacht and a few deerstalkers and trampers is now accessible to anyone prepared to take a boat across Lake Manapouri and a bus over the Wilmot Pass. Amid pristine beauty, wildlife is a major attraction, not least the resident pod of sixty-odd bottlenose dolphins, who frequently come to play around ships’ bows and cavort near kayakers. Fur seals slather the outer islands, Fiordland crested penguins come to breed here in October and November, and the bush, which comes right down to the water’s edge, is alive with kaka, kiwi and other rare bird species.
Like Milford, Doubtful Sound gets a huge amount of rain, but don’t let that put you off – the place is at its best when the cliffs spring waterfalls everywhere you look after a downpour.
Though the rock architecture is a little less dramatic than Milford Sound, it easily makes up for this with its isolation and far fewer visitors. Travel between Manapouri to Doubtful Sound takes two hours, so to fully appreciate the beauty and isolation of the area it really pays to maximize your time there by staying overnight. Costs are unavoidably high and you need to be self-sufficient, but any inconvenience is easily outweighed by the glorious isolation – you’ll see very few other boats or people out here.
Cook spotted Doubtful Sound in 1770 but didn’t enter, as he was “doubtful” of his ability to sail out again in the face of winds buffeted by the steep-walled fiord. The breeze was more favourable for the joint leaders of a Spanish expedition, Malaspina and Bauza, who in 1793 sailed in and named Febrero Point, Malaspina Reach and Bauza Island. Sealers soon decimated the colonies of fur seals and few people visited the area until the 1960s when the hydro scheme required the construction of the 21km gravel Wilmot Pass supply road, which links Manapouri’s West Arm with Doubtful Sound’s Deep Cove.
Captain Cook spent five weeks in Dusky Sound, 40km south of Doubtful Sound, on his second voyage in 1773, while his crew recovered from an arduous crossing of the Southern Ocean. Time was mostly spent at Pickersgill Harbour where, at Astronomer’s Point, it is still possible to see where Cook’s astronomer had trees felled so he could get an accurate fix on the stars. Not far from here is the site where 1790s castaways built the first European-style house and boat in New Zealand. Marooned by the fiord’s waters, nearby Pigeon Island shelters the ruins of a house built by Richard Henry, who battled from 1894 to 1908 to save endangered native birds from introduced stoats and rats.
Very few trips come down this way, making it all the more rewarding if you make the effort. The Milford Wanderer Discovery tour (t 0800 656 501, w realjourneys.co.nz; book well in advance) plies Dusky Sound in winter (and goes further south to Preservation Inlet and Stewart Island) on five- to seven-day cruises, some with helicopter transfer to the boat.
The Kepler Track
The Kepler Track (45–70km; 3–4 days) was created in 1988 and designated as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It was intended to take the load off the Milford and Routeburn tracks and has been so successful it has become equally popular. Tracing a wide loop through the Kepler Mountains on the western side of Lake Te Anau, the track has one full day of exposed subalpine ridge walking, some lovely virgin beech forest and has the advantage of being accessible on foot from Te Anau. Typically walked anticlockwise, getting most of the climbing out of the way early, the track ranges from as little as 45km – if you use boats and buses – to 70km for the full Te Anau–Te Anau walk.
Well graded and maintained throughout – to the extent that you barely need to look where you are treading – it is still lengthy and strenuous, particularly the long haul up to Luxmore Hut. Some sections can be closed after snowfall.
Top athletes complete the Kepler Challenge (first Sat in Dec), a run around the track, in under five hours. The current record, set by Phil Costley in 2005, is 4:37:41.
Manapouri and Lake Manapouri
Even among New Zealand’s bountiful supply of beautiful lakes, Lake Manapouri shines, its long, indented shoreline contorted into three distinct arms and clad with thick bush tangled with ferns. The lake sits at 178m and has a vast catchment area, guzzling all the water that flows down the Upper Waiau River from Lake Te Anau and unwittingly creating a massive hydroelectric generating capacity – something that almost led to its downfall (see Milford Sound cruises and activities).
