The High Country of New Zealand



The wild beauty of the South Island high country has a special place in the hearts of most New Zealanders.


It is a landscape shaped by climate, geology and people.


Countless painters, photographers, writers and film makers have celebrated its tussock-covered hills and craggy mountains, along with the farmers and sheep flocks that live here. Brand marketers increasingly use high country heritage values to connect with their consumers.


It is also the home of New Zealand’s celebrated Merino wool industry. Merino wool from the high country is sought after by leading fashion designers for its superb quality and by discerning customers seeking garments made from a natural and sustainable fibre.


Yet despite its importance, this heritage is at great risk.


Since 2002, the New Zealand Government has been acquiring large areas of tussock grassland for a network of 22 parks and reserves along the eastern flanks of the Southern Alps.


Pleas from farmers and the Merino industry, which is losing its wool supply, have gone unheard. Scientific evidence showing that low intensity sheep farming is sustainable has gone unanswered. 


There is little logic in the drive to use Crown ownership to ‘protect’ iconic landscapes when they are in such great shape under farmer stewardship. But this escapes the government and its advisers who believe the high country will only be safe when it is owned and managed by the state.


Certainly, the policy cannot be justified on conservation grounds. Mid- to high-altitude tussock grasslands are already well represented in the Crown’s 3.5 million hectares of high country conservation estate. Lincoln University researchreveals that removing sheep does nothing to help native biodiversity.


Also, the cost of buying and maintaining this land means less money will