Kōrero: Southland region

The softly rolled ‘r’s of Southland’s inhabitants hark back to their largely Scottish heritage. New Zealand’s southernmost mainland region has two distinct landscapes – expansive plains of fertile farmland crossed by trout-rich rivers, and Fiordland’s rugged, isolated coastline, inlets, lakes and mountains.

Story by David Grant
Te āhua nui: Lumsden mural

Story Summary

Ngā whakaahua

Southland is mainland New Zealand’s southernmost region, with the coldest climate. Māori called it Murihuku, meaning ‘the last joint of the tail’.

Early days

At first, early Māori of the Waitaha tribe were based on the coast, living off seals, birds and eels. Later tribes to come to the region were Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu, from further north.

Sealers and whalers arrived in the 1790s, and from the 1850s, immigrants from Britain started farming on the plains.

Main centres

Half the population lives in Invercargill city, and Gore is the largest town. Other towns include Mataura, Bluff and Winton.


Fiordland is New Zealand’s largest national park, with the highest annual rainfall (up to 7,500 millimetres). Its glacial mountains, valleys and lakes are home to unique insects, such as giant weevils and snails, and colourful moths. Indenting the coastline are its many fiords, or sounds – steep-sided inlets of sea.

Few people live there, although thousands visit each year. Attractions include:

  • Milford Sound, which has clear, deep water where divers can see rare fish and corals
  • Milford Track – each summer more than 13,000 trampers follow ‘The Finest Walk in the World’. It includes the Sutherland Falls – among the world’s highest, at 580 metres
  • Lake Te Anau, New Zealand’s second largest after Taupō, which has glow-worm caves on the west side.

Resources and industry

Southland’s rich resources include:

  • fertile plains with sheep and dairy farms
  • coal
  • fish, lobsters and the famous Bluff oysters
  • timber
  • hydroelectricity from Lakes Manapōuri and Monowai.

Oil companies are drilling for deep-sea oil, and the dairy and energy industries are thriving.


Southlanders are known for their friendliness. Popular events are the Bluff regatta and April oyster festival, the Easter races at Riverton and Tūātapere sports day. They are proud of their rugby team, the Southland Stags, and the Southern Sting netball team (now superseded).

A strong Scottish and Presbyterian influence is the legacy of hard-working 19th-century immigrants. Southland is the only New Zealand region to have a distinct accent, with a softly rolled ‘r’.

In 2013 there were 93,339 residents – just 2% of the country’s population.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

David Grant, 'Southland region', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/southland-region (accessed 14 October 2019)

Story by David Grant, published 8 Sep 2008, updated 25 May 2015