National Parks in New Zealand | The Experience of a Lifetime
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Explore Aotearoa New Zealands Nature and Wildlife
Aotearoa New Zealand has 13 of the most diverse and extraordinary national parks worldwide. These protected areas encompass mountains, sprawling plains and fragrant native forests serving as havens for a rich variety of plant and animal life. Scattered throughout the country these 13 national parks offer opportunities to immerse yourself in New Zealand’s countryside. Whether you seek a day hike or an extended backpacking adventure there are awe inspiring natural destinations to explore within these national parks. So pack your bags and hit the trail – it’s time to embark on a nature experience!
New Zealand’s first national parks
The first of New Zealand’s parks dates back, to 1894. The initial two parks, Tongariro National Park and Egmont National Park, paved the way for the addition of national parks over time. The most recent addition was Rakiura National Park, joining the list in 2002 and solidifying New Zealand’s reputation as one of the worlds most sought after destinations for nature based activities.
New Zealand’s national parks serve as havens for wildlife and offer an opportunity to witness native and endangered birds and other animals thriving in their natural habitats. Nature lovers are guaranteed an exploration of New Zealands outdoors.
Aotearoa is a place, for those seeking a break, from their lives and wanting to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature. Whether you crave quiet moments or thrilling experiences, New Zealand has little pockets of wonder that cater to every preference.
1. Tongariro National Park, Waikato / Manawatu-Wanganui
Tongariro National Park is situated in the heart of the North Island, the closest main centre as being Taupo, is home to some of New Zealands unique landscapes and ecosystems. This park is inscribed on the World Heritage Area, thanks to its volcanic features, including three active volcanoes. Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu.
Within the park there are walking trails for all levels of hikers. From strolls into Lake Rotopounamu (approx. 2 hours) to challenging adventures, like the Tongariro Crossing. An epic 19.4 km (approx. 5-8 hours) alpine trek that takes you across Mt Tongariro showcasing stunning emerald lakes, craters and lava flows along the way. You can book private, or group tours, where the excellent, professional and qualified guides will take you on an epic journey to the emerald lakes for a pinch-me! moment and share with you an informative, fun and friendly tour.
2. Egmont National Park, Taranaki
Egmont National Park is a rugged park situated along the west coast of New Zealands North Island, cosied up to the city of New Plymouth. It is renowned for its volcano, Mount Taranaki, which is surrounded by forest and grasslands. You will discover a wealth of exploration opportunities from hiking trails that wind their way up and, around Mount Taranaki – the multi-day, around the mountain circuit – to breathtaking day walk paths. The parks lush forests and sub alpine regions also offer options for bushwalking.
One of the features of this park is its stunning waterfalls, rivers and pools all waiting to be discovered on foot. The most popular being Dawsons Falls and Wilkies Pools (gorgeous swimming spot), both of which are wheelchair accessible and kid friendly – including a swing bridge crossing over Kapuni Stream!
For those seeking adventure Egmont National Park provides a setting, for camping and tramping. With campsites scattered throughout the park finding a spot to pitch your tent or park your campervan is effortless.
3. Whanganui National Park, Manawatu-Wanganui
Whanganui National Park is a destination, for anyone seeking to immerse themselves in the wilderness of New Zealands North Island. Covering an expanse of 119,000 hectares, the bush-lined river flows through, winding its way out to the Tasman sea.
This region is widely known for its range of awesome outdoor activities; whether you enjoy tramping and fishing adventures, thrilling mountain biking experiences or simply taking in the sights there is something for everyone. There are several walks, including the more famous ‘Bridge to Nowhere‘ walk which is a gorgeous yet abandoned foot bridge, densely surrounded by stunning NZ forest in the middle of the National Park.
Mountain biking in Whanganui area is popular, with these diverse and challenging trails, that vary in grade:
Araheke Mountain Bike Park
Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail
Whanganui River Road
Round the Bridges Whanganui
With its awe inspiring landscapes and numerous activity options, Whanganui National Park is a must visit destination for those who crave an experience of New Zealands splendor.
