Wilderness verses Access, as it relates to Fiordland, and New Zealand’s largest landslide

At the end of March I headed off with a close photography friend to explore a small area of eastern Fiordland in the Lake Monowai and Green Lake areas.

En-route we met Fiordland artist Wayne Edgerton of Tuatapere, and enjoyed a hour or two with him discussing “light” and art from the perspective of painting and photography…
Artist Wayne Edgerton

Artist Wayne Edgerton

To get into the hills we utilised a road constructed in the 1960s to service two double circuit 220 kV power transmission lines designed to carry power from a Lake Manapouri based hydroelectric power generation scheme being constructed at the same time to supply power to an aluminium smelter being constructed at Tiwai Point near Bluff/Invercargill.

The facility is the largest electricity consumer in New Zealand, and uses approximately one third of the total electricity consumed in the South Island and 13% of the total electricity nationwide, equivalent to about 680,000 households apparently.

Construction of the power station and the road/pylon line attracted controversy for its environmental effects, and over 264,000 New Zealanders signing the Save Manapouri Petition when it was revealed the lake would be raised [and it never was thankfully].

In more recent times I know that many people have pondered that maybe NZ would have been better served to use this energy to build a stronger economy.  This line of thinking has probably not been helped by successive governments, keeping the pricing and deals secret.

Borland Road Power PylonsBorland Power Pylons

Dawn in Fiordland…
Dawn in Fiordland

Dawn and power pylons Fiordland National Park…Dawn and power pylons Fiordland National Park

Fiordland robin…
Fiordland robin

Grebe Valley, Fiordland…
Grebe Valley, Fiordland

To the left of this photo, looking towards Lake Monowai, is the toe of New Zealand’s [and maybe the world’s] largest landslide…
Grebe Valley, Fiordland

It is the largest documented terrestrial landslide in NZ, happening about 12,000–13,000 years ago. The slide is thought to have occurred when glaciers propping up the mountainside melted. With its support gone, a 9-kilometre section of the mountain collapsed into the valley floor 700 – 800 metres below.

This friendly 2 year old kea spent nearly an hour with me – great company…
Kea, Fiordland

Silver Beech forest edge revealed when trees were felled that might compromise the power lines
Silver Beech forest edge, Fiordland

Using an off shoot of the road to gain a good viewpoint…Borland power pylon

As night rolled in with mist on Mt Burns I got my favourite photo for the trip of a small lake above the Grebe Valley, taken from the point where the above mentioned landslide released…
Lake above Grebe Valley, Fiordland

For the whole 3 day trip I kept reflecting how we’d not be able to see and experience this taste of wilderness if it were not for the road, but on balance I think I’d rather know that there is more wilderness going forward, rather than less, as it’s too easily eroded away in the name of business/money.

The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.

The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.

John Muir


  1. The road made it easy to get there, but I think you’re right that going forward we as a species need to think biocentrically for the sake of all the creatures.

    1. Agreed Don. And in some cases I’ve noted that when people get access via roads, aircraft or boat into true wilderness [not gazetted as same – in NZ the rules are delightfully strict], a small percentage suddenly realise it’s value.

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