Southland's coastline is 3,400km long; the longest of any region in New Zealand, and one seventh of New Zealand's total.

It extends from Fiordland in the west (Awarua Point) round the south coast to the Catlins in the east (Waiparau Head) and includes the coast of Stewart Island/Rakiura and other nearby islands.  Southland's coastal waters lie in the Tasman Sea, Foveaux Strait and the Pacific Ocean.

Travelling along Southland's coastline you'll find a mix of flat sandy beaches, rocky outcrops and native forest, all providing an abundance of recreational opportunities. 

The issues

Our beaches and dunes are very dynamic systems, and change rapidly. They are home to a number of plants and animals, some deep within the sand. These areas are particularly sensitive to:

  • freshwater discharge and changes in sediment supply
  • sea level rise
  • vehicle use
  • oil spills
  • introduced species (particularly marram grass)
  • erosion

What we are doing

As part of our State of the Environment monitoring programme, we monitored a number of aspects along the coastal environment from the water quality of bathing and shellfish collection areas to sandy/rocky shore monitoring as an indicator of ecological health.

Beach/rocky shore monitoring

Sandy beach and rocky shore monitoring was part of our long-term coastal monitoring programme. Sandy beach monitoring used dune profile, grain size and biological diversity as indicators of health. Rocky shore monitoring measured biological diversity to indicate the state of the rocky shore community.

We monitored Orepuki Beach, Porpoise Bay Beach, Stirling Point Rocky Shore and Waipapa Point Rocky Shore. These reports are available below.

Recreational water quality monitoring (Summer)

We monitor 13 marine bathing sites for enterococci bacteria over summer. Southland's recreational bathing water quality is assessed and reported according to national guidelines set by the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Health.

Click here for more on the bathing water quality programme and results.

Shellfish water quality monitoring

Water quality is monitored at eight popular shellfish gathering sites. This monitoring occurs on a monthly basis over the entire year.

Click here for more on this monitoring programme and results.

Southland Coastal Heritage Inventory Project (SCHIP)

The Southland Coastal Heritage Inventory Project is a partnership between Environment Southland, the Department of Conservation, the Southland District Council, the Invercargill City Council, New Zealand Historic Places Trust and Te Ao Marama Inc. (representing the four Murihiku Papatipu Rūnanga for resource management purposes). The project was founded in 2003 with the aim of understanding the nature and extent of coastal heritage in Murihiku/Southland. In 2013 this important project continues, implementing, a monitoring programme for the most threatened historic sites and completing management actions to protect the region's coastal heritage.

Read an more about the SCHIP project in our Envirosouth magazine:

What you can do

Summer check

Check the bathing and shellfish monitoring results so you know your risk and are informed before heading out.

Caring for toheroa

The toheroa has long been esteemed as one of our finest sea foods, but unfortunately supplies are limited and strict controls have to be enforced. This clam burrows deeply in sand on beaches that are backed by extensive sand dunes.

Southland's toheroa population is a relative rarity. Populations of this size don't occur on other New Zealand beaches and they are considered a valuable treasure for the region. There is no official gathering season, however the fishery is well managed under a permit system, with permits issued by Tangata Tiaki.

The toheroa at Oreti Beach are an exceptional resource, which needs to be valued and appreciated, as well as protected for the future.

Results of the survey showed vehicles had a clear detrimental impact on the young toheroa, with traffic believed to be responsible for killing 23% of juveniles annually. This means the public should try to avoid driving along the area from the high tide mark for about 50 metres towards the water, as this is where the juvenile toheroa have buried themselves. The juvenile toheroa have a fragile shell and are in shallow sand, so they are most at risk.

Oreti Beach and Sandy Point

Ten kilometres west of Invercargill, Oreti Beach was a key location for the film 'The World's Fastest Indian', which tells the story of Southland's motorcycling hero Burt Munro. At around 26 kilometres in length, the beach provided Munro with a testing and racing site for his modified Indian motorcycle. In February 1957 Munro set a New Zealand Open Beach record of 131.38 mph at Oreti Beach; in 1975 he raised this to 136 mph.

At the southern end of Oreti Beach is Sandy Point, a natural playground for walking, mountain biking and horse riding. In geological terms, Sandy Point is very young. The peninsula of sand, gravel and water-borne silt probably appeared some 4000-5000 years ago, when sea levels were higher. Long before the site of Invercargill was developed, the rich natural resources of Sandy Point supported an important Maori settlement called Oue. The arrival of sealers and whalers brought change, although the whaling station established there in 1836 was short-lived. Sandy Point's ancient sand dune forest of wind-sculpted totara and matai is rare and nationally important. Other native podocarps include rimu, miro and kahikatea. Native forest walks reveal a rich wildlife community from the shaded, ferny floor upwards. Source:

Page reviewed: 04 May 2016 12:12pm