Natural History
In the Fiordland Region
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Home : Visitor Guide : Natural History

Fiordland is the work of over 500 million years of constant sculpting as the land was relentlessly ground, split, fired, and pressured by the elements. The towering and topographically tortuous landscape of Fiordland was largely brought about by the last major phase of glaciation which imposed itself on the region for a period of about 55,000 years.

West of the mountains ice heaved and pushed directly into the Tasman Sea. To the east glaciers flowed into and gouged huge basins which, when the glaciers retreated, were filled with water to become the lakes which are one of the major attractions of the area. These lakes are very pure and remarkably beautiful. The largest of the lakes are Te Anau and Manapouri whose southern fringes are blocked by formidable moraines left behind by the retreating glaciers.

In the west the glacial ice was so thick it gouged troughs hundreds of meter below sea-level, and when the ice began to melt the sea groped in to form the fiords that are such a majestic feature of the region today.

The rocks of Fiordland are among the most ancient in New Zealand. They resulted from sandstone’s and limestone’s laid upon the sea floor 400 million years ago and which eventually emerged as the metamorphic rocks (schist’s and genesis’s) found in much of Fiordland. When these rocks were uplifted in mysterious ages 200 million years ago they were infused with igneous rocks (granite and diorite, for example) and, in the surface, volcanic rocks, of which basalt and andasite are the most common. Gneiss appears in tones of black, grey, green and white; granite rocks are often infused with pink and white colouring; diorite contains a white speckling and andesite and basalt are darkish green with a fine-grained texture. These latter rocks predominate on the ranges either side of the Eglinton Valley.

Fifty million years ago Fiordland was submerged for 40 million years, and evidence in the form of limestone’s, sandstone’s and mudstones can be found in the eastern parts from Lake Hauroko in the south to Lake Te Anau and the Eglinton Valley in the north.

Two million years ago the region was again raised from the sea and was dislocated by great faults.

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