New Zealand's National Parks
New Zealand has 13 National Parks in total and are our country's most valuable treasures. Each of the parks have their own distinct features and no matter which one you visit, you can't go wrong. From the golden sandy beaches of Abel Tasman National Park, moon-like landscapes of Tongariro National Park, to dramatic snow-capped mountains and ancient rainforests, our national parks offer some of the world's most stunning scenery, and are a natural playground for the outdoor enthusiast and nature lovers.
Tongariro National Park
Holding a Dual World Heritage status due to its natural and cultural grounds, and New Zealand's oldest national park, Tongariro National Park lies in the centre of the North Island. The park is a sacred, ancestral homeland to Maori, and a sublime volcanic region with many great hiking opportunities in the summer, and it also boasts New Zealand's largest ski area at Mt Ruapehu in winter.
The main attractions here are the three dominating active volcanoes - Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. Ruapehu, at 2797m tall, is the North Islands highest mountain. Right besides it lies the almost symmetrical cone of Ngauruhoe. Dubbed one of the world's best day hikes, the Tongariro Crossing is a 7-8 hour alpine trek across barren moon landscapes, colorful crater lakes, and is a highlight of many visitors in New Zealand.
For a more comprehensive trek in the region, the Tongariro Circuit is a 3-4 day walk, and one of New Zealand's Great Walks. It includes the best sections of the Tongariro Crossing, after which it veers off to the eastern side of the mountains, passing through incredible and barren moon landscapes, overlooking the bush clad mountains of the Kaimanawa Forest Park.
As most of Tongariro National Park is mountainous, it has its own unpredictable weather patterns. On the western side, all volcanoes experience sudden periods of bad weather, with heavy rain and even snow on the peaks as late as early summer. The winds can be ferocious and can reach gale force on the ridges. It is generally drier on the eastern sides of the mountains, where the Rangipo Desert nestles in the rain shadow of Mt Ruapehu.
Some things to do in Tongariro National Park
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Tongariro Northern Circuit
- World class trout fishing
- Excellent mountain biking trails
- Skiing down the slopes of an active volcano
Egmont National Park
Mt Taranaki (or Mt Egmont) first captivated the Moari people, and later also captain James Cook when he sailed past in the Endeavour. The entire mountain lies in the Egmont National Park, and is a perfectly shaped volcanic cone which utterly dominates the region's landscape. When there's snow on the tops during winter, the sight is stunning, and from the mountain there are amazing views of the surrounding region across dairy farms, the Tasman Sea and the peaks at Tongariro National Park.
The volcano is a popular spot for trampers and adventurers, and the climb to the summit is an epic one day adventure. It is not an active volcano anymore, though that is still debated from time to time.
Mt Taranaki has a maritime climate, but its high altitude means that it is exposed to strong winds. The geography of the region is such that the mountain accelerates wind as it bends around the mountain, meaning you may have calm weather on one side, and howling winds on the other side. Also be aware that low temperatures and bad weather may occur at any time of year. The mountain is notorious for sudden changes in weather, so when venturing out into the park, be well prepared.
Some things to do in Egmont National Park
- Pouakai Circuit Track (2-3 days)
- Climb to the top of Mt Taranaki
- Enjoy one of the many day hikes the park offers
- Rock-climbing and abseiling
- Winter skiiing
Whanganui National Park
Whanganui National Park is a lowland forest that lies between Mt Taranaki in the west and Mt Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park, and one of the most remote regions in the North Island. The park's main feature and attraction is the 329-km long Whanganui River, the longest navigable river in the country.
Access to the park is quite difficult, but it hosts one of New Zealand's great journeys (or generally labelled New Zealand's great walks), the 3-4 day Whanganui River Journey in canoes, a truly unique wilderness experience in a place with deep Maori roots and history. The Matemateaonga Track is a 4 day hiking track penetrating deep into the wilderness of the park, and one of the most remote tramps in the North Island, ending at the Whanganui River.
