Southern Alps, New Zealand

July 27, 2013 by  

Southern Alps, New Zealand, The Southern Alps is a mountain range extending along much of the length of New Zealand’s South Island, reaching its greatest elevations near the island’s western side. The term “Southern Alps” generally refers to the entire range, although separate names are given to many of the smaller ranges that form part of it.

The range includes the South Island’s Main Divide, which separates the water catchments of the more heavily populated eastern side of the island from those on the west coast. Politically, the Main Divide forms the boundary between the Canterbury and West Coast Regions.

The Southern Alps run 450 km north to south. The tallest peak is Aoraki / Mount Cook, the highest point in New Zealand at 3,754 metres (12,316 ft) and there are sixteen other points in the range that exceed 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) in height. The mountains are cut through with glacial valleys and lakes. According to an inventory conducted in the late 1970s, the Southern Alps contained over 3000 glaciers larger than a hectare, the longest of which – the Tasman Glacier – is 29 kilometres in length down towards Lake Pukaki. A chain of glacial lakes are found on the eastern side of the ridge from Lake Coleridge in the north to Lake Wakatipu in Otago in the south.

Settlements include Maruia Springs, a spa near Lewis Pass, the town of Arthur’s Pass and some lakeside resorts.

The Southern Alps were named by Captain Cook on March 23, 1770, who described their “prodigious height”. They had previously been noted by Abel Tasman in 1642, whose description of the South Island’s west coast is often translated as “a land uplifted high”.

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