The small village of Manapouri, 20km south of Te Anau, wraps prettily around the shores of the lake at the head of the Waiau River, which the hydroelectric shenanigans have turned into a narrow arm of the lake now known as Pearl Harbour.
Apart from cruises and kayak trips, the only thing to do in Manapouri is to saunter along a few minor walks: accommodation and eating options are very limited.
Electricity, aluminium and brickbats
Lake Manapouri’s hydroelectric potential had long been recognized, but nothing was done until the 1950s. Consolidated Zinc Pty of Australia wanted to smelt their Queensland bauxite into aluminium – a power-hungry process – as cheaply as possible, and alighted upon Lake Manapouri. They approached the New Zealand government, who agreed to build a power station on the lake, at taxpayers’ expense, while Rio Tinto’s subsidiary Comalco built a smelter at Tiwai Point, near Bluff, 170km to the southeast.
The scheme entailed blocking the lake’s natural outlet into the Lower Waiau River and chiselling out a vast powerhouse 200m underground beside Lake Manapouri’s West Arm, where the flow would be diverted down a 10km tailrace tunnel to Deep Cove on Doubtful Sound. By the time the fledgling environmental movement had rallied its supporters, the scheme was well under way, but the government underestimated the anger that would be unleashed by its secondary plan to boost water storage and power production by raising the water level in the lake by more than 8m. The threat to the natural beauty of the lake sparked nationwide protests, though the 265,000-signature petition prepared by the “Save Manapouri Campaign” failed to change the government’s mind. It was only after the 1972 elections, when Labour unseated the National Party, that the policy was changed and the lake saved. The full saga is recounted in Neville Peat’s Manapouri Saved.
The Manapouri Underground Power Station took eight years to build. Completed in 1971, it remains one of the most ambitious projects ever carried out in New Zealand. Eighty percent of its output goes straight to the smelter – which consumes around fifteen percent of all the electricity used in the country, and it is widely perceived to be an unnecessary drain on the country’s resources. Because of the unexpectedly high friction in the original tailrace tunnel the power station had always run below 85-percent capacity, and to boost power production a second parallel tailrace tunnel was built in the late 1990s.
The 120km Milford Road (SH94), from Te Anau to Milford Sound, is one of the world’s finest. This two-hour drive can easily take a day if you grab every photo opportunity, and longer if you explore some of the excellent hiking trails outlined on the Milford Road leaflet, available free from the i-SITE in Te Anau. Anywhere else the initial drive beside Lake Te Anau would be considered gorgeous, but it is nothing compared to the Eglinton Valley, where the road penetrates steeper into bush-clad mountains, winding through a subalpine wonderland to the bare rock walls of the seemingly impassable head of the Hollyford River. The Homer Tunnel cuts through to the steep Cleddau Valley before the road descends to Milford Sound.
There’s very little habitation along the way, no shops or petrol, but lots of great camping.
Maori parties long used the Milford Road route on their way to seek pounamu at Anita Bay on Milford Sound, but no road existed until two hundred unemployment-relief workers with shovels and wheelbarrows were put on the job in 1929. The greatest challenge was the Homer Tunnel, which wasn’t finally completed until 1953.
Hikes from the Milford Road
Old-timers grumble about tourists wasting their time, effort and money on prize tramps like the Milford and the Routeburn when so many excellent, easily accessible walks are on the Milford Road.
Lake Gunn Nature Walk (3km loop; 45min; negligible ascent). Wheelchair-accessible nature walk with interpretive panels. Starts 75km north of Te Anau.
The Divide to Key Summit (5km return; 2–3hr; 400m ascent). Panoramic views (when it’s not raining) over three valley systems are the reward for this tramp along the western portion of the Routeburn Track. Starts 84km north of Te Anau.
