Southland, New Zealand

Southland (Māori: Murihiku) is New Zealand's southernmost region. It consists mainly of the southwestern portion of the South Island and Stewart Island / Rakiura. It includes Southland District, Gore District and the city of Invercargill. The region covers over 3.1 million hectares and spans over 3,400 km of coast.


Murihiku (Māori)
Southland Region
Southland Region within New Zealand
CountryNew Zealand
IslandSouth Island
Territorial authorities
  ChairNicol Horrell
  Deputy ChairLloyd McCallum
  Region34,357 km2 (13,265 sq mi)
 (June 2018)[1]
  Density2.9/km2 (7.6/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+12 (NZST)
  Summer (DST)UTC+13 (NZDT)
HDI (2017)0.906[2]
very high · 10th


The earliest inhabitants of Murihiku (meaning "the last joint of the tail") were Māori of the Waitaha iwi, followed later by Kāti Māmoe and Kāi Tahu.[3] Waitaha sailed on the Uruao waka, whose captain Rakaihautū named sites and carved out lakes throughout the area. The Takitimu Mountains were formed by the overturned Kāi Tahu waka Tākitimu. Descendants created networks of customary food gathering sites, travelling seasonally as needed, to support permanent and semi-permanent settlements in coastal and inland regions.[4]

In later years, the coastline was a scene of early extended contact between Māori and Europeans, in this case sealers, whalers and missionaries such as Wohlers at Ruapuke Island.[5] Contact was established as early as 1813.[6] By the 1830s, Kāi Tahu had built a thriving industry supplying whaling vessels, looked after whalers and settlers in need, and had begun to integrate with the settlers.[4] Throughout the nineteenth century local Māori continued such regular travel from trade that a "Māori house" had to be built in 1881 to accommodate them when they travelled from Ruapuke and Stewart Island to Bluff to sell produce.[6]

On 10 June 1840, Tūhawaiki, a paramount chief of Kāi Tahu, signed the Treaty of Waitangi aboard HMS Herald at Ruapuke.[7] Aware that this treaty did not guarantee him sovereignty over his land he had previously asserted that he would sign it if those bringing it to him would sign one he had prepared himself.[8]

In 1853, Walter Mantell purchased Murihiku from local Māori iwi, claiming the land for European settlement.[9] Part of the agreement was that schools and hospitals would be provided alongside each Kāi Tahu village; this promise was not fulfilled. The boundaries of the land sold were also not made sufficiently clear, with Kāi Tahu always maintaining that Fiordland was not intended to be included in this purchase.[10]

Over successive decades, present-day Southland and Otago were settled by large numbers of Scottish settlers. Immigration to New Zealand had been precipitated by an economic depression in Scotland and a schism between the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland.[11]

In 1852, James Menzies, leader of the Southland separatist movement, became the first Superintendent of the tiny Southland electorate which was still part of the large Otago region. Under the influence of Menzies, Southland Province (a small part of the present Region, centred on Invercargill) seceded from Otago in 1861 following the escalation of political tensions.[12]

However, rising debt forced Southland to rejoin Otago in 1870, and the province was abolished entirely when the Abolition of the Provinces Act came into force on 1 November 1876.[13]

In the 1880s, the development of an export industry based on butter and cheese encouraged the growth of dairy farming in Southland. Consequently, the colony's first dairy factory was established at Edendale in 1882. Much of this export went to the United Kingdom.[14]

Now, Edendale is the site of the world's largest raw milk-processing plant,[15] and Southland's economy is based on agriculture, tourism, fishing, forestry, coal, and hydropower.[3]



Southland's two principal urban settlements are the city of Invercargill and the town of Gore. Southland covers an area of 28,681 square kilometres. As of June 2018 it had a population of 100,400[1], making it one of New Zealand's most sparsely populated areas. The sizable western part Fiordland is almost empty of permanent human inhabitation.