Another memorable journey, but then on wheels, is the drive from Taranaki to Tongariro National Park via the Forgotten Highway which hugs this region.
The climate here is mild with few extremes. Frost and snow only occur on the high ridges in winter, and morning mist is quite common in summer, but generally is a forerunner to a fine day.
Some things to do in Whanganui National Park
- Whanganui River Journey
- Driving the Forgotten World Highway
- The mountains to sea cycle trail
- A jetboat tour to the bridge of nowhere
- Hike the Matemateaonga Track
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is a marine paradise offering with incredible variety. Hiking, camping, kayaking, marine wildlife, and with the added bonus of boasting the best weather in New Zealand, this small gem of a National Park with its golden beaches is well worth visiting a number of days.
The Abel Tasman Cost track, also one of New Zealand's Great Walks, is a relatively easy 3-4 day trek, and not a typical rugged, New Zealand track, and better serviced than any other track in the country. What makes it more convenient is that water taxis are able to drop you off at any location in the park, so you can choose how many days you would like to remain on the track. Or you may decide to combine it with a kayaking trip, there are numerous options here to choose from. When walking the track, do take note of the tides though, as the tidal differences are among the greatest in the country, often between 3m and 4m. There are two tidal crossings at Torrent and Bark bays, and the crossing can only be attempted at the lower tides. All huts will have the current tidal charts available, but can also be purchased at visitor centres.
Seakayking is another splendid way to explore the park, and options are available from half day, full day and even multi-day kayaking trips. The amazingly beautiful and calm bays make kayaking here relatively easy, and is a great way to get up close and personal with the park's marine wildlife, as you may spot fur seals, dolphins, ...
Another drawcard for this National Park is its exceptionally mild and sunny climate. Protected by the mountain ranges from the westerly winds gives the park some of the best weather in New Zealand, and makes it a year round destination to enjoy.
Some things to do in Abel Tasman National Park
- Sea kayaking around the golden sandy beaches.
- Hike the Abel Tasman Coastal Track
- Set up camp at one of DOC's exquisite campgrounds
- Take a boat trip for a half day or a day
- Bird watching
- Cycling and mountainbiking
Kahurangi National Park
Situated southwest of Abel Tasman National Park is the second largest National Park of New Zealand, Kahurangi National Park. Kahurangi includes the Tasman Mountains, a chain of steep and rugged ranges, where the highest point is Mt Snowden at 1856m. The park stretches from the palm-lined beaches of the Tasman Sea to an interior of alpine herb fields, rocky peaks and rolling flats of red tussock.
The park featured extensively in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, and several helicopter operators provide easy access to these film locations. The alternative route is on foot. Kahurangi National Park contains more than 650km of hiking tracks, and given that this region is a little less visited than others, it is a fantastic option for people wanting to get off the beaten track a little. The park also hosts a Great Walk, the 5 to 6 day, 80km Heaphy Track, which stretches from Aorere valley near Collingwood to the west coast north of Karamea.
Unlike the sunny Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi receives its fair share of rain. All the rivers of the park are fed by the westerly winds that blow off the Tasman Sea, bringing up to 5000mm of rain to the mountain areas. Frost is possible in higher, more exposed regions at all times except mid- to late summer.
To get to the park, Motueka has become a major gateway. Known as a fruit, hops and green tea area, it is a bustling place during the summer with a large number of hikers and kayakers passing through.
Some things to do in Kahurangi National Park
- A scenic flight to Mt Owen or Mt Olympus
- Hike Heaphy Track Great Walk
- Visit the Oparara Basin
- Explore the park on a day hike, or multi-day hike option.
- Excellent fishing and hunting
Nelson Lakes National Park
Most visitors come to Nelson Lakes National Park to see Lake Rotoiti and Rotoroa. Beyond the lakes you will find a land of long valleys and numerous passes, with alpine routes that are not as nearly demanding as those found elsewhere in the Southern Alps. Nelson Lakes National Park is similar to Kahurangi in a sense that it is a little off the beaten track, but it i certainly gaining more popularity with visitors trying to find more isolated spots.
