Single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis of the NADH IV region of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) molecule in greenshell mussels (Perna canaliculus) indicated strong population genetic structuring in this endemic New Zealand species. A northern and a southern group were differentiated by frequency shifts in common haplotypes and by the occurrence of a unique southern haplotype at ≈ 20% frequency. This split occurred south of Cook Strait (the body of water between the North and the South Island) at ≈ 42° S latitude. Northern populations were less genetically diverse than southern populations and mussels from the west coast of the South Island were most distinct from northern mussels. We hypothesize that the unique haplotype VIII originated in the lower South Island, and that its spread northwards was obstructed by the opening of Cook Strait ≈ 15 000–16 000 years ago and the subsequent establishment of present-day surface water circulation patterns in Greater Cook Strait. We suggest that present-day strong tidal flows and turbulent mixing of water masses in Cook Strait, and intense up-welling on the east and west coasts in this region, represent a barrier to gene flow between mussels located in the North Island and northern South Island vs. mussels in most of the South Island and Stewart Island.