Read about plants, animals, geology and conservation in the Lake Manapouri area.

Geology - lakes ground out by glaciers

During the last Ice Age about 20,000 years ago, glaciers originating in central Fiordland spread out to the east across the present sites of Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri, dumping great quantities of rock and gravel in long ridges.

When the ice melted, lakes formed behind the ridges. Most of the islands of the lake were created as the glacier wore a long, smooth ramp on the upstream side and plucked rock away on the downstream side, to leave steep sided cliffs.

Manapouri is the second deepest lake in New Zealand, and one of the most beautiful. Originally called 'Roto Ua' (the rainy lake) and 'Moturau' (many islands) by early Māori inhabitants of the region, a more recent translation has been ‘lake of the sorrowing heart'. 

The Monument is a pinnacle of very hard rock which resisted weathering by the glaciers. On Mt Titiroa (1710 m), to the south of Lake Manapouri, the whitish peak often looks like snow but it is weathered granite, which has been exposed to the elements for centuries.

Trees and plants around Lake Manapouri

The varied terrain around Manapouri creates habitat for a wide range of vegetation types.

Pure stands of kahikatea grow on pockets of swampy ground. Other podocarps - rimu, miro and matai - are common, in conjunction with kamahi and beech in lowland areas.

Several areas of regenerating shrubland are dominated by mahoe, tree fuchsia, kaikomako, kōwhai and wineberry. At higher altitudes mountain beech becomes the dominant tree.

Birds and other wildlife

The bird life of the Manapouri area is rich and varied.

Bellbirds, tūī, grey warblers, fantails, tomtits and NZ pigeons are very common.

Trampers may also see fernbirds, riflemen, brown creepers, parakeets, mohua (yellowheads) and falcons.

Paradise shelduck, grey duck, scaup and the rare whio/blue duck are found in the river and lake edge environments.

Introduced mallard duck and Canada geese visit during the winter. Introduced red deer, wild pigs, possums, hares, stoats and small rodents are found throughout the area.

Conservation projects around Lake Manapouri

Pomona Island Charitable Trust. This local community group works to rid Pomona Island (on Lake Manapouri) of introduced mammal pests and bring back native wildlife – they’d love your help. See Pomona Island Charitable Trust

Manapouri Weedbusters. This local community group targets pest plants around the Manapouri township to protect the environment and nearby National Park.

History of Lake Manapouri

Early Māori around Lake Manapouri

Evidence of Māori occupation has been found at most inlets, beaches and islands around Lake Manapouri.

The eastern end of Lake Manapouri was a favoured food gathering area for Māori people. Kiwi, kākāpo, weka, pigeons, teal, paradise shelduck, shags, gulls and eels were plentiful, and cabbage trees grew along the lake edge.

At the head of Circle Cove and on one of the Holmwood Islands, eel trapping channels were dug, which are still obvious today.

Early European settlers and tourism

Many of the place names of the area were given by James McKerrow, a surveyor who in 1862 spent eight days in a flat-bottomed boat exploring the lake.

The Garnock Burn area was explored by the Murrell family who settled in Manapouri in 1891.

The first red deer were liberated at the base of the Monument in 1901 and from there they have spread across Fiordland. Murrell's Guest House played host to early hunters, including many dignitaries.

The track system today dates back to the routes used by local people hunting the area. As early as 1930, log cabin type huts had been built at Hope Arm, the Snow White Clearings and Back Valley.

Lake Manapouri - protected by the people

In the 1960s many New Zealanders protested and signed petitions to protect Lake Manapouri in one of the country’s first major conservation campaigns.

The shores of the lake were under threat from a proposed rise in the lake level for extra power generation (for an aluminium smelter). 

Thousands of New Zealanders were inspired to battle this plan, with over 265,000 of them signing a petition to the government. The people and conservation won - the lake was granted statutory protection by the government and lake levels are now carefully controlled to mimic natural fluctuations.

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