About Southland

​​Southland is the second largest region in New Zealand, covering an area of 34,000km2. The coastal boundary extends 3,100 kilometres from Awarua Point on the West Coast, to Waiparau Head on the fringe of the east coast, and includes Stewart Island/Rakiura. In all, over half of Southland's land area is public conservation land, while farms occupy 85% of the remaining land.


New Zealand's climate is mild, temperate and mainly maritime, due to our location within a belt of strong, wet westerly winds. Southland's weather is dominated by those westerly influences, which provide plentiful rainfall and a small annual range in temperatures.

Wet westerly winds drop most of their moisture on the western side of the partial barrier formed by the Fiordland mountain ranges (5,000–10,000mm per year); rainfall on the eastern or lee side is much lower, although still reasonably common (700–1,500mm per year). Coastal areas near Foveaux Strait such as Invercargill tend to receive greater rainfall (1,000-1,2000mm per year) than inland as there are fewer topographic features in the path of the westerlies to intercept rain. Eastern Southland receives around 1000mm of rain per year inland, but closer to 1400mm in the coastal Catlins area.

The absence of nearby large land masses ensures that the air that reaches New Zealand is humid with a moderate temperature (average annual temperatures range from 10 degrees Celsius in the south to 16 degrees in the north of the country).

Climate variability throughout the year

Air temperatures have a small annual range in Southland, with July being the coldest month and January the warmest. The average annual variation is about 9 degrees in Invercargill, 10 degrees in Gore and 12 degrees at Mavora and Piano Flat. Temperature variation tends to be less in coastal areas due to the moderating effect of the sea, resulting in warmer winter temperatures and lower summer temperatures.

In June, July and August, more southerly air flow brings drier air resulting in less rainfall (July is the driest month). In December, January and February, westerly air flow results in wetter conditions. While Southland has less drought risk than most of the country, northern and eastern Southland receive less rain and are more prone to drought than coastal and western Southland.

Snow in Southland is generally limited to higher altitude areas (where temperatures are cooler); it is common to see snow inland, particularly in the ranges, from autumn through to late spring.

Population and ethnicity

There are 93,339 Southlanders (2013 Census) and we make up of 2.2% of New Zealand's population. In terms of ethnicity, 89.0% of Southlanders identify as European descent, 2.2% as New Zealander, 13.0% as Maori, 2.1% as Pacific people, 3.2% as Asian, and 0.4% as Middle Eastern, Latin American or African (you can identify with more than one ethnicity).

Significant population areas in Southland:

Invercargill 51,696
Gore 12,033
Winton 2,211
Te Anau1,911
Otautau 672

The comparatively high rural population within Southland emphasises the high reliance on primary/agricultural industries within the region.

For more information, see the latest census results on the Statistics New Zealand website.

Landscapes and natural features

From the awe-inspiring natural features of Fiordland, to the rolling working landscapes of the inland plains and the south coast which stretches from the Catlins to Fiordland – the landscapes of Southland are highly valued by residents and visitors alike.

The protection of natural features and landscapes is a responsibility shared between all local authorities of the region. Environment Southland and the community have developed the Proposed Southland Regional Policy Statement 2012 (PSRPS), which guides resource management in the region. The PSRPS includes a chapter on identifying valued natural features and landscapes, and protecting these from inappropriate subdivision, use and development.


The Southland region is drained by four major river catchments – the Waiau, Aparima, Oreti and Mataura catchments, which cover a combined area of 18,305 km2, or 54% of the land area of Southland.

Click here to see a map of Southland's major river catchments.

Mataura Catchment

The headwaters of the Mataura River lie in the Eyre mountain range, west of Kingston. The Mataura catchment covers an area of 5,360 square kilometres. Major tributaries of the Mataura include the Eyre, Nokomai, Waikaia, Waikaka, Mimihau and Wyndham Rivers.

Oreti Catchment

The Oreti catchment extends from east of the Mavora Lakes down to Invercargill, covering an area of 3,510 square kilometres. Major tributaries of the Oreti include the Windley River, Acton, Cromel, Irthing, Dipton and Winton Streams. Downstream in the tidal reach the Makarewa and Waikiwi Rivers flow into the Oreti River.

Aparima Catchment

The headwaters of the Aparima catchment lie on the eastern side of the Takitimu mountains, to the west of Mossburn. The catchment covers an area of 1,375 square kilometres. Major tributaries of the Aparima River include the Waterloo Burn, Pleasant Creek, Hamilton Burn, Opio and Otautau Streams.

Waiau Catchment

The catchment area of the Waiau is 8,173 square kilometres. Major tributaries of the Waiau River, above the Mararoa Weir, include the Mavora Lakes and Mararoa River, Eglinton, Upukerora and Whitestone Rivers and Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri. Below the weir, major tributaries include the Borland Burn, Lake Monowai and Monowai River, Dean, Lill and Alton Burns, and the Wairaki, and Orauea Rivers.

Economy and employment

Southland's economy is closely tied to the use or enjoyment of its natural resources, particularly freshwater, soil and biodiversity.

The economy has a large primary sector, focusing on agriculture, forestry and fishing. Agriculture, in particular, is dominated by pastoral farming, both drystock (sheep, beef and deer) and increasingly dairy. Agriculture makes up roughly 22% of Southland's economy, which is more than twice its share in most other regions (and compares to 5% for the New Zealand economy). Commercial forestry is well-established and focuses on radiata pine, douglas fir and eucalypt species. There is also a strong commercial and recreational fishing industry, including aquaculture.

Beyond the primary sector, the Southland economy has a strong manufacturing sector, with meat and milk processing and an aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point near Bluff (based on hydro-electricity generation on the Waiau River). Meat processing is the biggest employer in the region, with around 3,800 employees, and Fonterra's milk processing plant at Edendale is the largest in the country.

The service sector is small, although tourism is growing and now accounts for almost 10% of the regional economy. The region's two national parks (Fiordland National Park and Rakiura National Park) attract visitors from New Zealand and overseas, and three of  New Zealand's seven Great Walks are situated in Southland.

The structure of the economy means it is quite sensitive to world commodity markets, and as a result tends to have more variable economic growth that the rest of the country.

The employment rate in Southland is almost 70%, which is the highest of any region in New Zealand, but there are fewer opportunities for skilled jobs here than elsewhere. In terms of education, roughly 11.5% of the population has a university degree, compared to 20% nationally. However, Southland has a proven track record when it comes to innovation – from instant coffee to deer farming to sheep milking. The Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) is one of New Zealand's largest institutes of technology, and runs a successful "Zero Fees" scheme for students.

The median wage in Southland is $29,500, which is just over the national average of $28,500. Southland tends to be a cheaper place to live, with average rent being just over $200 per week. And Southlanders love living here, with roughly three-quarters of the population either born and raised in the region, or having lived here for at least 10 years. Southlanders value their strong sense of community.

The Southland economy's biggest challenge lies in developing in a way that promotes Southlanders' quality of life.

For more information, read the Southland Regional Development Strategy.

Check out what positions are currently available at Environment Southland.


Southlanders enjoy outdoor recreation. Our top sport and recreational activities include walking, gardening, fishing, jogging and hunting.

In Southland, seasons are often described in terms of what can be hunted or gathered in the environment at that time of year. Such seasonal harvests include whitebait, trout, duck, kanakana (lamprey), titi (mutton bird) and deer (e.g. the stag hunts of the "roar", the "rut" and the "bugle").

Southlanders are also involved in the all-year-round recreational customary harvests of flounder, crayfish, blue cod and paua.​

Page reviewed: 31 Jan 2017 1:14pm