Te Wahipounamu is a World Heritage Site in the south west corner of the South Island of New Zealand.Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1990 and covering 26,000 square kilometers, the site incorporates four national parks: Aoraki/Mt Cook,Fiordland, Mt Aspiring, Westland
Located in the south-west corner of New Zealand's South Island, Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand covers 10% of New Zeland's landmass (2.6 million hectares) and is spread over a 450km strip extending inland 40 - 90km from the Tasman Sea. The property exhibits many classic examples of the tectonic, climatic, and glacial processes that have shaped the earth.
The great Alpine Fault divides the region and marks the contact zone of the Indo-Australian and Pacific continental plates making it one of only three segments of the world's major plate boundaries on land. Collision between the two tectonic plates constructs the main mountain range, known as the Southern Alps/Ka Tiritiri o te Moana, which rise to nearly 4 000m altitude within a mere 30km from the sea.
Overwhelmingly a mountainous wilderness, including significant piedmont surfaces in the north-west glaciation, both historic and modern, is a dominant landscape feature. Spectacular landforms include: the 15 fiords which deeply indent the Fiordland coastline; a sequence of 13 forested marine terraces progressively uplifted more than 1000m along the Waitutu coastline over the past million years;the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers which descend into temperate rainforest; and spectacular moraines of ultramafic rock extending to the Tasman coastline.
As the largest and least modified area of New Zealand's natural ecosystems, the flora and fauna has become the world's best intact modern representation of the ancient biota of Gondwana. The distribution of these plants and animals is inextricably linked to the dynamic nature of the physical processes at work in the property.
The region contains outstanding examples of plant succession after glaciation, with sequences along altitudinal (sea level to permanent snowline), latitudinal (wet west to the dry east), and chronological gradients (fresh post-glacial surfaces to old Pleistocene moraines).
It is the combination of geological and climatic processes, the resultant landforms, the unique biota displaying evolutionary adaptation over a diverse range of climatic and altitudinal gradients, all in a relatively pristine state, that give Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand its exceptional and outstanding natural characteristics.