Lake Marian (5km return; 2–3hr; 400m ascent). Picturesque ascent to a scenic alpine lake, passing pretty cataracts (30–40min return), where boardwalks are cantilevered from the rock. Starts 1km along Lower Hollyford Rd, 88km north of Te Anau.
Homer Hut to Gertrude Saddle (10km return; 3–5hr; 600m ascent). This hike starts relatively gently up the dramatic Gertrude Valley, ringed by sheer rock walls. The track then becomes a steep route marked by snow poles and cairns up the final ascent to the saddle where there’s a wonderful view of Milford Sound and the 2756m Mount Tutoko, Fiordland’s highest peak. Starts 98km north of Te Anau, just by the Homer Hut.
The Hollyford Track
Long, but mostly flat, the Hollyford Track (56km; 3–4 days one-way) runs from the end of the Hollyford Valley road to Martins Bay following Fiordland’s longest valley. It is essentially a fiord that never quite formed and was never flooded by the sea.
The joy of the Hollyford is not in the sense of achievement that comes from scaling alpine passes, but in the appreciation of the dramatic mountain scenery and the kahikatea, rimu and matai bush with an understorey of wineberry, fuchsia and fern. At Martins Bay, Long Reef has a resident fur seal colony, and from September to December you might spot rare Fiordland crested penguins (tawaki) nesting among the scrub and rocks.
The track is a one-way tramp, requiring three to four days’ backtracking – unless you’re flash enough to fly out from the airstrip at Martins Bay or tough enough to continue around a long, difficult and remote loop known as the Pyke–Big Bay Route (9–10 days total; consult DOC’s Pyke–Big Bay Route leaflet for details).
Shortening the way to Milford
Everyone wants to go to Milford Sound, but it is a long way from the rest of the country, so boosters are forever promoting ways to shorten the journey.
The original “Southland–Westland Link” intended to put a road in from Jackson Bay on the West Coast to Milford via the Hollyford Valley. The current Hollyford Valley Road was approved in 1936, but only 16km of it was built. Some believe an 80km toll road connecting this with Jackson Bay is the region’s infrastructure key.
In the 1990s the Ngai Tahu iwi hoped to install a monorail along the Greenstone Valley, the shortest route from Queenstown to The Divide, just 40km east of Milford Sound. An alliance of greenies and outdoor enthusiasts raised enough public concern to scupper that.
Recently, a $160-million, 11km-long tunnel has been proposed from near the start of the Routeburn Track to the Hollyford Valley. The cost will be a barrier, but this scheme perhaps has more legs than others. Passengers will be able to stay on the same vehicle (diesel-electric hybrid buses are suggested) all the way from Queenstown to Milford Sound and the one-way journey time would be halved to a little over two hours.
For every supporter of these ventures in Queenstown, there is an opponent in Te Anau – a town that relies heavily on Milford-bound traffic for its livelihood.
The most northerly and celebrated of Fiordland’s fifteen fiords is Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) with its vertical sides towering 1200m above the sea and waterfalls plunging from hanging valleys. Some 15km long and mostly less than 1km wide, it is also one of the slenderest fiords – and yes, it is mis-named. Sounds are drowned river valleys whereas this is very much a glacially formed fiord.
It is a wondrous place, though it is difficult to grasp its heroic scale unless your visit coincides with that of one of the great cruise liners – even these formidable vessels are totally dwarfed.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, Milford is at its best in the rain, something that happens on over 180 days a year giving a massive 7m of annual rainfall. Within minutes of a torrential downpour every cliff-face sprouts a waterfall and the place looks even more magical as ethereal mist descends. Indeed, Milford warrants repeated visits: in bright sunshine (yes, it does happen), on a rainy day and even under a blanket of snow.
None of the other fiords quite matches Milford for its spectacular beauty, but what makes Milford special is its accessibility. The tiny airport hardly rests as planes buzz in and out, while busloads of visitors are disgorged from buses onto cruises – all day in the summer and around the middle of the day in spring and autumn.