4. Abel Tasman National Park, Tasman
Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of New Zealands national parks yet it packs a punch with its unbelievable beauty. Situated at the top of the South Island this picturesque park is surrounded by golden sandy beaches, stunning sunsets, and peaceful coves that people flock to experience the tranquility and serenity of this coastal paradise.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track, one of the ten Great Walks of New Zealand, is an extremely scenic walking coastal trail, including walking through the bush and on the beaches, that takes approximately 3-4 days to complete. However, there is more than one way to view this beauty of a national park! You can also choose to explore the park by kayaking, sailing or take a cruise. Keep an eye out for forest birds along the shoreline and perhaps catch a glimpse of playful dolphins and seals as well. Also, no trip to this region would be complete without giving in to that supremely inviting water and indulging in some swimming and snorkelling.
Once you’re A visit to Abel Tasman National Park promises memories of New Zealands awe inspiring natural wonders.
5. Kahurangi National Park, Tasman / Westland
Kahurangi National Park, situated in the northwest of New Zealands South Island, is one of more unspoilt, untouched and unseen areas of spectacular Aotearoa New Zealand. This unspoiled wilderness presents a chance for visitors to immerse themselves in rugged landscapes ranging from beautiful beaches and lush valleys to awe inspiring mountain views.
This park boasts a network of over 80 walking trails, this area caters to all levels of experience. Whether you prefer strolls across grasslands and wetlands, or demanding hikes through gorges and alpine basins there is something for everyone. One must not miss is the Heaphy Track; recognised as one of New Zealands Great Walks, offering a 82 kilometres of clean, green adventure through the captivating terrain of Kahurangi National Park.
6. Nelson Lakes National Park, Tasman
Moving on to Nelson Lakes National Park, located at the top of New Zealands South Island, an alpine park, this mountainous and scenic destination is serious about jaw-dropping mountains, crystal clear lakes and lush forests, including the clearest lake in the world! Rotomairewhenua / Blue Lake. It truly showcases the beauty of nature, in this country.
Whether you’re an adventurer, or just starting your journey this park provides hiking trails and biking routes, as well as lakes to relax by and take in the incredible surroundings. It is easy to include this area in your road trip plans, as the road takes you through here, should you choose to take the slower, inland route rather than via the Kaikoura coast. Take in the beauty of this wonderful alpine region, and make sure to visit.
7. Paparoa National Park, Westland
Paparoa National Park can be found on the coast of New Zealands South Island and sits in the middle section between Westport and Greymouth, meeting the sea at Punakaiki. The park is wild and tough with geological marvels, limestone cliffs known as the ‘pancake rocks’, a fun and entertaining blowhole, the ‘hanging waterfall’ – Te Miko waterfall, at the end of the Truman Track, deep gorges and lush valleys covered in vegetation which are home to many peaceful walks. Jump on a tour from Greymouth to visit this amazing area, or make sure to build it into your itinerary. Visitors have the opportunity to partake in activities, like hiking, biking, fishing and camping within the parks boundaries. Paparoa National Park is also home to enchanting glowworm caves, open for exploration offering an extraordinary and unforgettable experience!
8. Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury
Arthurs Pass National Park can be found in the Southern Alps of New Zealands South Island. Immerse yourself in landscapes flush with towering mountain peaks, vibrant alpine flower meadows, enchanting forests and peaceful rivers and lakes. For one of best ways to immerse yourself in this natural space and see as much as possible, take one of the worlds best train rides with the TranzAlpine to Arthurs Pass and, Castle Hill, famous from starring in the Chronicles of Narnia. With its offerings and abundant natural wonders Arthurs Pass National Park truly delivers.
9. Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Westland
UNESCO-listed glacial national park, Westland Tai Poutini National Park is the park, in New Zealand situated on the West Coast of the South Island. The park showcases an array of wonders, such as glaciers, pristine alpine lakes, lush rainforests and majestic snow capped mountains that can be explored through expert guided tours, invigorating hikes or helicopter trips.
With its biodiversity and captivating wildlife including species, like the kiwi bird, Westland Tai Poutini National Park is an absolute must visit for anyone traveling to New Zealand. The main towns in the park are Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.
Fantastic tours we recommend:
Guide Tours –
10. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, Canterbury / Westland
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is an alpine and lakes region, home to NZ’s highest point! Aoraki Mount Cook is nestled right at the core of the Southern Alps, encompassing more than 700 kilometres of majestic mountains, glaciers and valleys. This national park stands out as one of the most awe inspiring in New Zealand.
