Growing up I always fancied visiting New Zealand and much of this fascination can be credited to the collection of postcards I had as a kid. They clearly portrayed the green expanse of gorgeousness that is New Zealand. I couldn’t wait to head out on my journey to greet the nature that looked so wonderful in those pictures. I must say the country takes its commitment to nature seriously and this manifests in the profound beauty of the New Zealand national parks.
New Zealand National Parks
There are all kinds of national parks in New Zealand. There are numerous regional parks to enjoy but the main 13 national parks are the ones I’ll focus on plus an additional one which is actually the largest national park in New Zealand. Right from the vistas of volcanic landscapes to canoeing your way to spot rare marine life, the country has absolutely everything. So, pinning down which national parks to visit when in New Zealand can be a daunting task. The scenically blessed country wooed me in every possible way and I’m sure it will do the same for you too. I hope to help you get the best experience of exploring these national parks which are beguilingly beautiful. Trust me, you don’t want to miss them. Visiting some of the stunning national parks in New Zealand should definitely be on your bucket list.
1. Tongariro National Park
A place of contrasting landscapes, Tongariro National Park is encircled by three volcanoes. Tongariro National Park was given to the nation by the Maori Chief as a gift in 1877. Holding the title of the oldest national park in New Zealand, UNESCO awarded it with the status of a World Heritage Site. You can spend hours gawking at the emerald lakes and alpine meadows that are an absolute treat. While all of the three volcanoes are pretty much active, this does not deter people from taking a hike. One of the most popular things to do here is to embark on the 12 mile long tramp, known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This track introduces you to some of the most awe-inspiring natural sceneries you could ever lay your eyes on.
2. Mount Aspiring National Park
Easily accessed from Queenstown or Wanaka Mount Aspiring National Park attracts the more adventurous. If you like mountaineering try Mt Aspiring or Mt Awful (love that name!). If winter sports are more your thing why not treat yourself to a heli-ski? The walkers amongst you are spoilt for choice with plenty of forest walks available, including part of The Routeburn Track which links this park to Fiordland National Park. With mountains, glaciers, lakes, valleys and beech forests you’ll feel like you’re in paradise.
3. Egmont National Park
It would be an understatement if I say Mount Taranaki is one of the most perfectly coned mountains you will ever see. Because, trust me, I felt like it was exactly how we drew pictures of mountains when we were little. Built as a result of volcanic eruptions god knows when, yes it’s that old, it has not erupted since 1775. But, volcanologists still term it as dormant rather than “extinct.” This mountain has earned the reputation of the most climbed mountain in New Zealand. If you’re not the adventurous type, you can take a leisurely stroll through the canopy of fairytale forests, waterfalls and mossy swamps.
4. Abel Tasman National Park
It may be the smallest national park in the whole of New Zealand but don’t let the size fool you in to thinking any less about it. Abel Tasman National Park rakes in all the brownie points because of the mix of adventure and relaxation. It is a coastal paradise that beckons you to indulge in the stress free beach life. Lounge by the velvety sands, try your hand at snorkelling, kayaking, cruise on a boat or lie under the blanket of stars. Thick forests covering the hillside and a meandering river running along make it a perfect set up for counting this national park as a romantic getaway too. This drop dead gorgeous park will captivate you at your very first glance of its picturesque surroundings.
5. Arthurs Pass National Park
Arthur’s Pass was the first national park established in the South Island (in 1929). The Gold Rush meant that railways and roads were built through the Southern Alps and some of these historic routes still exist. If you get a chance travel on the TranzAlpine Express so that you don’t have to focus on the road and instead can take in the stunning landscape. Arthur’s Pass National Park is a great place to try and spot Kea – a flightless alpine parrot known for being cheeky. Another great reason to travel by train rather than car is that Kea have taken a shine to windscreen wipers.
6. Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
This national park has the highest peak in New Zealand. Sir Edmund Hillary used this as a practise ground before scaling Mount Everest. And, what could be said about its beauty? It’s incomparable. The snow-clad peaks, majestic glaciers and the spectacular permanent snow fields come to life in the light of the stars. With over 400 different types of floral species gracing the park, it really wins the hearts of all nature lovers. Right from snowboarding to scaling the 23 peaks, you’ll have plenty of goose bump moments in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.