The crowds can certainly detract from the grandeur, but don’t let that put you off. Driving to Milford Sound and admiring it from the land just doesn’t cut it; you need to get out on the water, either on a cruise or kayaking.
Maori know Milford Sound as Piopiotahi (“the single thrush”), and attribute its creation to the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa, who was called away before he could carve a route into the interior, leaving high rock walls. These precipitous routes are now known as the Homer and Mackinnon passes, probably first used by Maori who came to collect pounamu. The first European known to have sailed into Piopiotahi was sealer John Grono who, in 1823, named the fiord Milford Haven after his home port in south Wales. The main river flowing into the Welsh Milford is the Cleddau, so naturally the river at the head of the fiord is so named.
The earliest settler was Scot Donald Sutherland, who arrived with his dog, John O’Groat, in 1877; he promptly set a series of thatched huts beside the freshwater basin of what he called the “City of Milford”, funding his explorations by guiding small numbers of visitors who had heard tell of the scenic wonder.
All visitors arrived by boat or walked the Milford Track until 1953 when the road through the Homer Tunnel was finally completed, paving the way for the phalanxes of buses that disgorge tourists onto cruises.
Milford’s fragile ecosystem
The predations of today’s influx of visitors and the operation of a small fishing fleet have necessitated strategies to preserve the fragile ecosystem. Like all fiords, Milford Sound has an entrance sill at its mouth, in this case only 70m below the surface – by comparison, the deepest point is almost 450m. This minimizes the water’s natural recirculation and hinders the mixing of sea water and the vast quantities of fresh water that pour into the fiord, creating the strange phenomenon of deep water emergence. The less-dense tannin-stained fresh surface layer (generally 2–6m deep) builds up, further diminishing the penetration of light, which is already reduced by the all-day shadow cast by the fiord walls. The result is a relatively barren inter-tidal zone that protects a narrow – but wonderfully rich and extremely fragile – band of light-shy red and black corals; these normally grow only at much greater depths, but thrive here in the dark conditions. Unfortunately, Milford’s fishing fleet use crayfish pots, which tend to shear off anything that grows on the fiord’s walls. A marine reserve has been set up along the northeastern shore, where all such activity is prohibited, but really this is far too small and conservation groups are campaigning for its extension.
The Milford Track
More than any other Great Walk, the Milford Track (54km; 4 days) is a Kiwi icon. Its exalted reputation is part accident and part history but there’s no doubt that the Milford Track is wonderful and includes some of Fiordland’s finest scenery. The track starts at the head of Lake Te Anau and follows the Clinton River into the heart of the mountains, climbing over the spectacular Mackinnon Pass before tracing the Arthur River to Milford Sound.
Some disparage the track as over-regimented, expensive and not especially varied, while others complain that the huts are badly spaced and lurk below the tree line among the sandflies. While these criticisms aren’t unfounded – the tramp costs around $340 in hut and transport fees alone – the track is well managed and maintained, the huts clean and unobtrusive, and because everyone’s going in the same direction you can charge ahead (or lag behind) and hike all day without seeing a soul. The Milford is also tougher than many people expect, packing the only hard climb and a dash for the boat at Milford Sound into the last two days.
It is likely that Maori paced the Arthur and Clinton valleys in search of pounamu, but there is little direct evidence. The first Europeans to explore were Scotsmen Donald Sutherland and John Mackay who in 1880 blazed a trail up the Arthur Valley from Milford Sound. The story goes that while working their way up the valley they came upon the magnificent Mackay Falls and tossed a coin to decide who would name it, on the understanding that the loser would name the next waterfall. Mackay won the toss but rued his good fortune when, days later, they stumbled across the much more famous and lofty Sutherland Falls. They may well have climbed the adjacent Mackinnon Pass, but the honour of naming it went to Quintin McKinnon who, with his companion Ernest Mitchell, reached it in 1888 after having been commissioned by the Otago Chief Surveyor, C.W. Adams, to cut a path up the Clinton Valley.