The tramping tracks in the park are well benched, and Nelson Lakes is a great place to begin adventuring above the bush line.A number of round trips are possible in the park, most requiring 3 to 6 days of tramping and the climbing of one or two passes. The most popular, and the best round trip for hikers with limited experience on alpine routes is the Traverse-Sabine Circuit.
Nelson Lakes possesses a surprisingly moderate climate for an alpine region. Ranges to the south, west and east protect the park, preventing many storms from arriving. Rain is brought by the prevailing westerlies that blow in from the Tasman Sea, so the western side of the park is the wettest. when venturing out in the park, you must always be prepared for sudden changes in alpine weather
Some things to do in Nelson Lakes National Park
- Visit three stunning lakes : Lake Rotoroa, Lake Rotoiti and Blue Lake
- Kayaking and fishing on the lakes
- Hike the 2-3 day Sabine-Traverse Circuit
- Mountain biking
- A day out on the Rainbow Ski field
Arthur's Pass National Park
From the moment you step off the train or your self drive tour takes you through Arthur's Pass, you'll be surrounded by towering mountains. The tiny village of Arthur's Pass, the gateway to the alpine area, hosts climbers, hikers and skiers from all over the world, and the park has excellent alpine day hikes with impressive views over the Southern Alps.
The drive from east to west or in the opposite direction is a highlight for any self drive tour in New Zealand, and the train journey with the TranzAlpine Express is rated among the best in the world.
In this park of peaks, Avalanche Peak is without question the most popular to climb. Its location is looking just above Arthur's Pass village, and some people in the village argue that Avalanche Peak is the country's best day hike, with its views of mountains, snow-covered peaks and hanging glaciers exceeding the volcanoes and hot pools of the Tongariro Crossing. It's debatable and for you to find out yourself!.
The Arthur's Pass mountains not only attract bad weather, they create it. Like all alpine areas in New Zealand, the mountains of Arthur's Pass make the park colder, windier and wetter than the nearby lowlands, and the wettest areas are on the western side of the divide. The best weather is in February and March, but bring rain gear ad warm clothes whenever you visit the park, as the high altitudes mean that temperatures fluctuate widely.
Some things to do in Arthur's Pass National Park
- Take a ride on one of the most spectacular train journeys of the world, the TranzAlpine Express
- Hike the Avalanche Peak, or another day hike in the park
- Self drive along the most scenic mountain pass in New Zealand
- Visit the massive limestone boulders at Castle Hill
- Stop at the Otira lookout for impressive views of the viaduct
Paparoa National Park
Most people travelling along the isolated west coast between Westport and Greymouth are enthralled by the rugged seascape and Pancake Rocks, limestone rocks at Dolomite Point that look like stacks of pancakes.
However, what is less known is that the region also hosts New Zealand's smallest national park, Paparoa National Park. A new Great Walk has opened up here in 2019, taking you through alpine tops, limestone karst landscapes and thriving rainforests, and providing breath-taking views through some of New Zealand's most pristine wilderness.
The Paparoa Range is composed mainly of granite peaks, carved by glaciers and weather by rain, snow and wind into a craggy chain of pinnacles and spires. It may be a relatively low range of mountains between 1200-1500m in height, but very rugged.
As the park lies on the west coast, it is prone to heavy rainfall. The park's lowlands are a lush, almost subtropical forest because of the warm ocean current. The effect is a wet, but surprisingly mild climate.