This area is renowned for its opportunities, especially for hiking and climbing. Seasoned hikers can embark on epic adventures, conquering some of the parks peaks and glaciers. Meanwhile those seeking an experience can explore the picturesque valleys, shining blue lakes and incredible night skies, listed as an International Dark Sky Reserve.
Check out these unreal tours!
Leaving from Christchurch – Full-Day Mount Cook National Park & Lake Tekapo Tour
Leaving from Queenstown with an award winning tour company – Mt Cook Day Tour from Queenstown
11. Mount Aspiring National Park, Otago
Mount Aspiring National Park, with Wānaka at its feet stands out as one of the beloved parks in Aotearoa. Thick with lush and thriving beech forests, sparkling clean and clear rivers and trails to make your heart feel happy, Mount Aspiring, also known as Tititea, lives up to its name.
Mount Aspiring National Park is part of the Te Wahipounamu area, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990. Living inside this beautiful scenery, is the stunning Blue Pools, the Rob Roy glacier in the Matukituki Valley with an incredible track to the lookout and multiple waterfalls to inspire your curiosity – Wishbone Falls, Fantail Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Thunder Creek Falls.
For those yearning for an escape, amidst natures marvels and a taste of New Zealands landscapes – Mount Aspiring National Park proves to be a paradise.
How to Explore:
At the feet of Mount Aspiring National Park is the Gates of Haast, quiet an incredible drive over what is enormous boulders, rushy white water all pushing its way through a small area on the Haast River. Its dramatic, fierce and a wonderful site to see.
Hike the trails and make sure you are prepared. When packing for a trip in NZ and you’re planning on tramping or hiking multi-day trips, know that these require much more packing than day hiking
Personal Locator beacons are essential – always hire one and take it with you on multi days walks. If you are an inexperienced tramper, ups to you for heading off on an adventure, but be sure you have packed correctly. If you aren’t sure where to start, look into hiring a guide, to either take you on the walk or for advice. You can also check out Search and Rescue New Zealands Adventuresmart website or the New Zealand Department of Conservations website page overnight and multi-day tramp gear list, for excellent help and advice.
These trails are pretty incredible – Cascade Hut, Aspiring Hut and French Ridge Hut or if this kind of tramping aka hiking, is all a bit much or doesn’t fit into your itinerary, try a scenic Mount Aspiring flight.
12. Fiordland National Park, Southland
Quietly in the corner of the South Island, this park boasts awe inspiring scenery that captivates visitors from over the world. With its strong, towering mountains and serene fiords, Fiordland is the experience of a lifetime. Truly captivating, this is a must do for anyone visiting our incredible country.
Hike the tracks like the Milford Track, Routeburn Track and Kepler Track to immerse yourself in the country’s best hiking experiences. For those who appreciate tranquil waters and stunning vistas, kayaking or cruising through the park will leave you entranced by its landscapes.
Explore this dream of a playground:
13. Rakiura National Park, Southland
Rakiura National Park is another, and the final, of New Zealand’s National Park gems, located on the remote Stewart Island, off the south coast of the South Island – its way down deep! With its world-class hiking trails and stunning scenery, Rakiura National Park will make for a memorable outdoor experience.
Enjoy a tranquil kayak trip while taking in the breathtaking views, or spend a day exploring the park’s lush forests with abundant with native forest birds and other wildlife.
Explore the offshore islands with their unique wildlife, such as rare birds and seals, or take a boat tour and spot dolphins and penguins swimming freely in their natural habitats and there is an abundance of freshwater and saltwater fish to be found in the surrounding waters. Alternatively, get a different perspective and try this scenic flight to get your bearings and ones of the most amazing views you’ll ever lay your eyes on.
Whatever you choose, this park is sure to leave you with a lifetime of memories.
Aotearoa New Zealands National Parks are for exploring, immersing and embracing the most wild, natural, protected and stunning alpine and ocean regions of New Zealand. With the expansive and unreal landscapes and wide range of activities, it appeals to both experienced explorers and those new to outdoor adventures. Embrace everything this country of National Parks has to offer and create memories that will last a lifetime!
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