The route was finally pushed through in mid-October 1888 and the first tourists followed a year later, guided by McKinnon. The greatest fillip came in 1908 when a writer submitted her account of the Milford Track to the editor of London’s Spectator. She had declared it “A Notable Walk” but, in a fit of editorial hyperbole, the editor re-titled the piece “The Finest Walk in the World”. From 1903 until 1966 the government held a monopoly on the track, allowing only guided walkers; the huts were supplied by packhorses, a system that wasn’t retired until 1969.
Wider public access was only achieved after the Otago Tramping Club challenged the government’s policy by tramping the Milford in 1964. Huts were built in 1966 and thefirst independent parties came through later that year.
The Southern Scenic Route
While in Fiordland, don’t miss out on the beautiful fringe country, where the fertile sheep paddocks of Southland butt up against the remote country of Fiordland National Park. The region’s towns are linked by the underrated, pastoral charms of the Southern Scenic Route (w southernscenicroute.co.nz), a series of small roads where sheep are the primary traffic hazard. From Te Anau it runs via Manapouri to SH99, following the valley of the Waiau River to the cave-pocked limestone country around Clifden. A minor road cuts west to Lake Hauroko, access point for the Dusky Track, while the Southern Scenic Route continues south through the small service town of Tuatapere (the base for hiking the Hump Ridge and South Coast tracks), to estuary-side Riverton and on to Invercargill.
The Hump Ridge and South Coast Tracks
Tuatapere is the base for two excellent and markedly different hiking experiences: the traditional South Coast Track and the Hump Ridge Track, with its engaging combination of coastal walking, historic remains, subalpine country and relatively sophisticated huts. Both are covered on DOC’s Southern Fiordland Tracks leaflet.
Both tracks share historically interesting kilometres of coastal walking, following a portion of the 1896 track cut 100km along the south coast to gold-mining settlements around the southernmost fiord of Preservation Inlet. This paved the way for woodcutters, who arrived en masse in the 1920s. Logs were transported to the mills on tramways, which crossed the burns and gullies on viaducts – four of the finest have been faithfully restored, including the 125m bridge over Percy Burn that stands 35m high in the middle. The remains of the former mill village of Port Craig – wharf, rusting machinery, crumbling fireplaces – are equally fascinating.
The trailhead for both tracks is the Rarakau car park, 20km west of Tuatapere, accessible by bus organized through the Hump Ridge Track office; there’s secure parking here. Jetboat operators will pick up and drop off at the Wairaurahiri rivermouth, allowing you to walk sections of the tracks combined with a ride on the Wairaurahiri River.
The South Coast Track
The South Coast Track slices through the largest area of lowland rainforest in New Zealand. Although it is easy going it takes the best part of four days to reach Big River and you’ll just have to turn around and walk back unless you prearrange a jetboat out up the Wairaurahiri River. A popular alternative is to make a three-day excursion, staying at DOC’s Port Craig School Hut, and exploring the environs. Three more huts spaced four to seven hours’ walk apart provide accommodation, and camping is free.
The Hump Ridge Track
The privately managed 53km Hump Ridge Track (book in advance t 0800 486 774, w humpridgetrack.co.nz or at the office in Tuatapere) is done in three days with nights spent at two comfortable 32-bunk lodges equipped with lights, gas cookers, cooking pots and eating utensils, eight-bunk rooms, a beer and wine licence (you can’t bring your own), flush toilets, porridge cooked by the lodge manager and hot showers. There’s even helicopter bag transfer, that’s especially good for the first leg, saving you the biggest ascent when the bag is heaviest.
The tramp is occasionally muddy in places and when off the boardwalks it feels like a real “trampers’” track. It requires a good level of fitness and it isn’t for beginners or under 10s. Everyone walks the track in the same direction, starting at Rarakau.