Urban areas in Southland (pop. >1000)
Name Population
(June 2018)[1]
% of region
Invercargill 51,200 51.0%
Gore 9,910 9.9%
Winton 2,370 2.4%
Te Anau 2,140 2.1%
Bluff 1,870 1.9%
Mataura 1,610 1.6%
Riverton 1,490 1.5%


Southland is divided into two parliamentary electorates. The large rural electorate of Clutha-Southland, held by Hamish Walker,[16] also includes some of the neighbouring Otago Region. The seat of Invercargill is held by Sarah Dowie. Both are members of the opposition National Party. Under the Māori seats system, Southland is part of the large Te Tai Tonga electorate which covers the entire South Island and the surrounding islands, and is currently held by the Labour Party MP Rino Tirikatene.[17]

Local government

Regional responsibilities are handled by the Southland Regional Council (Environment Southland). Three Territorial Authorities fall entirely within Southland. The Invercargill City Council governs Invercargill itself, together with some adjoining rural areas. Much of the remaining area of Southland, including all of Stewart Island/Rakiura, falls within the Southland District, which is administered by its own Council, also based in Invercargill. The Gore District Council administers the town of the same name and its rural hinterland. In 2001, three authorities (Invercargill City, Southland District and Gore District Councils) created the joint initiative agency Venture Southland[18] which is the agency responsible for the region's economic and community development initiatives and tourism promotion.

National parks

The region is home to two national parks: Fiordland National Park and Rakiura National Park. The former which covers 7,860 square kilometres; making it New Zealand's largest national park. Southland also includes Stewart Island, 85% of which is covered by Rakiura National Park. Both parks are administrated by the Department of Conservation.


Politically, Southland proper extends from Fiordland in the west past the Mataura River to the Catlins the east. To the north, Southland is framed by the Darran and Eyre Mountains. Farther south lies Stewart Island which is separated from the mainland by the Foveaux Strait.

Southland contains New Zealand's highest waterfall—the Browne Falls. Lake Hauroko is the deepest lake in the country. The highest peak in Southland is Mount Tutoko, which is part of the Darran mountains. The largest lake in Southland is Lake Te Anau followed by Lake Manapouri which both lie within the boundaries of Fiordland National Park. Established on 20 February 1905, it is the largest national park in New Zealand—covering much of Fiordland which is devoid of human settlement.[19]

Fiordland's terrain is dominated by mountains, fjords and glacial lakes carved up by glaciations during the last ice age, between 75,000 and 15,000 years ago. The region's coast is dotted by several fjords and other sea inlets which stretch from Milford Sound in the north to Preservation Inlet to the south. Farther north and east of Fiordland lie the Darran and Eyre Mountains which are part of the block of schist that extends into neighboring Central Otago.[20]

Farther east of the Waiau River, the Southland Plains predominate which include some of New Zealand's most fertile farmlands. The region's two principal settlements Invercargill and Gore are located on the plains. The Plains extend from the Waiau River in the west to the Mataura River to the east. It can be divided into three broad areas: the Southland plain proper, the Waimea Plains and the lower Waiau plain to the west near the Waiau river.[20] The southern part of these plains (including the Awarua Plains along the coast east of Bluff) contains much wetland and swamp.

In the far southeast of Southland rises the rough hill country of The Catlins. This area is divided between Southland and the neighbouring Otago Region, with the largest settlement, Owaka, being within Otago. The hills of The Catlins form part of a major geological fold system, the Southland Syncline, which extends from the coast northwestward, and include the Hokonui Hills above Gore.

Off the coast of Southland lies the Great South Basin which stretches over 500,000 km2 (covering an area 1.5 times New Zealand's land mass). It is one of the country's largest undeveloped offshore petroleum basins with prospects for both oil and gas.


Weather conditions in Southland are cooler and wetter than the other regions of New Zealand due to its distance from the Equator. However, they can be broken down into three types: the temperate oceanic climate of the coastal regions, the continental climate of the interior and the wetter mountain climate of Fiordland to the west. Due to its closer proximity to the South Pole, the Aurora Australis or "Southern Lights" are more commonly seen than in other regions.

