Nature and conservation
Glaciers in Fiordland flowed out to meet the sea during the ice ages. Like all ‘fast-flowing’ mountain glaciers, as they ground their way downwards they excavated the land into steep-sided U-shaped valleys.
The ice was so thick that the bases of the larger glaciers were generally below the sea level in their lower reaches. After the climate had warmed again and the glaciers had retreated inland, the glacial valleys were flooded by a combination of meltwater and the rising sea. Today the fiords in Fiordland have a water depth of up to 440 m.
This area also contains hundreds of islands ranging in size from small rock stacks up to Resolution Island (20,860 ha).
The Southern fiords area is home to some important restoration projects. See Coal Island restoration.
History and culture
Iwi travelled to Tamatea/Dusky Sound since before the 15th century, the area was mainly used as a seasonal hunting and fishing ground. Tamatea, the great Māori explorer from the north travelling aboard the waka Takitimu, named the broken land ‘Te Rua-o-te-moko’. This likened the deeply gouged coast with the art of moko or tattoo. Tamatea is now the name conferred on Dusky Sound.
Captain James Cook first sighted the fiord on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1770, naming it ‘Dusky Bay’. He returned in 1773 and spent six weeks exploring the area. Some of western science’s first records of New Zealand flora and fauna came from Cook’s sojourn in Dusky Sound, including weka, kereru, kākā and South Island robin.
Dusky Sound would collect a long line of ‘firsts’ for New Zealand, including: observatory (1773, brewed beer (1773),European settlement and European ship built (1792), European shipwreck (1795), European woman to visit (1793) and live (1795), nature reserve (Resolution Island, 1891) and conservation ranger (Richard Henry, 1894).
- Astonomer's Point - the site of a temporary observatory set up during Captain Cook’s second voyage in 1773.
- Richard Henry's house site - Richard Henry was the caretaker of our first island wildlife sanctuary in the 19th century.
In the late 1890s, this location was home to over 2,500 gold miners and saw millers. It was also the location of one of New Zealand's most remote lighthouse settlements and New Zealand's first Whaling Station site.
Know before you go
Get information to prepare for your trip to Fiordland: