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The High Country

The high country is an area of land more than 600 metres above sea level, which is mainly covered by tussock and often used to farm sheep or cattle.

New Zealand has large areas of high country, mainly in the South Island along the foothills of the Southern Alps. The words 'high country' are usually used to describe land east of the Southern Alps that can be used for farming.


The climate in the high country is harsh with low rainfall, cold winters and hot summers. This climate only suits certain plants and animals. The high country is home to unique plants and animals, some of which are threatened, such as the black stilt.


Animals farmed in the high country include;

  • sheep
  • cattle
  • deer
  • alpaca.

Most farms or stations have only a few animals per hectare, usually sheep or cattle. This type of farming is known as extensive farming where the amount of fertiliser, labour and money spent is small compared with the amount of land that is farmed. 

With the help of irrigation some areas have become more intensive dairy farms

In areas that are not farmed the main plant is tussock.


High country regions of New Zealand include;

  • Central Otago
  • Mackenzie Basin
  • parts of the North Island Volcanic Plateau. 

Much of the land is at a high altitude (hence its name), with most of the high country being more than 600 metres above sea level.


A number of conservation issues affect the high country, including;

  • wilding pines
  • hieracium (a weed)
  • soil erosion
  • rabbit plagues

You could find out more about these issues and what is being done to manage them.

The high country describes an area of land over 600 metres above sea level. Image: LEARNZ.


Much of the high country not used for farming is covered in tussock. Image: LEARNZ.


Merino sheep farms are common in the high country. What other types of farms are there in the high country? Image: Phillip Capper.

How do you think the high country has changed since Māori and European settlement in Aotearoa, New Zealand?