Some things to do in Paparoa National Park
- Visit the impressive pancake rocks
- Hike the newly introduced Great Walk, the Paparoa Track
- Explore caves and underground streams
- Marvel at the stunning West Coast sunsets
Westland National Park
Westland National Park is an area of extremes. It contains New Zealand's highest mountains, wildest wilderness beaches, oldest and primeval forests, and of course the famous Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. The national park is part to the South West New Zealand World Heritage, and also one of the wettest regions of New Zealand. It is a land of magnificent vistas with snow-capped mountains, forests, glaciers, lakes, rivers, wetlands and beaches.
Many visitors are obviously drawn by the impressive glaciers, but the area has so much more to offer, from the wild wilderness beach Gillespies Beach where you may marvel at pink glows on the mountain tops when the sun sets, to picture perfect reflections of Mt Cook at Lake Matheson, bird watching and kayaking in Okarito Lagoon, the national park is an absolute New Zealand treasure.
Westland/Te Poutini's prevailing westerly weather pushes storms laden with huge amounts of moisture across the Tasman Sea, and when they hit the high peaks of the Southern Alps, the resulting storms and rainfall can be impressive, so flash floods are not uncommon in the park.
Some things to do in Westland National Park
- A heli-hike on either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier
- Hokitika Gorge with its aquamarine waters
- Walk around Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier for mirror reflections of the Soutern Alps and Mt Cook
- Camp at Gillespies Beach, a true wilderness beach
- The wild and remote wilderness region of Haast, part of the South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage area.
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
The great Southern Alps range stretches along the South Island, forming a backbone of greywake and granite from Fiordland to Nelson Lakes. The heart and soul of the Southern Alps, also the home of New Zealand's tallest mountain Aoraki-MtCook at 3754m, is Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. The park comprises impressive peaks, sub-alpine scrub, tussock, rivers and permanent snow. Surrounding the mountain are 18 other peaks higher than 3000m, and glaciers, including the Tasman Glacier cover more than 40% of the park!
Not surprisingly, with so much rock and phenomenal scenery this is not only a hiking paradise, but also a climbing one. The glaciers here require extensive experience and specialized equipment to traverse, and crossing passes between valleys is a major climbing feat.
For the less active, the scenic flights offered in the region are among the most dramatic and spectacular in the country and typically include snow landings at altitude of around 3000m
Some things to do in Aoraki - Mt Cook National Park
- Take a scenic flight and see the roof of New Zealand from above
- Walk the Hooker Valley Track
- Glacial Kayaking on the Tasman Lake
- Stargazing at the MacKenzie Dark Sky Reserve
Mt Aspiring National Park
Mt Aspiring National is located in Otago at the southern end of the Southern Alps. It has wide, rounded valleys with secluded flats, more than 100 glaciers, and mountain ranges with peaks higher than 2700m, including 3030m Mt Aspiring, the tallest mountain in New Zealand outside Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
The park stretches from the Haast River in the north to the Humboldt Mountains in the south, where it borders Fiordland National Park. The park is now part of the SouthWest New Zealand World Heritage Area (Te Wahipounamu), which includes Aoraki/Mt Cook, Westland/Te Poutini and Fiordland National Parks.
The park is New Zealand's third largest National Park, and a true mecca for hikers. Glenorhcy is the main gateway to many popular hikes in the area, including the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's most popular hikes. But there are other amazing hiking opportunities in the region such as the the Dart-Rees track, Greenstone and Caples Track, Scott's Basin, Earnslaw Burn Glacier to name a few.
Another access point into the park with many hikes is the Matukituki Valley, about 45km west of Wanaka.
Further north along the Wanaka-Haast Highway are other access entries into the park. Take your time driving along this marvelous highway with spectacular valleys, rivers and snow capped mountains. Highlights of the route are the many short walks to a variety of coastal and forest features, ideal for the traveler.
