Southern Alps

The Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana is a mountain range extending along much of the length of New Zealand's South Island, reaching its greatest elevations near the range's western side. The name "Southern Alps" generally refers to the entire range, although separate names are given to many of the smaller ranges that form part of it.

The range includes the South Island's Main Divide, which separates the water catchments of the more heavily populated eastern side of the island from those on the west coast.[1] Politically, the Main Divide forms the boundary between the Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago regions to the southeast and the Tasman and West Coast regions to the northwest.

Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana
South Island
Snow highlights the Southern Alps in this satellite image
Highest point
PeakAoraki / Mount Cook
Elevation3,724 m (12,218 ft)
Coordinates43°35′44.69″S 170°8′27.75″E / 43.5957472°S 170.1410417°E
Length500 km (310 mi)
LocationSouth Island, New Zealand
Range coordinates43°30′S 170°30′E / 43.500°S 170.500°ECoordinates: 43°30′S 170°30′E / 43.500°S 170.500°E
Southern Alps in Winter
Southern Alps in winter


Mountains in New Zealand
View of the western Southern Alps from a road near Hari Hari, Westland

The Southern Alps run approximately 500 km[2] northeast to southwest. Its tallest peak is Aoraki / Mount Cook, the highest point in New Zealand at 3,724 metres (12,218 ft). The Southern Alps include sixteen other points that exceed 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) in height (see NZ Mountains by Height). The mountain ranges are bisected by glacial valleys, many of which are infilled with glacial lakes on the eastern side including Lake Coleridge in the north to Lake Wakatipu in Otago in the south. According to an inventory conducted in the late 1970s, the Southern Alps contained over 3,000 glaciers larger than one hectare,[3] the longest of which – the Tasman Glacier – is 23.5 kilometres (14.6 mi) in length which has retreated from a recent maximum of 29 kilometres (18 mi) in the 1960s.[4][5]

Settlements include Maruia Springs, a spa near Lewis Pass, the town of Arthur's Pass, and Mount Cook Village.

Major crossings of the Southern Alps in the New Zealand road network include Lewis Pass (SH7), Arthur's Pass (SH73), Haast Pass (SH6), and the road to Milford Sound (SH94).

The Southern Alps were named by Captain Cook on 23 March 1770, who described their "prodigious height".[6] They had previously been noted by Abel Tasman in 1642, whose description of the South Island's west coast is often translated as "a land uplifted high".[7] Following the passage of the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998, the name of the range was officially altered to Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana.[8]


New Zealand has a humid maritime, temperate climate with the Southern Alps lying perpendicular to the prevailing westerly flow of air. Annual precipitation varies greatly across the range, from 3,000 millimetres (120 in) at the West Coast, 15,000 millimetres (590 in) close to the Main Divide, to 1,000 millimetres (39 in) 30 kilometres (19 mi) east of the Main Divide.[9] This high precipitation aids the growth of glaciers above the Snow line. Large glaciers and snowfields can be found west of or on the Main Divide, with smaller glaciers further east (See Glaciers of New Zealand).

Because of its orientation perpendicular to the prevailing westerly winds, the range creates excellent wave soaring conditions for glider pilots. The town of Omarama, in the lee of the mountains, has gained an international reputation for its gliding conditions. The prevailing westerlies also create a weather pattern known as the Nor'west arch, in which moist air is pushed up over the mountains, forming an arch of cloud in an otherwise blue sky. This weather pattern is frequently visible in summer across Canterbury and North Otago. The 'Nor'wester' is a foehn wind similar to the Chinook of Canada, where mountain ranges in the path of prevailing moisture laden winds force air upwards, thus cooling the air and condensing the moisture to rain, producing hot dry winds in the descending air lee of the mountains.


