Glaciers Crashing Through A Rain Forest

Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Image © Pedro

Glaciers Crashing Through A Rain Forest

Westland Tai Poutini National Park extends all the way from the highest peaks in New Zealand out to the coastline of the South Island’s rugged West Coast. It is the country’s ultimate mountains to Sea Park, with everything from glaciers to lakes and temperate rainforest in between. Westland Tai Poutini protects these natural beauties and forms part of the Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The park is best known for its magnificent glaciers, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier that run out through lush rain forest. The Maori name for Franz Josef Glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere or The Tears of Hinehukatere. This name explains that Hinehukatere was climbing a mountain with her lover Wawe who was less experienced and fell to his death. Hinehukatere then cried a river down the side of the mountain, which was frozen by the gods, creating the glacier.


Experiencing the Glaciers

Westland Tai Poutini National Park has been an important place in the development of guiding in New Zealand during the early twentieth century. The Graham family were pioneers of the tourism industry in Westland. Brothers Peter and Alec were renowned guides who expertly guided parties up glaciers and mountains. Today tour operators continue to offer guided tours onto the glacier, with helicopters making it possible to readily experience their upper reaches.

Image © West-Coast Legend Photography


The Kiwi is the iconic New Zealand bird. It’s image is found on coins, stamps and greeting cards. It’s also what New Zealanders call themselves. This flightless, forest grazing bird is endangered due to the predation of its eggs by introduced pests like possums. In the forests between the two main glaciers is the distinctive rowi species of kiwi that because the glaciers cut off access has evolved separately. Important conservation work is underway in Westland Tai Poutini National Park to build numbers and ensure the long term survival of the kiwi.

Image © Mark

Retreating Glaciers

Like many parts of the world, Westland Tai Poutini National Park is being heavily impacted by the onset of climate change. Records show the glaciers are rapidly retreating, presenting a local manifestation of a global problem. Scientists alarmingly consider New Zealand has lost one third of its volume of ice in the last
forty years.

Images © Hocken Library (left), Sam McColl and Ian Fuller (right)

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