The Southern Alps is a mountain range which runs along the western side of the South Island of New Zealand. It forms a natural dividing range along the entire length of the South Island. 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.
Mount Cook is the highest point, 3754 metres (12,283 feet). There are 16 other points in the range that exceed 3,000 metres in height. A large proportion of the range is protected as part of various national parks, notably the Westland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The Southern Alps contain some 360 glaciers, the largest of which - the Tasman Glacier - is 29 kilometres in length. Lambert, M. (ed) (1989) Air New Zealand Almanack Wellington: New Zealand Press Association. p. 165
The Southern Alps were named by Captain Cook on March 23, 1770, who described their 'prodigious height'. Reed, A. W. (1975) Place Names of New Zealand. Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed. p. 384. 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'. Orsman, H. and Moore, J. (eds) (1988) Heinemann Dictionary of New Zealand Quotations. Auckland: Heinemann. p. 629.
Geologically, the Southern Alps lie along a plate boundary, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Alpine Fault developed 25-30 million years ago, with the Indo-Australian Plate in the west pushing northwestward, the Pacific Plate to the east being subducted beneath it. Kirkpatrick, R. (1999) Bateman Contemporary Atlas of New Zealand. Auckland: David Bateman. Plates 2 and 3.</ref> The mountains that form the Alps continue to be uplifted due to tectonic pressure, causing earthquakes on the Alpine Fault, but are eroded at approximately the same rate.
Because of its orientation perpendicular to the prevailing westerly winds, the range creates excellent wave soaring conditions for glider pilots. The town of Omarama, in the lee of the mountains, has gained an international reputation for its gliding conditions. The prevailing westerlies also create a weather pattern known as the Nor'west arch, in which moist air is pushed up over the mountains, forming an arch of cloud in an otherwise blue sky. This weather pattern is frequently visible in summer across Canterbury and North Otago. The 'Nor'wester' is a föhn wind similar to the Chinook wind of Canada, where mountain ranges in the path of prevailing moisture laden winds force air upwards, thus cooling the air and condensing the moisture to rain, producing hot dry winds in the descending air lee of the mountains.
 Visiting the Southern Alps
The Southern Alps are a range of mountains that run the length of the South Island of New Zealand. The mountain range have been likened to the Alps of Europe. The highest peak is Aoraki Mount Cook at 12,349 (approx.) ft
The Southern Alps play a significant part in determining New Zealand's weather. The high mountain ranges act like a dam to the wind, forcing weather systems to flow over or around the mountain ranges. The prevailing westerly winds mean the West Coast and mountains have a high rainfall, while the East Coast is baked by a hot dry Nor'wester. When the wind blows from the south, the East Coast receives rain, and snow in winter, while the West Coast will have sunny skys.
Southwesterly storms become particularly hard to forecast as a few degrees difference in the storm path is all it takes to have a Nor'wester or Southerly storm. This leads to weather that can change rapidly and forecasts that may evolve during the day. While New Zealand weather forecasts are reasonably reliable they do change over the day. There are special mountain forecasts that should be monitored when travelling in the mountains. Travellers in New Zealand generally, but in the Southern Alps in particular, should be prepared for any type of weather as it is possible to experience four seasons in one day.
The Southern Alps also play a significant part in sizing the geography of New Zealand. What would be considered mountains in other parts of the world are considered mere hills in New Zealand, once compared to the Southern Alps.
 National parks
- Lewis Pass
- Arthurs Pass
- Haast Pass
- Otira Tunnel (railway)
- Homer Tunnel (road)
- Native Rain Forests
- Lakes - Some with mirrorlike reflections.
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