There are 14 National Parks in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation administers these as well as many Forest Parks (established for a wide range of activities including forestry rather than primarily conservation) and reserves. The parks and reserves cover more than five million hectares - a third of New Zealand.
New Zealand's smallest national park (22,541 hectares) runs along the beautiful coastline at the top of the South Island. Golden beaches, secluded inlets and bush covered interior falling to the seashore make this a popular retreat for New Zealanders and overseas visitors. Abel Tasman Park Enterprises have been connected with the park for many years and offer many services (guided walks, kayaking and sea cruises). See Aqua Taxis for water taxis.
From South Head, looking over North Head to Torrent Bay.
When walking along the coastline, be aware that there are many enclaves of private land. The Abel Tasman Coast Track crosses some of the private land on permissive tracks but the landowners permission should be gained before straying off the beaten path.
A special feature of the park is the Tonga Island Marine Reserve. This is an area centred on Tonga Island, just off the Abel Tasman coast, extending from the shoreline to well past the island and some kilometres to the north and south. No fishing at all is allowed within the reserve.
Surrounded by rugged mountains, the village of Arthur's Pass provides a great start for exploration of the heart of the Southern Alps. The village can be accessed by road and railway. The national park consists of 114,394 hectares of very mountainous terrain (the highest point is Mt. Murchison at 2408m), beech forests, alpine vegetation and kea (alpine parrots). Common activities are tramping, climbing, skiing (at the Temple Basin skifield above the pass), hunting, short walks and camping. Any tramping away from the village is tougher than normal with few bridges, little signposting and rough tracks (if any). However there are a number of day walks from the village, e.g. a hike up Avalanche Peak or a visit to the Devil's Punchbowl Falls.
A cloudy view north up Arthur's Pass from Avalanche Peak.
New Zealand's largest national park (1,257,000 hectares) lies at the bottom west corner of the South Island. It is a vast remote wilderness, with snow capped mountains, glacial lakes and valleys, sounds (actually fiords), islands, waterfalls and dense forest. The importance of the park is emphasised by its designation as a World Heritage Area. The area contains some of New Zealand's best tramping tracks including the Milford, Routeburn, Kepler, Hollyford and Dusky Sound Tracks.
Kahurangi ("treasured thing" or "blue skies")
The second newest (April 1996) and second largest (452,000 hectares) national park lies in the north-western corner of the South Island. Many tracks through this glorious countryside (Heaphy, Wangapeka, Mt. Arthur/Tablelands) follow the routes of old gold-mining trails. The key to the park is its diversity - in geological, botanical, wildlife, scenic and recreational terms.
Morning cloud over Leslie River from Tableland. Mt. Kendall is in the back left, Garibaldi Ridge in the back right.
Points of interest to the tramper are:
Fluted limestone formations on Mt. Owen formed by glacier action and the spectacular high level limestone plateau on the Garibaldi Range. Karst (limestone) landscape is also obvious on Mt. Arthur and surrounding areas.
Below ground there many caves including New Zealand's deepest cave, Nettlebed at 890 metres, and longest cave system, Bulmer with a length of 36 kilometres. There are a number of caves along the tracks that can be visited with care.
There are more than 570 kilometres of track including one of the country's "Great Walks", the Heaphy Track (easy walking up onto and over tussock plateaus and then following rivers to the coast). The Wangapeka Track is just as spectacular but less crowded and a bit tougher (lots of travel along rivers and across saddles). The tracks cover the usual spectrum of types from well-graded easy tracks (Flora Track) to normal tracks (Cobb Valley) to routes (Fenella Hut to Lonely Lake) to none at all (for example the terrain around Iron Hill and Adelaide Tarn).
Around Boulder Lake in the north of the park there are steep jagged peaks - the lake is easily accessible by ordinary trampers. However, the well-named Dragon's Teeth above the less accessible Adelaide Tarn are well worth a look by more experienced trampers.