RIVERTON (Aparima), 12km east of Colac Bay, is one of the country’s oldest settlements. Frequented by whalers as early as the 1790s, the town was formally established in 1836 by another whaler, John Howell – who is also credited with kick-starting New Zealand’s now formidable sheep-farming industry. Strung along a spit between the sea and the Jacob’s River Estuary (actually the mouth of the Aparima and Pourakino rivers), where fishing boats still harbour, Riverton has a blissfully relaxed feel.
Beyond Riverton, SH99 heads into the hinterland of Invercargill, 40km away.
Ringed by snowcapped peaks, the gateway town to Fiordland, TE ANAU (pronounced Teh AHN-ow), stretches along the shores of its eponymous lake, one of New Zealand’s grandest and deepest. To the west, the lake’s watery fingers claw deep into bush-cloaked mountains so remote that their most celebrated inhabitant, the takahe, was thought extinct for half a century. Civilization of sorts can be found on the lake’s eastern side, home to a population of under 2000.
The main way-station on the route to Milford Sound, Te Anau is an ideal base and recuperation spot for the numerous tramps, including several of the most famous and worthwhile in the country. Top of most people’s list is the Milford Track, which starts at the head of the lake, while the Kepler Track starts closer to town.
For half a century the flightless blue-green takahe (Notornis mantelli) was thought extinct. These plump, turkey-sized birds – close relatives of the pukeko – were once common throughout New Zealand but after the arrival of Maori their territory became restricted to the southern extremities of the South Island, and by the time Europeans came only a few were spotted, by early settlers in Fiordland. No sightings were recorded after 1898; the few trampers and ornithologists who claimed to have seen its tracks or heard its call in remote Fiordland valleys were dismissed as cranks.
One keen birder, Geoffrey Orbell, pieced together the sketchy evidence and concentrated his search on the 500 square kilometres of the Murchison Mountains, a virtual island surrounded on three sides by the western arms of Lake Te Anau and on the fourth by the Main Divide. In 1948, he was rewarded with the first takahe sighting in fifty years. However, the few remaining birds seemed doomed: deer were chomping their way through the grasses on which the takahe relied. Culling the deer averted the immediate crisis but did not halt the decline caused by stoats and harsh winters.
Takahe often lay three eggs but seldom manage to raise more than one chick. By removing any “surplus” eggs and hand-rearing them (often using hand-puppets to stop the chicks imprinting on their carers), DOC were able to gradually increase the population. In addition, DOC has established several populations on predator-free sanctuary islands – Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds, Mana Island and Kapiti Island northwest of Wellington, Maungatautiri near Hamilton and Tiritiri Matangi and Motutapu in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf – where the birds are breeding well. These efforts have helped bring the total population to 250.
The focus is now on boosting chicks’ genetic quality, identifying new large breeding sites and fine-tuning management of the wild population. It is hoped that takahe can be removed from the critically endangered list in the next ten years.
Tu-to-Raki-whanoa and Te Namu
In Maori legend Fiordland came into being when the great god Tu-te-raki-whanoa hewed the rough gashes of the southern fiords around Preservation Inlet and Dusky Sound, leaving Resolution and Secretary islands where his feet stood. He honed his skill as he worked north, reaching perfection with the more sharply defined Milford Sound (Piopiotahi).
After creating this spectacular landscape, he was visited by Te-Hine-nui-to-po, goddess of death, who feared the vista created by Tu was so wonderful that people would want to live here forever. To remind humans of their mortality, she freed namu (sandflies), at Te Namu-a-Te-Hine-nui-te-po (Sandfly Point), at the end of the Milford Track. And the pesky bugs have certainly had the desired effect. In 1773, when Cook entered Dusky Sound, he was already familiar with the sandfly:
The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly which are exceedingly numerous and are so troublesome that they exceed everything of the kind I ever met with… The almost continual rain may be reckoned another inconvenience attending this Bay.