Recognition of the outstanding natural values of Fiordland and surrounding areas was recognised globally in December 1990 with it being appointed ‘World Heritage’ status by UNESCO, and the formation of Te Wāhipounamu - Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. ‘World Heritage’ is a global concept that identifies natural and cultural sites of world significance - places so special that protecting them is of concern to all people.

 Te Wāi Pounamu - Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area is comprised of 3 national parks - Fiordland, Mt. Aspiring and Westland National Parks.  Combined the larger Te Wāhipounamu - Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area encompasses 10% of New Zealand’s land area at 2.6 million hectares. Te Wāhipounamu translates in Maori to ‘Place of Greenstone’ and was given this name in recognition of the great cultural significance of the area to Maori.

This region is unique and very special as one of only a few ‘World Heritage’ areas globally protecting a natural heritage site; others include Mt. Everest, the Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef. The vast majority of ‘World Heritage’ areas protect cultural heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal, Pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, and the Great Wall of China.