Flora & Fauna
Much of Fiordland's forest clings to steep faces of hard rock covered only by a thin layer of rich, peaty humus and moss. Tree avalanches are common. Beech forest is dominant with red mountain beech growing around the eastern lakes and in the Eglinton Valley. Silver beech is widespread, sometimes growing in association with podocarps such as Hall's Totara, Rimu and Miro.
In the wetter areas, this forest type has luxuriant understorey shrubs, tree ferns, mosses and lichens. Above the 100 metre bushline, snow tussocks dominate with showy alpine daisies, buttercups and other herbs.
Fiordland is home to several threatened native animals. The Murchison and Stuart Mountains support about 160 Takahe - a flightless alpine bird thought extinct earlier this century. The birds are carefully monitored in a restricted area of the park and their numbers boosted by an artificial rearing programme undertaken by the Department of Conservation. The Kakapo in Fiordland is not so lucky - after being threatened by introduced predators to the point of near extinction, the last few birds have been transferred to offshore islands. The Eglinton Valley is a stronghold for Yellow-Crowned Parakeets, Yellowheads (Mohua) and long-tailed bats. Brown Teal, Blue Duck and Southern Crested Grebes are found on Fiordland lakes and streams.
Visitors are likely to see common forest birds like Tomtits, Brown Creepers, Grey Warblers, Fantails, Tui, Bellbirds and Woodpigeons. The cheeky mountain parrot, the Kea, is a regular entertainer at high altitudes.
Introduced animals such as mice, rats, stoats, hares, deer and possums have had a detrimental effect on animals and plants and some control programmes are now carried out. Intensive conservation management undertaken on some offshore islands has eradicated pests such as the Norway Rat, allowing these islands to become a safe haven for species such as the South Island Saddleback, and rare Fiordland Skinks.
The underwater environment in the fiords is one of the most intriguing and unique in the world. This is not only because of the beautiful natural environment and the marine reserves that exist here, but also because of an interesting effect of the high rainfall in the area. As rainfall drains through the lush forests, it becomes stained with tannins until it is the colour of strong tea. This dark freshwater does not mix with the sea water of the fiords, but rather it sits on top, limiting the amount of light that reaches into the depths and restricting almost all of the marine life to the top 40 metres of water depth. This 40m band is calm, very clear and relatively warm - home to sponges, corals and fish of sub-tropical, cool water and deep water varieties. As a result, light sensitive species that normally live at great depths are found much closer to the surface in Fiordland waters. This gives divers, as well as visitors to the Underwater Observatory, the opportunity to see rare species such as the red and black corals at relatively shallow depths.
The fiords support the world's biggest population of black coral trees - about seven million colonies, some of them up to 200 years old. They are home also to brachiopods; primitive clam-like animals that have been bypassed by evolution, remaining unchanged in over 300 million years. Bottlenose dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, Fiordland Crested Penguins and little penguins are also resident in the fiords.