Southland is mainland New Zealand’s southernmost region, lying between 44.6° and 46.7° latitude south. It forms a giant triangle, two sides being the South Island’s southern and south-western coasts, and the third extending across-country from Awarua Point in the west to near Waikawa Harbour in the south.
Southland covers 32,612 square kilometres. Stewart Island, which lies 20 kilometres off the southern coast, accounts for a further 1,735 square kilometres. It is within the Southland regional council area, but is covered in a separate entry.
Mainland Southland has three main zones:
- Fiordland lies to the west of Lakes Te Anau and Manapōuri, on some of the oldest rocks in New Zealand. Heavy dissection during the last ice age created distinctive glacial lakes, U-shaped valleys and fiords. This rugged territory remains forested, and few people live there. Much of it is within Fiordland National Park.
- Southland proper lies east of the lakes. It is a series of plains built up by major rivers, separated by upland blocks which have been shaped partly by faulting. These lowlands are the largest in the South Island after the Canterbury Plains, and are mostly used for pastoral farming.
- The upland regions north of the plains are part of the block of schist that forms Central Otago. They include the Eyre, Garvie and Umbrella mountains.
Southland became a province in 1861, when it separated from Otago province. It was so named despite the wishes of many locals, both European and Māori, who knew the region as Murihiku – Māori for ‘last joint of the tail’.
Rugby, regattas and Riverton
A writer in the Evening Post claimed in 1995 that ‘[a]ccording to tradition, to be a true blue Southlander you would support Southland rugby, be seen at the Bluff Regatta, take a picnic to the Tuatapere sports day and take a punt at the Easter Races at Riverton.’ 1
Covering some 13% of New Zealand’s area, Southland holds just over 2% of its population. In 2013 there were 93,339 residents. This was 3,759 fewer than in 1996, but the population had increased by 2,463 since 2006.
Living in an area remote from the country’s main centres, Southlanders have forged a strong local identity. Their region is strongly Scottish and Presbyterian in character, and the Southland accent, with its softly rolled ‘r’, is the only regional one in New Zealand.
In the 2013 census, a high proportion of Southlanders (89.0%) identified themselves as Europeans, compared with 74.0% for the rest of the country. 13.0% identified as Māori, compared with 14.9% in New Zealand as a whole. 2.1% identified as Pacific, 3.2% as Asian and 0.4% as Middle Eastern, Latin American or African. (Census respondents are allowed to claim multiple ethnicities.)
There has been little immigration since the 19th century. New Zealand-born people made up 89.8% of the Southland population in 2013, compared with 74.8% for the country as a whole.
Half the region’s population lives in Invercargill city, and Gore is the largest town. Other towns include Mataura, Bluff, Winton, Riverton and Te Anau.
Southland is rich in natural resources. Its farmlands are highly productive, and it has large reserves of sub-bituminous coal and hydroelectric power. There is also the potential to benefit from deep-sea oilfields. Thousands of Southlanders work in processing local resources, including at freezing works, dairy and fish factories, and sawmills.
Like other regions away from the main centres, Southland has faced the challenge of keeping its young people, who often seek opportunities elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas. But recent developments in the dairy and energy industries have brought new optimism to the province, and a demand for labour.