By now, it is almost a cliché to mention the famous Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films in connection with New Zealand. Filmed on location in different parts of the country, they created a surge of interest in touring this gorgeous island nation. Yet, long before the world realized that New Zealand is a place of great natural diversity and beauty, its government had taken steps to preserve it forever and created a vast amount of preserved parklands.
There are 13 enormous national parks in New Zealand, and they cover more than 30,000 square kilometers of the country. And if you were to ask ten people to pick the “best” of them, you would get ten different answers. They are, as one authority wrote, the “soul” of the country, and are in place to preserve the national “heritage, forests, wildlife, and landscapes.”
Kept in a condition identical (or nearly so) to what the land was like before the modern population arrived, some have attained UNESCO World Heritage status.
Which is the best for your upcoming visit to New Zealand? That really depends on what you intend to do or what sort of outdoor activities you enjoy the most. Whether you are in a luxury villa or bounding around from place to place, rest assured, there will be more than enough amazing scenery to enjoy no matter how many are visited, but we are going to briefly review the 13 parks to help you choose the best for your visit.
Geography of the New Zealand
Before we jump into that list, let’s take one moment to understand the geography of New Zealand and familiarize you with the areas in which parks are found.
The country is divided into two major islands – North Island and South Island. There is also Stewart Island at the southern end of the country. North Island is where the enormous mountains take up the center of the landscape and where beautiful farmlands are along both sides of the range. The island is home to the Volcanic Plateau (where there is an active volcano). South Island is home to the famous Southern Alps and the eastern side of this range also contains farmland similar to that found on North Island. The Canterbury Plains are found here, too.
The area known as Rotura on North Island is a focal point for those eager to see hot springs and geothermal activity, but you can also encounter such sites in Turangi and on South Island’s West Coast area where Hanmer Springs are found.
New Zealand Coastline
If you are eager to explore the beaches, New Zealand has more than 15000 kilometers of coastline, and the best for sunbathing, surfing and swimming are on the East Coast and Far North Coasts of North Island. To the western coast, you will find dark sand beaches. South Island’s northern coast is also dotted with lovely swimming beaches, while its southern areas are very rugged.
New Zealand Mountains
Mountains are in great abundance on both islands, and yet fertile farmlands are also a dominant feature, especially along the Canterbury Plains of South Island. You will also find glaciers in New Zealand, including the Southern Alps Tasman glacier area, which is easily reached on foot. However, the most famous are found on the West Coast of South Island and are the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, a favorite destination of hikers, but also viewable via helicopter tours.
And if you are a fan of fjords, the Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland areas of some of the most magnificent sites in the country. As one expert described them, these “areas provide some of New Zealand most picturesque scenery, with steep lush hills plunging down to the deep still bays below. Clear, deep still water surrounded by beautiful bush makes these areas ideal for boating and kayaking.”
So, now that you have a general idea of what to expect and where to find it, you will want to know a bit about each national park.
New Zealand’s National Parks
Rakiura National Park
This is on Stewart Island at the far southern end of the country and is home to amazing numbers of birds and is an ideal spot from which to view the Aurora Australis.
This is on South Island and part of the Southern Alp. It is a region that sits between the flat Canterbury region and the western coastal area and offers a fantastic TranzAlpine train to provide amazing options for enjoying the views.
This is also a South Island Park and also part of the west coast. It extends from the Paparoa Mountains to the sea and is home to the famous Pancake Rocks.
Home to Heaphy Track (one of New Zealand’s Great Walks), it has excellent caves, many rare bird species, and ancient rock formations. Its name means treasured possession in the Maori language, and this park is found on South Island, too.
Another South Island park, it is located within the Southern Alps. It is a glacial lakes region and home to Rotoroa and Rotoiti, famous as great spots for trout fishing. This is a preferred walking and hiking region.
Another South Island spot, it is part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area and home to many excellent West Coast beaches and dramatic alpine peaks.
You will find the biggest glaciers and tallest mountains in New Zealand within this South Island park. It is also where the International Sky Reserve is found.
It is home to Routeburn Track, Blue Pools, and is noted for its role as a divider of the Southern Alps from the wilderness that surrounds them.
The smallest but most famous park for its amazing terrain and dramatic coast. It has lovely beaches, ancient Maori sites, and another of the nation’s Great Walk routes.
This North Island park contains a dormant volcano and is the country’s most climbed mountain. It is dotted with many easy walking trails but can also be a challenging hike for experienced climbers.
Home to the country’s longest navigable river, it is ideal for a canoe enthusiast. It is also home to rare birds and the “Bridge to Nowhere”.
A gift of the Maori, this massive park has World Heritage Status and features multiple volcanoes and amazing landscapes. It is a North Island site.
The largest of the country’s parks, it is the most popular and traveled. It is home to Milford Sound, two Great Walks, and stunning forest lands. It is also where Doubtful Sound (a fjord) is located, and it has World Heritage Status, too.
Now that you know the most amazing spots to visit while in New Zealand, it is the perfect time to book your visit.