The park contains many good huts (I can recommend Salisbury, Balloon and Fenella Huts all of which have gas stoves) but there are also a number of rock shelters for those who like fresh air. The best of these seems to be Gridiron Shelter on the Flora Track with good bunks built under the overhang.
This national park covers 355,000 hectares just to the north of Fiordland and is another World Heritage Area. The centrepiece of the park is Mount Aspiring (Tititea in Maori), a pyramid-like peak about 30 kilometres west of Lake Wanaka. It has challenged expert mountaineers because of its similarity to the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. At 3036 m, it is the highest peak in NZ outside of the Mt. Cook National Park. It contains the start of the Routeburn Track (a Great Walk) and numerous other tracks, e.g. the Rees-Dart (two fine river valleys connected by a high pass with nearby glaciers), Greenstone-Caples (parallel river valleys climbing from Lake Wakatipu up to the Main Divide and the Routeburn Track) and the tough, steep Cascade Saddle Track.
Named after our highest peak and containing the longest glacier in New Zealand, the 70,728 hectare Mt. Cook National Park is a spectacular alpine playground for mountaineers. Three-quarters of the park is covered with permanent snow and ice. Trampers are also well catered for with the trip up to Mueller Hut offering spectacular views and the tough Copland Pass giving access to the West Coast - this needs a guide and some snow skills. Other activities include sightseeing flights and ski-touring on the 27 kilometre long Tasman Glacier - ski runs can up to 12 kilometres long!. The Maori name for Mt. Cook (3753 metres high) is Aoraki (sometime spelt as Aorangi) meaning 'sky cloud' but usually translated as 'cloud piercer'.
The sources of the Buller River include two fine large alpine lakes, Rotoiti and Rotoroa, surrounded by this 101,753 hectare park. Mountain ranges climbing up to 2200m from dense beech forests, separate the lakes and stretch further south towards Lewis Pass. Skiing (in the Mt. Robert and Rainbow areas), tramping, hunting and trout fishing are the major recreations of the area. The closest town to the park is the village of St. Arnaud at the foot of Lake Rotoiti which contains the DOC visitor centre. The hamlet has a shop, service station and plenty of accommodation. Popular walks are the Travers - Sabine Circuit (5 or 6 days hiking up the tremendous Travers Valley, over the Travers Saddle with its splendid views and down the sublime Sabine Valley) and the high Robert Ridge to Mt. and Lake Angelus and a fine hut (2-3 days).
Along Robert Ridge towards Mt. Angelus
This park is compact (30,560 hectares) but features a diverse landscape stretching from the wild coastline up through coastal forests and a bed of limestone to granite highlands. It is situated on the West Coast of the South Island between the towns of Westport and Greymouth. A notable feature are the Pancake Rocks on the coast at Punakaiki where erosion has formed layered stone towers and the sea erupts through blowholes at high tide.
Rakiura (Stewart Island)
Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island is the 14th of New Zealand's national parks. It was officially gazetted on February 28 2002 and opened on March 9 2002. Covering about 157,000 hectares Rakiura National Park makes up about 85 percent of the island. It encompasses a network of former nature reserves, scenic reserves, and former State Forest areas.
Rakiura is Maori and is translated as "'The Land of Glowing Skies" referring both to the stunning sunsets and to occasional night-time displays of the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis). It is definitely the most isolated place that you can get to in New Zealand with the population of 400 or so permanent residents concentrated in the only settlement, Oban in Halfmoon Bay.