The coastal regions have cool summers and mild winters. The mean daily temperature varies from 5.2 °C in July to 14.9 °C in January. Rainfall varies from 900 mm to 1300 mm annually with rainfall being more frequent in coastal areas and rainbows being a regular occurrence in the region. Summers are temperable with downpours and cold snaps not being uncommon. On 7 January 2010, Invercargill was hit by a hail storm with temperatures plummeting rapidly from 15 °C to 8 °C in the afternoon.[21] Occasionally, temperatures exceed 25 °C with an extreme temperature of 33.8 °C having been reached before in Invercargill in 1948[22] and 35.0 °C in Winton in 2018.[23]

Winters are colder and more severe than other regions. The mean maximum temperature in July is 9.5 °C and Southland's lowest recorded temperature was −18 °C in July 1946.[24] Snow and frost also frequently occur in inland areas but are less common and extreme in coastal areas where the oceans act as a moderating factor. The long-lasting cool and wet conditions are influenced by the presence of a stationary low-pressure zone to the southeast of the country.

Fiordland has a wet mountain climate though conditions vary due to altitude and exposure. Rainfall is the highest in the country and varies between 6,500 and 7,500 mm annually. The farthest coastal reaches of Fiordland are characterized by a limited temperature range with increasing rainfall at higher altitudes. The moist wet climate is influenced by approaching low-pressure systems which sweep across the country entering Fiordland.[19]

Population, culture and identity

Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
1996 99,000    
2001 93,300−1.18%
2006 93,200−0.02%
2013 96,000+0.42%
2018 99,100+0.64%
Source: Statistics NZ[1]

Southland is one of New Zealand's most sparsely populated regions with a population of 100,400 (June 2018).[1] Due to a “drift north” between 1996 and 2001, Southland's population declined by 6.3% though that trend abated subsequently. With a population of 52,000 Invercargill, the region's main centre and seat of local government, makes up half of Southland's total. Six other centers have populations over 1,000: Gore, Mataura, Winton, Riverton, Bluff and Te Anau.[25] Most of Southland's population is concentrated on the eastern Southland Plains. Fiordland, the western part of the region, is almost totally devoid of permanent human settlement.

Approximately 90% of the population is of European descent.[26] A relatively high proportion of nineteenth century migrants came from Scotland and Ireland.[27] Māori comprise about 13% of the population.[26] Māori are largely concentrated around the port of Bluff.[25] During the 1940s, the development of the freezing works boosted a short-term immigration to the region by North Island Māori.[28]

In the last decade the Asian-origin population of Southland increased owing to the recruitment of dairy workers, many of them from the Philippines. In 2013 the population of Asian origin accounted for 3.2% of the Southland total.[26] This is a significant increase (albeit from a low base) when compared with 2001.[29]

Around 51.6 percent of Southland's population affiliated with Christianity at the 2013 Census, making it one of two regions in New Zealand (the other being Hawke's Bay) with a majority Christian population.[30] The needs of the new Filipino population has seen Catholic churches offering services in Tagalog, a principal language of the Philippines.[31]

The West Coast aside, Southland has New Zealand's strongest regional identity. It is the only part of New Zealand which has a distinct regional accent (shared with neighboring parts of Otago), characterized in particular by a rolling 'r'.[32] Food-wise, cheese rolls are a Southland specialty [33] and swedes are a popular vegetable, prepared and eaten as are pumpkin and kumara (sweet potato) elsewhere in New Zealand.[34] For many years a television channel, known as Southland TV from 2003–07, later Cue TV, transmitted Southland content. The strength of Southland identity may owe something to the relatively high proportion of New Zealand-born in the region - 85% compared with 70% for New Zealand as a whole at the 2013 census.[35]

Ethnic groups of Southland residents, 2013 census[36]
   New Zealand European76,71985.6
Pacific peoples1,9172.1
   Cook Islands Maori6780.8
Middle Eastern/Latin American/African3150.4
   New Zealander2,0132.2
Total people stated89,625100.0
Not elsewhere included3,7144.0
* Note that people were free to select more than one ethnic group, thus the sum exceeds 100%


The region's economy is based on agriculture, tourism, fishing, forestry and energy resources like coal and hydropower.[3] The agriculture industry includes both sheep and dairy farming which both account for a significant proportion of the region's revenue and export receipts. Much of this farming is on the Southland Plains, with expansion into the more remote western regions since the 1950s and 1960s.[37] Southland also has the world's largest raw milk-processing plant at the town of Edendale which was established by Fonterra.[15]

Other sizeable industries in Southland include coal and hydroelectric power.[3] Eastern Southland has significant deposits of lignite which are considered to be New Zealand's biggest fossil fuel energy resource.[38] Solid Energy operated open cast lignite mines at Newvale and Ohai until its 2015 bankruptcy.