Some things to do in Mt Aspiring National Park
- Visit the magnificent Blue Pools along the Haast-Wanaka Highway
- Jetboat or funyak on the Dart River in Paradise Valley (ex Glenorchy)
- Hike the Rob Roy Glacier Track in the West Matukituki Valley
- Walk the Routeburn Track Great Walk
- Explore the many many incredible day walks in the West or East Matukituki Valleys
- Hike the Greenstone Caples or Dart-Rees Track
- A Mt Aspiring scenic flight
Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park, the largest slice of the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage area, is one of New Zealand's biggest and best outdoor treasures. Fiordland is the largest park of the country and one of the largest in the world, stretching from Martins Bay in the north to Te Waewae in the south, and is bordered by the Tasman Sea on one side and by a series of deep lakes on the other. In between are rugged ranges with sharp, granite peaks and narrow valleys, 14 of New Zealand's most beautiful fiords and the country's best collection of waterfalls, including the world's fifth largest waterfall Sutherland Falls.
The rugged terrain, thick, rain-forest like bush and abundant water has made the interior of the park quite inaccessible for visitors, but the fringes are easily visited. Some tracks, such as the Milford Track and Kepler Track, are heavily regulated in the summer, but most of the park is impenetrable, making this corner of the South Island a true wilderness in every sense.
There are several ways to enjoy the insane beauty of the park - on a scenic day or overnight cruise in either Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound, a kayaking trip in either of the sounds, via air on a scenic flight, or simply on foot.
There are more than 500km of tracks and more than 60 huts scattered along them. The most famous track of all in New Zealand, and perhaps the world, is the Milford Track. Often labelled as 'the finest walk in the world', the Milford Track is almost a pilgrimage to many Kiwis who, if they never do any other walk, must hike this track. There are however, many other tracks in the park. Another Great Walk starting from the Te Anau visitor centre, is the 4-5 day Kepler Track. The Hollyford on the park's northern edge, is steeped in history and has excellent fishing holes. At the opposite end of the park is the 8-10 day Dusky Track, one of the truest wilderness tramps in the park. Finally another option is the 2-3 day loop circuit of the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track.
Fiordland also means waterfalls, lakes, fiords and rain - buckets of the stuff! Fiordland is one of the wettest places on the planet and receives an annual rainfall of about 8000mm. Some people may find this very wet and hard to deal with, but when it starts bucketing down, the scenery undergoes an incredibly spectacular metamorphosis. Cascading waterfalls appear out of nowhere, and the sight of dozens of these waterfalls tumbling down the steep mountains, is an extraordinary spectacle.
With thousands of kilometers of coastline, New Zealand offers a wide range of surfing opportunities, and the most unusual might just be wilderness surfing at Big Bay. Big Bay offers good surfing with consistently breaking waves. The challenge for surfers is only how to get to the action! There are no roads to this remote beach, and hiking with a surfboard strapped to your backpack would be, well, quite the ordeal. The handful of brave surfers who make it out to Big Bay charter a flight.
Some things to do in Fiordland National Park
- A scenic flight above Fiordland National Park
- A day or overnight cruise in either Doubtful or Milford Sound
- Hike one of the Great Walks, the Milford Track or the Kepler Track
- Walk up to Key Summit on the Routeburn Track
- Kayaking in the Doubtful or Milford Sound
- Hike the Hollyford or Humpridge Tracks
Rakiura National Park
New Zealand's southernmost part is also its third largest island and newest national park, Stewart Island. Most of the island became Rakiura National Park in 2002. Even with that status Stewart Island will probably remain a remote area, with vast wilderness areas, the most unpredictable weather, the most wildlife and, unquestionably, the most mud.
Its real beauty lies in its 750km coastling with its long sandy beaches, impressive sand dunes and crystal-clear bays fringed by lush rainforest. The interior is mostly bush, and the highest point is Mt Anglem/Hananui at 980m. The walking here however, can be almost as rugged as in mountainous areas of the North or South Islands
Some things to do in Rakiura National Park
- Ulva Island (Te Wharawhara), one of the few predator-free and few pest-free sanctuaries in New Zealand
- Hike the three day Rakiura Track
- Kiwi bird spotting!