New Zealand’s fiords are found along this southwest coast of the South Island. Fiords are not simply a water feature or a land feature but are a special combination of both, where the sea partly fills steep-sided valleys once excavated by glaciers. Fiords are a majestic reminder of the powerful forces that sculpted our land around 20,000 years ago.
Most of the fiords in New Zealand are named as ‘sounds’, for example Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Tamatea/Dusky Sound. ‘Sound’ is a general, non-technical term which is used in various ways in different parts of the world for more-or-less narrow branches of the sea.
Glaciers in Fiordland flowed out to meet the sea during the ice ages. Like all ‘fast-flowing’ mountain glaciers, as they ground their way downwards they excavated the land into steep-sided U-shaped valleys.
The ice was so thick that the bases of the larger glaciers were generally below the sea level in their lower reaches. After the climate had warmed again and the glaciers had retreated inland, the glacial valleys were flooded by a combination of meltwater and the rising sea. Today the fiords in Fiordland have a water depth of up to 440 m.
This area also contains hundreds of islands ranging in size from small rock stacks up to Resolution Island (20,860 ha).
The Southern fiords area is home to some important restoration projects. See Coal Island restoration.
Iwi travelled to Tamatea/Dusky Sound since before the 15th century, the area was mainly used as a seasonal hunting and fishing ground. Tamatea, the great Māori explorer from the north travelling aboard the waka Takitimu, named the broken land ‘Te Rua-o-te-moko’. This likened the deeply gouged coast with the art of moko or tattoo. Tamatea is now the name conferred on Dusky Sound.
Captain James Cook first sighted the fiord on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1770, naming it ‘Dusky Bay’. He returned in 1773 and spent six weeks exploring the area. Some of western science’s first records of New Zealand flora and fauna came from Cook’s sojourn in Tamatea/Dusky Sound, including weka, kereru, kākā and South Island robin.
Tamatea/Dusky Sound would collect a long line of ‘firsts’ for New Zealand, including:
In the late 1890s, this location was home to over 2,500 gold miners and saw millers. It was also the location of one of New Zealand's most remote lighthouse settlements and New Zealand's first Whaling Station site.
|Te Rua-o-te-moko / Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre|
|Phone:||+64 3 249 7924|
|Fax:||+64 4 471 1117|
Fiordland National Park
Te Anau 9600
PO Box 29
Te Anau 9640
|Full office details|