Nature and conservation
A wide range of flora and fauna can be found in the park, spread throughout the mosaic of habitat types.
The pre-human vegetation was likely to have been mountain tōtara and mountain beech forest/tawhairauriki at the lower altitudes, with tall tussock grasslands and boulder field species at the higher altitudes. Burning has reduced most of the forest cover and the park is now largely covered in spectacular tall snow-tussock grasslands, which create its distinctive golden landscape.
Forest remnants of mountain beech and occasionally red and yellow mistletoe/pikirangi occur in the steeper valleys on the eastern side of Sinclair Range. Other remnants, particularly in the upper catchments of the Rangitata, seem more typical of West Coast forest, with mountain tōtara, celery pine/mountain toatoa and cedar/pāhautea.
The park provides habitat for the locally endemic Dobson’s speargrass/taramea (Aciphylla dobsonii) and is close to the distributional limit of Hebe buchananii.
Numerous native birds once lived in this area including Haast’s eagle/pouakai, moa, takahē, South Island goose, kākāpō and adzebill. Many are now extinct. A mix of exotic and native birds remains, spread throughout the mosaic of habitat types ranging from alpine peaks, to the braided rivers bordering the park.
Notable birds include black stilt/kakī, blue duck/whio (in the tributaries of the upper Rangitata River), New Zealand falcon/kārearea, rock wren/pīwauwau, wrybill/ngutu pare and kea.
Three species of lizard/ngārara known in the park are the common skink, McCann’s skink and the Southern Alps gecko. There are eight species of grasshoppers/kauwhitiwhiti in Two Thumb Range, including the rare Sigaus villosus. Two species of wētā occur, the large mountain stone wētā (Hemideina maori) and the alpine scree wētā (Deinacrida sp.).
History and culture
Tangata Whenua - first people of the land
Rākaihautū migrated with his people from Hawaiki, landing waka in Whakatū/Nelson. From here the Waitaha people explored, inhabited and named the land.
Te Kahui Kaupeka takes its name from the ‘gathering place of the waters’ - from the mountain the rivers flow in all directions. Two of the rivers, the Rangitata and Waitaki, form the boundary of Aoraki. The lakes, mountains and rivers are under the guardianship of Kāti Huirapa.
On Takapo/Lake Tekapo the island Motuariki is important for Kāti Huirapa as the site of a kaika/village built in the times of Rākaihautū.
Pastoral farming dominates the more recent land history and a number of ‘retired’ high country runs have helped form the park.
One of the runs, ‘Mesopotamia’, was first occupied by Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon. Spending the winter of 1860 in the upper Rangitata before stocking his run he wrote, “We fear it may be snowy . . . but shall have to see it though next winter before we can safely put sheep upon it.” Butler built his original hut at the confluence of Forest and Butler creeks before moving to the site of the present Mesopotamia Station.
Drowning was so common in early colonial times it was known as ‘the New Zealand death’. One victim was Dr. Andrew Sinclair who was exploring with Dr Julius von Haast. Sinclair drowned crossing the Rangitata and is buried on the Rangitata Flats.
Eastern - Mesopotamia
Access to the eastern side of the park is via Rangitata Gorge Road. Four-wheel drive access is possible beyond Mesopotamia Station, up the Rangitata and Havelock rivers.
Note: Drivers must take great care on these demanding rivers as the track is not marked or defined. River-crossing and four-wheel driving skills are essential.
Southern Alps gecko
Western - Two Thumb Range and Sibbald Range
Lilybank Road from Lake Tekapo township provides access to Boundary Stream, Roundhill Ski Area road and Coal River. From the Lilybank Road end, four-wheel drive is needed to access the Macaulay and Godley riverbeds.
Southern - North Opuha
From Fairlie follow Clayton Road towards Fox Peak Ski Area for easy access into the tops.
Public access easements
Make sure you:
- stay on the marked track
- leave gates as you find them
- do not disturb stock.
Know before you go
Ayres Shelter/Hut has been removed
Ayres Shelter/Hut, which is shown on the map in the Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park brochure, has been removed due to safety concerns and the next shelter is at Dog Kennel Biv 6 km up the valley.
Fire restrictions apply to all conservation land. Check with local information centres or DOC offices for the current fire status.
View information about DOC and fire management
River crossings – particularly braided rivers
- Always treat the rivers with respect
- Never cross a dirty or flooded river
- River currents are often stronger than they appear
- Water levels can rise rapidly due to rain in the headwaters; it does not need to be raining at the crossing place
- Braids of the river can shift and there may be soft sinking sand
- If in doubt, stay put until conditions improve or turn back.
Be avalanche aware
Be aware of avalanche run-out zones from June to November. We recommend carrying avalanche transceivers 457khz, probes and shovels in avalanche terrain.
Cell phone coverage is patchy and cannot be relied on in the park. The use of satellite phones, mountain radios or personal locator beacons can all provide increased personal safety.
For more information or to report any incidents, issues or sightings of conservation interest, contact the DOC office at either Twizel or Geraldine.