Mount Cook 2
View of Mount Cook, the highest peak, from the Hooker Valley Track

The Southern Alps lie along a geological plate boundary, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, with the Pacific Plate to the southeast pushing westward and colliding with the northward-moving Indo-Australian Plate to the northwest.[10] Over the last 45 million years, the collision has pushed up a 20 km thickness of rocks on the Pacific Plate to form the Alps, although much of this has been eroded away. Uplift has been most rapid during the last 5 million years, and the mountains continue to be raised today by tectonic pressure, causing earthquakes on the Alpine Fault and other nearby faults. Despite the substantial uplift, most of the relative motion along the Alpine Fault is transverse, not vertical.[11] However, significant dip-slip occurs on the plate boundary to the north and east of the North Island, in the Hikurangi Trench and Kermadec Trench. The transfer of motion from strike-slip on the Alpine Fault to dip-slip motion at these subduction zones to the north creates the Marlborough Fault System, which has resulted in significant uplift in the region.

In 2017 a large international team of scientists reported they had discovered beneath Whataroa, a small township on the Alpine Fault, "extreme" hydrothermal activity which "could be commercially very significant".[12][13]


The mountains are rich in flora with about 25% of the country's plant species being found above the treeline in alpine plant habitats and grassland with mountain beech forest at lower elevations (of the eastern side but not in Westland). The cold windswept slopes above the treeline are covered with areas of fellfield. To the east, the Alps descend to the high grasslands of Canterbury and Otago. Plants adapted to the alpine conditions include woody shrubs like Hebe, Dracophyllum, and Coprosma, the conifer snow totara (Podocarpus nivalis) and Carex sedge grasses.[14]


Wildlife of the mountains includes the endemic rock wren (Xenicus gilviventris). There are also a number of endemic insects adapted to these high altitudes especially flies, moths, beetles, and bees. The beech forests of the lower elevations are important habitat for two birds; the great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haastii) and the South Island kaka (Nestor meridionalis meridionalis). The Kea can be found in the forested foothills as well as higher, colder elevations. It is the world's only alpine parrot, and was once hunted as a pest.

Threats and preservation

The mountains are inaccessible and retain their natural vegetation. A large proportion of the range is well protected as part of various national parks, notably the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park or protected areas such as Lake Sumner Forest Park. Indigenous plant life is affected by introduced animals such as red deer (Cervus elaphus), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), and Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) all of which have at times been targeted for culling, while the birds and reptiles are vulnerable to introduced predators.

Panoramic view

Panoramic winter view from the summit of Hamilton Peak in the Craigieburn Range.
Panoramic winter view from the summit of Hamilton Peak in the Craigieburn Range.


  1. ^ Beck, Alan Copland (2009) [1966]. "Topography". In McLintock, A.H. (ed.). Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012.
  2. ^ Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "1. – Mountains – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Archived from the original on 6 May 2015.
  3. ^ Chinn TJ (2001). "Distribution of the glacial water resources of New Zealand" (PDF). Journal of Hydrology. New Zealand. 40 (2): 139–187. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 October 2008.
  4. ^ Lambert M, ed. (1989). Air New Zealand Almanack. Wellington: New Zealand Press Association. p. 165.
  5. ^ Charlie Mitchell (15 February 2017). "When the world's glaciers shrunk, New Zealand's grew bigger". Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  6. ^ Reed, A. W. (1975). Place names of New Zealand. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. Reed. ISBN 0-589-00933-8. p. 384.
  7. ^ Orsman, H. and Moore, J. (eds) (1988) Heinemann Dictionary of New Zealand Quotations, Heinemann, Page 629.
  8. ^ "Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998". Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  9. ^ Willsman AP; Chinn TJ; Hendrikx J; Lorrey A (2010). "New Zealand Glacier Monitoring: End of Summer Snowline Survey 2010" (PDF). New Zealand. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 October 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Campbell, Hamish; Hutching, Gerard (2007). In Search of Ancient New Zealand. North Shore and Wellington, New Zealand: Penguin Books, in association with GNS Science. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-143-02088-2.
  11. ^ Campbell, Hamish; Hutching, Gerard (2007). In Search of Ancient New Zealand. North Shore and Wellington, New Zealand: Penguin Books, in association with GNS Science. pp. 204–205. ISBN 978-0-143-02088-2.
  12. ^ Sutherland, R., Townend, J., Toy, V., Upton, P., Coussens, J., and 61 other (2017) "Extreme hydrothermal conditions at an active plate-bounding fault". Letter to Nature. doi:10.1038/nature22355
  13. ^ Geothermal discovery on West Coast Archived 14 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine Otago Daily Times, 18 May 2017.
  14. ^ "South Island montane grasslands". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.

