Red Tussock Conservation Area
The Red Tussock Conservation Area is between the Key and Centre Hill, about 38 kms southeast of Te Anau on the Southern Scenic Route. It is signposted with roadside stops in a couple of places, but easy to miss if you’re driving and not sure what to look for. In short, the farmed grasslands are replaced by a reasonably large area of protected native red tussock grasses. This red tinged tussock flows up the hill on the north side of the road with vibrant colour in the right light. It is also a contrast with the silver and golden tussocks you typically see in the mountains.
In the 1840s these tussocks were extensive in drier parts of the central and eastern regions of the North Island and the inland plains and lower mountain slopes east of the Southern Alps. But farming largely wiped out tussocks in the lower elevations.
Prior to European farming, these tussocks were valuable in themselves. They were known to Māori as wī or pātītī and were used for thatching roofs, lining the outside of dwelling walls and for bedding. The tussock’s ability to shed water led to the development of a waterproof rain cape, known as a pōkeka pātītī, or whītau.
There is also a nearby stop with superb views across farmland to the Takitimu Mountains.