The national parks in New Zealand are home to some of the most diverse species of plants, animals, and birds. Forests, mountains, glaciers, fjords, lakes, rivers, valleys and volcanic landscapes, all found within these protected areas, are the natural heritage of the island country. The lush green land, flora, and fauna are well preserved by the locals as a part of the Kiwi culture inherited from the Maoris, who were the early inhabitants of the place.
The national parks are spread over more than 30,000 square kilometres across the North and the South Islands of New Zealand and attract backpackers from across the globe. Travellers can explore these parks by kayaking, canoeing, hiking and walking through the various trails.
Here Are the 10 National Parks in New Zealand You Should Explore
1. Egmont National Park
Egmont National Park is located on the North Island, and houses a dormant volcano Mount Taranaki. Walking and hiking through the trails and beaten paths, one can discover the park’s lush forests, rivers, waterfalls, pools, swamps and lava gorges. From short 15-minute walks on the Kamahi Track to three-day trips on the Pouakai Circuit, there are several short walking trails and other mountaineering activities that visitors can enjoy. The Camphouse and Dawson Falls Power Station are the must-see heritage sites in this national park of New Zealand. Experienced mountaineers can try their hands on a challenging climb to the summit of Mount Taranaki.
2. Whanganui National Park
Whanganui National Park is stretched along the Whanganui River and is among the least accessible national parks in New Zealand. The wilderness of the native forests, river gorges, waterfalls, mountains, and valleys attract adventurous tourists on multi-day excursions to the park. Visitors can choose from several water sports and mountaineering activities. There are several camping sites, hiking trails and biking routes across the park as well.
Water sports enthusiasts can canoe along the river while enjoying the stunning scenery or take a jet boat ride to Mangapurua Landing and walk to The Bridge to Nowhere. One can also camp at Tieke Marae and experience the local Maori culture up close or hike across Mangapurua.
3. Abel Tasman National Park
Located on the north end of New Zealand’s South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is a coastal paradise. It is among the most easily accessible national parks in New Zealand, with several tour operators providing services for a horde of recreational activities. Visitors can explore the natural beauty of its pristine beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and lush native forests by kayaks, helicopters, and catamarans. In addition, there are luxurious arrangements for staying and sightseeing inside the national park.
4. Kahurangi National Park
Located on the South Island, Kahurangi National Park is the second-largest national park in New Zealand. This park is the conservation site for rare species of native plants, birds and even some of the region’s oldest rocks. Mount Owen and Mount Arthur are marbled mountains housing extensive cave systems accompanied by the Oparara Basin, which is full of limestone caves.
Nature lovers can discover mysterious streams, wild rivers, high plateaus, ancient rocks, rare birds and alpine herb fields. The enthralling landforms and tropical palm forests can be explored using the network of walking tracks in the area. The Heaphy Track is the most popular walking trail. However, fascinated geologists, fossil hunters and cave explorers take the untracked routes too.
5. Nelson Lakes National Park
The best place for a dreamy getaway, Nelson Lakes National Park is located on the South Island and is among the most picturesque national parks in New Zealand. The idyllic setting of this park makes it the ideal place for unwinding amidst the wilderness. The park houses two gorgeous clearwater alpine lakes, Rotoroa and Rotoiti. The lakes are surrounded by the breathtakingly beautiful Saint Arnaud and Mount Robert mountain ranges. The popular activities that one can enjoy in this area are hiking up to viewpoints that offer stunning panoramic views of the valleys, camping in the wild and fishing in the pristine lakes.
6. Paparoa National Park
Located along the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand is Paparoa National Park. This park encompasses the luxuriant diverse landforms of the region. The stunning geological formations of limestone make it one of the most attractive national parks in New Zealand. Visitors can witness mesmerizing canyons, caves, ridges, blowholes, and New Zealand’s unique ‘pancake’ coastal rock formations in this park.
One can also rent a kayak and paddle up the Pororari River. Horse trekking through the rainforest in Punakaiki Valley is also available up to Punakaiki Beach. You can also stroll through stalactite formations in limestone caves, watch glow worms, or try rock climbing at Bullock Creek.
7. Arthur’s Pass National Park
Arthur’s Pass National Park houses the highest pass over the Southern Alps and is characterized by mountainous terrain. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of dense rainforests, rock slopes, gorges, and riverbeds. Mountaineering, skiing, biking, hiking, and walking are the most popular activities in the area. An adventurous walk up the mountain is rewarded by splendid scenery and picturesque sunset.
8. Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Westland Tai Poutini is a national park recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the most diverse national parks in New Zealand, the entire park area has contrasting landscapes comprising snow-clad mountains, glaciers, grasslands, lakes, rivers, beaches, and wetlands. The Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, also known as the 'Moving Glaciers', are popular tourist attractions. Visitors can book a guided tour of the retreating glaciers and be amazed as they get close enough to touch the ice. You can also kayak along the Okarito Lagoon Kayak Trail and spot kiwis on your way. The area can also be explored by helicopter for a beautiful birds-eye view of the scenery.
9. Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand houses the highest mountain in the country, i.e. Mount Cook and is named after it too. The mountain and its surrounding region are popular among tourists and hikers. In addition to it the longest glacier on the land, Tasman glacier also draws in several tourists to experience its surreal beauty. Visitors can go kayaking in the glacier lake or ski at one of its heli-skiing sites. Explore the Tasman Valley on foot, following the walking trails or hike up to Mt. Cook. One can even take a flight above the beautiful national park and soak up the stunning views.
10. Rakiura National Park
Rakiura National Park forms a major part of the Subantarctic Stewart Island. Like most other national parks in New Zealand, it preserves unique native plants, indigenous wildlife, and marine life. The surreal landscape of Stewart Island provides a charming backdrop to the untouched ecosystems. The varied geology of the park includes rainforests, beaches, dunes, and mountain ranges. You can walk along the hiking trails through the dense rainforests to discover seabirds, penguins, and kiwis. For those interested in a multi-day itinerary, the DOC has arranged accommodation in the park. Visitors can make a booking to enjoy camping under the skies coloured by the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) and filled with nocturnal birdlife activities.
The national parks in New Zealand are a significant part of New Zealand's tourism and are a testament to the island nation's rich wildlife and natural reserves. The New Zealand government puts the utmost effort into conserving these protected areas whilst offering the public and tourists recreational access to appreciate the diverse landscapes.