First step in creation of Fiordland National Park

23 February 1904

Mitre Peak, Fiordland National Park, c. 1910s-1930s (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-141271-G)

Nearly 1 million ha of far western Southland and Otago was set aside as a national reserve in 1904 and became New Zealand’s largest national park in 1952. The inclusion of the Hollyford Valley, Waitutu Forest and Solander Island subsequently enlarged it to 1.26 million ha.

Future Prime Minister Thomas Mackenzie had suggested in 1894 that the region be declared a national park. The creation of Tongariro National Park (see 23 September) gave impetus to efforts to preserve other scenic areas.

In 1903, Southland Commissioner of Crown Lands John Hay, who as a younger man had produced a remarkable reconnaissance map of southern Fiordland, suggested that the West Coast Sounds be preserved as a national park. ‘The country is excessively rugged, and quite unfit for pastoral purposes.’

The area set aside the following year included the iconic Milford Track, Mitre Peak, the Sutherland Falls and the eponymous fiords (steep-sided valleys gouged out by glaciers that were submerged when the sea level rose).

Fiordland National Park has fulfilled Tourist Department head Thomas Donne’s 1903 prediction that ‘if carefully preserved’ it would become one of New Zealand’s ‘foremost attractions’ and ‘greatest assets’.