These principles are proposed as a tool to guide the New Zealand Conservation Authority’s contribution and/or response to issues relating to the South Island high country.

Adopted: 11 May 2018
Reviewed and Amended: 11 May 2018

The High Country of the South Island

Ki uta, ki tai / From the mountains to the sea


The South Island high country is an extensive inland area (6.7m ha), consisting of land, rivers and lakes located from mountain tops to low altitude valleys, comprising a broad range of indigenous vegetation of which tall tussock grassland is the most common.  Since the mid 1800s the high country has been used for pastoral farming, and the natural vegetation cover has been modified through fire, grazing and the introduction of exotic species.  The high country is and has been sparsely populated.


The high country is a region of pre-eminently natural character of high intrinsic value.  This natural character is important to the cultural identity and wellbeing of New Zealanders.  It derives this character from its landscape, predominance of indigenous biota, natural processes, its traditional uses and the perceived lack of human impact.  This Kaupapa seeks to maintain and restore the natural heritage characteristics of the high country.



  • The foremost principle is the protection of the natural character and landscape values of the high country.
  • Implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy is a priority, especially the protection of under-represented habitats such as low-mid altitude ecosystems and altitudinal corridors and connectivity of habitats.

Tangata whenua

  • High country management must provide for recognition of tangata whenua values, kaitiakitanga, and protection of taonga, wahi tapu and historic character.
  • Tangata whenua must have the opportunity to participate in decision-making.

Recreation and access

  • Protection of public access to the mountains, lakes and rivers is a priority.
  • Public recreation in the high country should be encouraged provided that it does not compromise the conservation values. 
  • Practical recreational access should be provided, especially non-motorised access to and along water bodies, and to public conservation lands. 
  • High country management to include the provision of a network of parks and reserves. This includes areas set aside for the appreciation of natural quiet and grandeur of the high country setting.

Integrated, informed and participative decision making

  • Decisions to be made in the context of the whole ecosystem, encompassing the range of environments, indigenous biodiversity, landforms and landscapes, water bodies and their margins. 
  • High country management regimes to be ecologically sustainable, acknowledging the importance of ecosystems, including vegetation, soils and water, to the downstream environment and communities. 
  • Decisions to be based on a comprehensive understanding of high country processes, ecology and matauranga.  A precautionary approach to be taken to high country management where decisions may result in irreversible change, and to take into account potential future effects of climate change.
  • The high country to be managed to protect its heritage values for all New Zealanders.
  • The public must have the opportunity to participate in decision-making.
  • A clear national policy should be developed to address competing values and uses.
  • Decisions on individual sites should not be made in isolation from their landscape context.
  • High country management to include environmental monitoring and review of policy mechanisms.
  • The management of flora and fauna, and pest control thereof, should be integrated with local communities.
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