External links

Akaishi Mountains

Akaishi Mountains (赤石山脈, Akaishi Sanmyaku) is a mountain range in central Honshū, Japan, bordering Nagano, Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. It is also called the Southern Alps (南アルプス, Minami Arupusu), as it joins with the Hida Mountains ("Northern Alps") and the Kiso Mountains ("Central Alps") to form the Japanese Alps.

Alpine Fault

The Alpine Fault is a geological fault that runs almost the entire length of New Zealand's South Island (c. 480 km) and forms the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Indo-Australian Plate. The Southern Alps have been uplifted on the fault over the last 12 million years in a series of earthquakes. However, most of the motion on the fault is strike-slip (side to side), with the Tasman district and West Coast moving North and Canterbury and Otago moving South. The average slip rates in the fault's central region are about 38mm a year, very fast by global standards. The last major earthquake on the Alpine Fault was in c.1717 AD, the probability of another one occurring within the next 50 years is estimated at about 30 percent.

Aoraki / Mount Cook

Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Its height since 2014 is listed as 3,724 metres (12,218 feet), down from 3,764 m (12,349 ft) before December 1991, due to a rockslide and subsequent erosion. It lies in the Southern Alps, the mountain range which runs the length of the South Island. A popular tourist destination, it is also a favourite challenge for mountain climbers. Aoraki / Mount Cook consists of three summits, from South to North the Low Peak (3,593 m or 11,788 ft), Middle Peak (3,717 m or 12,195 ft) and High Peak. The summits lie slightly south and east of the main divide of the Southern Alps, with the Tasman Glacier to the east and the Hooker Glacier to the southwest.There was a large rock fall in 1991 that turned the summit into a knife-edge ridge and reduced the height of the mountain by an estimated 10 m or so at that time. Aoraki / Mount Cook was measured in 2013 to be 3724 m, which is 40 m down from its pre-1991 rock-fall measurement.

Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak is a commercial skifield in Queenstown, New Zealand located seven kilometres west of Arrowtown, on the southern slopes of the 1,649-metre peak which shares its name. A popular ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere, Coronet Peak offers a long snow season, well received skiing and snowboarding terrain and lift systems.

Darfield, New Zealand

Darfield is a town in the Selwyn District of the South Island of New Zealand. It is 35 kilometres west of the outskirts of Christchurch on State Highway 73 (Great Alpine Highway) and on the Midland railway line, route of the TranzAlpine train service. Its population (GeoNames geographical database 2011) is 1,593.

Darfield is the main town between Christchurch and the West Coast region. It is often called "The township under the nor'west arch" in reference to a characteristic weather phenomenon that often creates an arch of cloud in an otherwise clear sky to the west of the township. This is caused by the condensation of water particles channelled upwards over the Southern Alps. Darfield has an intermediate/high school, and a primary school, as well as several shops.

Darfield lies in the Malvern district's arable and pastoral farming area. It is a gateway to the scenic Waimakariri and Rakaia rivers and the Southern Alps, and is also a popular lift-off place for hot air ballooning.

Fonterra has a milk powder factory near the town. The factory has a series of sidings and a container loading centre.A magnitude 7.1 earthquake occurred near Darfield at 4:35 am on 4 September 2010, causing widespread damage to both the town and to surrounding areas including the city of Christchurch.

Declezville, California

Declezville is an unincorporated community in southwestern San Bernardino County, in the Inland Empire region of southern California.It is named for William Declez, a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in France, well known for his marble business on Los Angeles Street. He opened granite quarries in Southern California in the 1860s in the Jurupa Hills on Pyrite Street, and built several Mexican public buildings. He died at age 73 on February 7, 1921 in the Southern Alps. When the Southern Pacific Railroad built a spur to the large granite quarries, it named the junction Declez and the terminal Declezville, for William Declez, owner of the granite works. Declez is a community in south Fontana.