Although the island lies only 30 kilometres south west of Bluff, between latitudes 46 and 47 degrees south, it could well be in another part of the world. From the South Island it can be seen on most days as a mysterious jagged, dark blue lump on the horizon. When the weather drives in from the Southern Ocean the island disappears behind low cloud and grey sheets of cold rain. On clear summer days the island seems very close and shines an inviting blue-green topped by rocky mountain peaks. To the north is often stormy Foveaux Strait and the South Island, to the east, west and south lies the endless tracts of unforgiving Southern Ocean. Sea-pounded cliffs and sandy beaches make up the western coast while on the eastern side of the island there are three sheltered inlets. Paterson Inlet, with a 160km shoreline, is the largest. The other two are Port Adventure and Port Pegasus. From the head of Paterson Inlet the Freshwater Valley extends westwards dividing the northern ranges and the high country to the south. The highest peak is in the north, Mt. Anglem at 980m. On the western side, Mason Bay's sprawling, soaring dunes form another impressive landform and towards the centre of the island are the expansive Freshwater wetlands. The jagged skyline of the Ruggedy Mountains of the north-west corner contrast with the smooth outline of Mt. Anglem's with its twin lakes, a hint of a glacial past. The rivers and streams run brown with forest tannin. The northern half of the island is covered by podocarp and hardwood forest, featuring New Zealand's southernmost tall trees - rimu, kaihikatea and totara. The remaining areas of the island feature shrubland or low forest, grassland, wetland, alpine herbfield/cushionfield, and coastal or duneland communities.
The Taranaki peninsular sticks out from the west coast of the North Island. It was created by the massive volcanic cone of Mt. Taranaki (2518m). This almost perfect cone has a national park of 33,543 hectares arranged in a great circle around it (the one imperfection is the secondary cone of Fanthams Peak jutting out to the south). The longest track in the park is the Around the Mountain Circuit, a 3-4 day trip (55 kilometres) circling the mountain at altitudes from 500m to 1500m, through forest and alpine meadows, across mountain ridges and rivers and surrounded by spectacular scenery. There is a good network of huts and a number of road ends to start/finish the trip or break it into smaller chunks.
This park is the largest (212,673 hectares) in the North Island and covers remote, tree-covered and lofty country on the east side of the North Island. It forms the largest untouched stretch of native forest left in New Zealand's North Island. The park gains its name from the various traditional stories about a warrior or chief who, while sleeping next to a fire, was burnt in the genitals - Urewera literally translates as "burnt penis". Beautiful Lake Waikaremoana has plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing and tramping, including the marvellous tramping track around the entire lake.
Three volcanoes (Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro) puncture the Earth's skin in the heart of the North Island to forge the nucleus of this park. An original bequest of 2,600 hectares in 1887 by Te Heuheu Tukino IV and other chiefs of the Tuwharetoa tribe from the Tokaanu district has grown to 79,598 hectares. This created New Zealand's first national park and the world's fourth. The Tongariro Crossing (the "best one day walk in the country") is the 7 hour walk from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi past the volcanic Red Crater and colourful Emerald and Blue Lakes.
The volcanic Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu mountains from Mt. Tongariro.
A Great Walk (the Tongariro Northern Circuit) circles the cone of Ngauruhoe in 3-4 days of wonderful walking.
Westland is a strip of land along the west coast of the South Island, bounded on the north by the town of Greymouth, on the south by Awarua Bay, on the east by the spine of the Southern Alps and on the west by the Tasman Sea. Westland National Park (covering 117,607 hectares) rises up through the middle of the region to butt against the Mt. Cook National Park. The area has a strong mining tradition with first the Maoris looking for greenstone, then gold rushes starting in 1864 and the later extraction of coal. Now timber milling, tourism and some dairy farming are the main areas of occupation by the tough, self-reliant "Coasters". The park incorporates some of our highest mountains, the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, seal colonies and the remains of coastal gold mining towns. I strongly recommend the guided tours of either of the glaciers - two of the few glaciers in the world that descend through subtropical forest to sea-level.
The Whanganui River winds its way from Mt. Tongariro to the sea, through lush forest, farmland, historic Maori sites and narrow gorges. The scenic highpoints (mostly in the upper reaches) are surrounded by the 74,231 hectares of the Whanganui National Park. Taking a canoe down the river is a special experience with only the sounds of the native birds breaking the magical silence. The river is very important to the Maori people who still occupy villages along the river. Their hospitality is offered freely to all travellers along the river.