Te Wahipounamu

From the World Heritage inscription for Te Wahipounamu:

The landscape in this park, situated in southwest New Zealand, has been shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes, and waterfalls. Two-thirds of the park is covered with southern beech and podocarps, some of which are over 800 years old. The kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, lives in the park, as does the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.

Te Wahipounamu is the Maori name for the area which includes Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I had the pleasure of going there after it had been raining for 24 hours straight. The rain created countless small waterfalls along the sides of the fjord.

Overview of Te Wahipounamu

Te Wahipounamu

There are four key components that make up Te Wahipounamu: Fiordland (home of Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound), Westland, Mt. Cook and Mt. Aspiring. The entire area covered by the UNESCO property spans a total of 26,000 kilometers. This means that the park alone makes up for 1/10th of the size of New Zealand!

Therefore, describing Te Wahipounamu as massive is a bit of an understatement. Milford Sound is the most popular of the sites covered by this property. In fact, the area is welcoming a record number of tourists over the past few years.

This UNESCO World Heritage is also notable for containing the best modern representation of Gondwana’s flora and fauna species. In fact, this was one of the primary reasons why it was inscribed by UNESCO.


The landscape formations of Te Wahipounamu are all about variety. When you see photos of the site, you will often find snow-capped mountains and valleys. These mountains and valleys no doubt dominate the landscape in the property. Within those mountains and valleys are deep lakes and rivers of ice. Meanwhile, there are also waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, together with fjords.

Te Wahipounamu

In the middle of the mountains and valleys tucked unbroken forests and grasslands. Not only do these forests and grasslands showcase exceptional natural beauty, but they also serve as habitat for a wide range of wildlife species. Various plants and animal species can be found within the region.

Cultural Significance

The land covered by Te Wahipounamu is a sacred and culturally important site for Ngai Tahu. The mountains and valleys within the property are known as places of gods. The landscape in the area is an important cultural identifier for the Ngai Tahu and their ancestors. In Maori language, Te Wahipounamu translates to “Place of Greenstone”. Therefore, their ancestors claim to have settled in and thrived in these landscapes during the ancient times.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New Zealand.

Gary Arndt
Gary Arndt

Gary began traveling the world in 2007. His travels have taken him to over 200 countries and territories and 400 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

He is a 3x Lowell Thomas Award winner and a 3x North American Travel Photographer of the Year.