Haast Pass

The Haast Pass (Māori: Tiori Pātea), a mountain pass in the Southern Alps of the South Island of New Zealand, takes its name from Julius von Haast, a 19th-century explorer who also served as Provincial Geologist for the Provincial government of Canterbury. Māori used the pass in pre-European times.

It is one of the three passes where a road crosses over the Southern Alps - alongside the Lewis Pass and Arthur's Pass, although the Homer Tunnel passes under the Main Divide. The road through Haast Pass (State Highway 6) was converted from a rough track to a formed road in 1966. and finally received a complete tarmac surface by 1995. In the early 20th century, a railway from the West Coast through the pass to Otago was considered; it would have linked the Ross Branch with the Otago Central Railway, which then terminated in Omakau. However, the line never came to fruition; the Otago Central Railway terminated in Cromwell and no railway was built south of Ross, just a lightly laid bush tramway to serve logging interests near Lake Ianthe.

The Haast Pass rises to a height of 562 metres above sea level at the saddle between the valleys of the Haast and Makarora Rivers. As such, it is the lowest of the passes traversing the Southern Alps. No settlements exist on the Haast Pass road between Haast and Makarora. The road passes through predominantly unmodified beech forest. The pass itself lies within the limits of Mount Aspiring National Park and forms part of the boundary between Otago and the West Coast.

Italian Peninsula

The Italian Peninsula, also known as Italic Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula, is a peninsula extending from the southern Alps in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. It is nicknamed lo Stivale (the Boot). Three smaller peninsulas contribute to this characteristic shape, namely Calabria (the "toe"), Salento (the "heel") and Gargano (the "spur"). The backbone of the Italian Peninsula consists of the Apennine Mountains, from which it takes one of its names.

Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps (日本アルプス, Nihon Arupusu) is a series of mountain ranges in Japan which bisect the main island of Honshu. The name was coined by English archaeologist William Gowland, and later popularized by Reverend Walter Weston (1861–1940), an English missionary for whom a memorial plaque is located at Kamikōchi, a tourist destination known for its alpine climate. When Gowland coined the phrase, he was only referring to the Hida Mountains, but it now also applies to the Kiso Mountains and Akaishi Mountains.

Lakes of New Zealand

There are 3,820 lakes in New Zealand that have a surface area larger than one hectare. Many of the lakes in the central North Island are volcanic crater lakes. The majority of the lakes near the Southern Alps were carved by glaciers. Artificial lakes created as hydroelectric reservoirs are common in South Canterbury, Central Otago and along the Waikato River.

Lewis Pass

Lewis Pass (el. 907 m.) is a mountain pass in the South Island of New Zealand.

The northernmost of the three main passes across the Southern Alps, it is higher than the Haast Pass, and slightly lower than Arthur's Pass. State Highway 7 traverses the pass on its route between north Canterbury and the West Coast; it passes through extensive unmodified beech forest.

The pass is the saddle between the valleys of the Maruia River to the northwest and the Lewis River to the southeast. The saddle is located close to the small spa of Maruia Springs.

The Lewis Pass is named after Henry Lewis who, together with Christopher Maling, was the first European to discover the pass, in April 1860 while working as a surveyor of the Nelson Provincial Survey Department. Before this time the pass was used by the Ngāi Tahu Māori of Canterbury to transport Pounamu (greenstone) from the west coast.The area around Lewis Pass is protected as a national reserve. There are a number of tramping routes in the Lewis Pass area, including the St James Walkway. The short Alpine Nature Walk loop walk around an alpine wetland and tarn can be accessed from a carpark near the saddle.

Minami Alps National Park

Minami Alps National Park (南アルプス国立公園, Minami Arupusu Kokuritsu Kōen) is a national park in the Akaishi Mountains, Chūbu region, Honshū, Japan.

The Minami Alps National Park was established on June 1, 1964. It extends along the border of Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures for a length of 55 kilometres (34 mi), and a maximum width of 18 kilometres (11 mi) for a total area of 358 square kilometres (138 sq mi).