7. Kahurangi National Park
This park is not often mentioned but it’s most popular walk The Heaphy Track is. It’s the second largest national park in New Zealand and it’s found in the northwest of the South Island. Highlights include trying to spot the giant snails, spiders with huge legs that you might see in the caves and lots of other rare plants and animals. There are some amazing cave systems within this park worth exploring.
8. Paparoa National Park
Limestone formations have done an impressive job to give Paparoa National Park the status of an absolute beauty in New Zealand. Imposing mountain ridges, mystical river canyons and the bizarre cave formations are the natural wonders of this park. However, what will amaze you the most are the famous Pancake Rocks and the blow holes at Dolomite Point. You also can’t help but fall in love with the lush forests and the wilderness. There are plenty of photo opportunities here!
9. Fiordland National Park
The largest national park of New Zealand, Fiordland National Park is the epitome of beauty. The glaciers carved the fiords thousands of years ago, and in my opinion it’s become the crowning glory of New Zealand. Look in any direction and nature is ready with its magic wand to enthral you. Ancient rainforests hug the steep mountains, waterfalls tumble down in to the fiords and the glistening lakes offer the tranquility that surely everyone is in search of. But, trust me, my words can never do justice to the unparalleled beauty that this national park has. Fiordland National Park is home to some of the most popular walking tracks in New Zealand… The Kepler Track, The Routeburn Track and The Milford Track.
10. Nelson Lakes National Park
If you’re a fan of the water then this is the national park for you. The park was named because of the two large lakes found amongst the mountains and forest – Lake Rotoiti (small waters) and Lake Rotoroa (large waters). Rotomairewhenua / Blue Lake is also located here and as the name suggests the water is a stunning blue colour. There are plenty of water based activities you can do within Nelson Lakes. You can also go ski-ing at Rainbow Ski Field during the winter months.
11. Rakiura National Park
Rakiura National Park is basically Stewart Island, only 15% of Stewart Island doesn’t have national park status. In Maori Rakiura means ‘The Land of Glowing Skies’ and is thought to be named after the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). If you like birdwatching then Rakiura National Park should be at the top of your must see list. Birds you can see here include kiwi, kakapo, kaka, albatross, herons, weka and different types of penguins. Seals are easily spotted here too!
12. Whanganui National Park
Probably your best chance of spotting wild kiwi would be within Whanganui National Park. Full of stunning gorges and valleys and loads of wildlife Whanganui National Park has something for every nature lover. With a huge river kayaking all or part of it, surrounded by the stunning landscape, is a popular pastime. If you like walking there are plenty of tracks available.
13. Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Heading down the West Coast you’ll be passing by this park as it incorporates both Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. It can be surprisingly noisy here as you can actually the sound of the glaciers moving. The glaciers are a must see in New Zealand so I recommend that you stop in Franz Josef, especially as the glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate.
14. Te Urewera National Park
This one is often not included on lists of New Zealand’s National Parks, but Te Urewera National Park is the largest national park in the North Island which covers a large expanse of remote bush, forest and lakes. An awful lot of this park is inaccessible which makes it a fantastic sanctuary for native wildlife and birds. Although there’s much of the park you can’t visit, you have a great opportunity to spot lots of rare native plants or enjoy the activities on offer. You can hire a boat to explore Lake Waikareiti or hire a kayak to see Lake Waikaremoana. As with the other national parks in New Zealand there are plenty of walks you can do from short ones to the famous Lake Waikaremoana Track.
I’m sure you can imagine how ravishing the New Zealand national parks are to visit, but you can keep all the wondering for later. Right now, just look for the best last minute flight deals to New Zealand and then live the dream of being close to nature. Just like I did.
Written with contributions from: Isabella Jones. A full-time travel writer, the journey till here was not a cake walk for Isabella. Once, a corporate slave with robotic reflexes, she chose to break through. Her undying love for travel, writing, and being crazy has gotten her a step closer to her dream. The dream to be a free bird. Now she flies around the world and essays chronicles of her adventures. She’s from New York.