Southland hosts the nation's largest hydroelectric power station at Manapouri which is owned by Meridian Energy and powers the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter. The Manapouri project generated much controversy from environmental groups which initiated the Save Manapouri Campaign in opposition to rising water levels in nearby lakes.

The sub-national GDP of the Southland region was estimated at US$3.023 billion in 2003, 2% of New Zealand's national GDP.[39]

Tourism spending is a major factor of the Southland economy, with NZ$595 million being spent by visitors in 2016, of which NZ$210 million was spent in the Fiordland area.[40] In July 2007 the New Zealand Government awarded oil and gas exploration permits for four areas of the Great South Basin. The three successful permit holders were ExxonMobil New Zealand, OMV and Greymouth Petroleum. [41]

See also


  1. "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2018 (provisional)". Statistics New Zealand. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018. For urban areas, "Subnational population estimates (UA, AU), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996, 2001, 2006-18 (2017 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  2. "Sub-national HDI - Area Database - Global Data Lab". Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  3. Grant, David (2 March 2009). "Southland region: Overview". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  4. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. "Ngāi Tahu – the iwi". Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  5. Wright (2009), p. 61
  6. Stevens, Michael J. "Kā Whare Māori ki Awarua: Bluff's "Māori Houses"". Te Karaka. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahi. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  7. "Hone Tūhawaiki". New Zealand History. Manatū Taonga: Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  8. O’Regan, Hana. "Tūhawaiki". Kotahi Mano Kāika. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  9. Wright (2009), p. 140
  10. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. "The Murihiku Deed of 1853". Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  11. King (2003), p. 170
  12. Wright (2009), p. 237
  13. "New Zealand provinces 1848-77".
  14. King (2003), p. 238
  15. Hotton, Mike (26 September 2009). "New milk dryer makes Edendale processor 'world's biggest'". The Southland Times. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
  16. "Members of Parliament".
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 March 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. "About Venture Southland". Venture Southland. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  19. Russell Kirkpatrick, Contemporary Atlas of New Zealand: The Shapes of our Nation, Auckland, NZ: David Bateman Ltd, 2005 (ISBN 1-86953-597-9), Plates 13, 32
  20. Grant, David (24 November 2009). "Southland region: Geology and landforms". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  21. Guyton, Saelyn (8 January 2010). "Fire Service stretched as hail, rain pummel Invercargill". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
  22. "A Bit of a Breather!" – 26 November 2008 – Retrieved 13 December 2010.
  23. "New Zealand Climate Summary: Summer 2017-18" (PDF). NIWA. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  24. Grant, David (2 March 2009). "Southland region – Climate". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
  25. Grant, David (2 March 2009). "Southland region: Southland people". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  26. "2013 Census QuickStats about a place".
  27. David Grant, 'Southland region - Society and culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 September 2017)
  28. Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, Auckland, NZ: Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, 2003 (ISBN 0-14-301867-1), Pp 170, 202, 238, 473
  29. "Invercargill and Southland - ANZF Reporting".
  30. "2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity – tables". Statistics New Zealand. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  31. "Catholic churches in Southland conduct masses in Filipino to support growing community". Stuff.
  32. David Grant, 'Southland region - Overview', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 September 2017)
  33. "Southland Cheese Rolls". 10 August 2014.
  34. https://David Grant, 'Southland region - Farming: 1950s to present day', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 September 2017)
  35. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 September 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  36. "Ethnic group (total responses), for the census usually resident population count, 2001, 2006, and 2013 Censuses (RC, TA, AU)". Statistics New Zealand.
  37. Grant, David (2 March 2009). "Southland region: Farming: 1950s to present day". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  38. Alan Sherwood and Jock Phillips (2 March 2009). "Coal and coal mining – Coal resources". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage / Te Manatu Taonga. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
  39. "Regional Gross Domestic Product". Statistics New Zealand. 2007. Archived from the original on 20 May 2010. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  40. Milford Sound Transport – Issues and Options Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine (GHD Ltd for Venture Southland, 2005)
  41. "Southland Energy Consortium". Retrieved 2 August 2010.

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