The Park is a very mountainous region, centering on the Akaishi Mountains with several noted peaks of over 3000 meters in height, including Koma-ga-take, Senjō-ga-take, Akaishi-dake and Kita-dake.

The park also protects the headwaters of the Fuji River, Ōi River and Tenryū River.

Flora in the park includes extensive stands of Japanese beech, Japanese stone pine and hemlock spruce. The largest fauna is the kamoshika and noted avian species include the ptarmigan. The park has minimal public facilities, and the only approach is by mountaineering.Other large fauna include Asiatic black bear, wild boar and Sika deer.

Mount Aspiring / Tititea

Mount Aspiring / Tititea is New Zealand's 23rd-highest mountain. It is the country's highest outside the Aoraki / Mount Cook region.

Mount Kita

Mount Kita (北岳, Kita-dake) is a mountain of the Akaishi Mountains−"Southern Alps" (南アルプス Minami-Arupusu), in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan.

It is the second tallest mountain in Japan, after Mount Fuji, and is known as "the Leader of the Southern Alps". It is included in the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains. It is located in Minami Alps National Park, near the city of Minami-Alps.

Southern Alps (Europe)

The Southern Alps are a geological subdivision of Alps that are found south of the Periadriatic Seam, a major geological faultzone across the Alps. The southern Alps contain almost the same area as the Southern Limestone Alps. The rocks of the southern Alps gradually go over in the Dinarides or Dinaric Alps to the south-east. In the south-west they disappear below recent sediments of the Po basin that are lying discordant on top of them.

Tasman Glacier

Haupapa / Tasman Glacier is the largest glacier in New Zealand, and one of several large glaciers which flow south and east towards the Mackenzie Basin from the Southern Alps in New Zealand's South Island.

The Remarkables

The Remarkables are a mountain range and skifield in Otago in the South Island of New Zealand. Located on the southeastern shore of Lake Wakatipu, the range lives up to its name by rising sharply to create an impressive backdrop for the waters. The range is clearly visible from the nearby town of Queenstown.

The highest point in the range is Single Cone (2319 metres). The adjacent Hector Mountains southeast of the Remarkables culminate in Mount Tūwhakarōria (2307 m).There are a number of small lakes on the mountains including Lake Alta which forms part of the Remarkables Skifield.

The mountains were named The Remarkables by Alexander Garvie in 1857-58, allegedly because they are one of only two mountain ranges in the world which run directly north to south. An alternate explanation for the name given by locals is that early Queenstown settlers, upon seeing the mountain range during sunset one evening, named them the Remarkables to describe the sight.

Waimakariri River

The Waimakariri River, formerly briefly known as the Courtenay River, is one of the largest of the North Canterbury rivers, in the South Island of New Zealand. It flows for 151 kilometres (94 mi) in a generally southeastward direction from the Southern Alps across the Canterbury Plains to the Pacific Ocean. In Māori, Waimakariri has several meanings, one of which is "river of cold rushing water". The river is known colloquially in Canterbury as "The Waimak".The river rises on the eastern flanks of the Southern Alps, eight kilometres southwest of Arthur's Pass. For much of its upper reaches, the river is braided, with wide shingle beds. As the river approaches the Canterbury Plains, it passes through a belt of mountains, and is forced into a narrow canyon (the Waimakariri Gorge), before reverting to its braided form for its passage across the plains. It finally enters the Pacific north of Christchurch, near the town of Kaiapoi.

In 1849, the chief surveyor of the Canterbury Association, Joseph Thomas, gave the river the name Courtenay River after Lord Courtenay, but it lapsed into disuse.Geological evidence indicates that the river mouth has been very mobile, at times flowing through the current location of Christchurch and even flowing into Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora south of Banks Peninsula for a time.Instead of being unoccupied crown land as are most New Zealand river beds, the bed of the Waimakariri River is vested in the Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury).Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) were introduced from California in the 1900s and persist today.

Westland District

Westland District is a territorial authority on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. It is administered by the Westland District Council. The district's population is 8,890 (June 2018).


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