New Zealand’s is home to 13 national parks, which are both places of natural wonders and popular tourist attractions. From the stunning coastal landscapes of Abel Tasman to the spectacular fjords of Fiordland national park, you will definitely enjoy the majestic beauty of Aotearoa’s national parks. New Zealand’s parks protect some of the country’s most beautiful and untouched areas, where you can enjoy hiking, jet boating or canoeing. Immerse yourself in this country’s breathtaking scenery in one of the 10 unmissable national parks in New Zealand.
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About New Zealand’s National Parks
There are 13 national parks nationwide in New Zealand, 10 on the South Island and 3 on the North Island. New Zealand is an incredible country, with national parks offering stunning historic and scenic features. With over 30% of the nation’s total area being national park, New Zealand’s protected reserves cover more than 30,000 square kilometers. On top of that, national parks are all free to visit.
The country’s largest national park is the Fiordland national park with a total area of 12,607 square kilometers. On the opposite, the smallest and also the most popular one is Abel Tasman with only 237.1 square kilometers of protected area.
How to be a responsible visitor of New Zealand’s national parks
Visiting wild and natural areas on this remote part of the world is a privilege, and it is our job to make sure we leave those places just how we found them. Here are just a few ways you can be a responsible visitor of New Zealand’s national parks.
Leave no trace: If you’re going to eat or drink in a national park, take all your rubbish with you. Cigarette butts don’t belong in a national park, neither do juice cans and banana skins. Leave no trace, also means respecting the fauna and flora. Don’t pick the flowers and leave nature as you found it.
Respect the wildlife: Many animals call national parks their home, and it is important to respect and protect the local wildlife. Don’t feed wild animals, even birds. It is actually harmful to them because human food is not part of their natural diet.
Read the signs: New Zealand national parks have signs at their entrance and at the beginning of trails indicating the length of a walk, camping spots and more. Read all the signs, and stay on the trail.
Learn about the area: Learn about the park you are visiting, the local area, the culture and heritage of the place. Find ways to give back to the local communities, and enjoy the beautiful national parks in a responsible way.
By the way, if you plan on flying a drone in a national park, don’t forget to get a permit before you go.
10 unmissable national parks to visit in New Zealand
I have put all 13 national parks on this map, and have highlighted the ones I’m recommending in this post. The green pinpoints are the three national parks I’ve excluded from the list. Obviously, it was hard to make a choice, because New Zealand is simply stunning. But below, you’ll find a list of the 10 unmissable national parks to visit in New Zealand.
1. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook is probably New Zealand’s most popular national park after Abel Tasman. In fact, You’ve probably seen hundreds of pictures of this mountain on Instagram and Pinterest. Also called Aoraki, Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain with its highest point culminating at 3,724m. Located in the Canterbury region on the South Island, Mount Cook National Park is also home to eight of the largest glaciers In New Zealand, including the Tasman glacier, Hooker glacier, and Murchison glacier.
The Hooker Valley hike is the most popular hike of the national park. This 10km return walk is easy to follow and will take you to the Hooker Glacier Lake where you’ll get a stunning view of the Mount Cook. This track is usually very busy, so my advice is to go early in the morning.
Another thing to know is that Mount Cook National Park is part of the largest international dark sky reserve, so it’s one of the best places on earth to see the night sky without light pollution.
2. Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is located in the southernmost part of the South Island. Known for its ice-carved fjords of Doubtful and Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park offers spectacular landscapes with lakes, valleys, and pristine mountain tops.
This scenic natural area is a must-do for visitors of New Zealand. Whether you want to cruise Doubtful Sound, go on an epic hike at Key summit or take a scenic flight, the Fiordland’s scenery will take your breath away.
The road between Te Anau and Milford sound is one of the most scenic roads of New Zealand. Along the way, you’ll find lots of short walks and viewpoints making it even more spectacular. Some of the best spots include Mirror Lakes, Lake Gunn nature walk, or the Chasm.
3. Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman is located on the northern coastline of the South Island of New Zealand. It is renowned for its beautiful golden beaches, beech forest, and its world-famous coastal trail. This stunning reserve is one of the most spectacular national parks of New Zealand and is a must-do on the South Island.
Whether you want to go kayaking, scuba diving, or simply relax on one of the beautiful beaches, Abel Tasman has an adventure for everyone. Also home to one of the Great Walks, Abel Tasman sees countless visitors enjoying its multi-day coastal hike every year.
You will be amazed by the park’s splendid natural habitat, the amazing wildlife and sea life, as well as the outstanding coastal landscapes. Abel Tasman National Park truly has it all and is the perfect place to experience the best of New Zealand. Don’t miss this incredible place when traveling to Aotearoa, Abel Tasman will be the highlight of your trip.
4. Tongariro National Park
Located on the North Island, the Tongariro National Park is known for its beautiful hike, the Tongariro crossing. Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park, and honestly, one of the most incredible ones. With its 3 active volcanoes Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro, and Mt Ngauruhoe, this national park offers breathtaking volcanic landscapes.
Considered one of the most beautiful day hikes in the world, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a popular 5-8 hour day hike. This fabulous 20km trail will take you to the most amazing landscapes of the park, including the Red Crater and the famous Emerald Lakes. Alternatively, you can hike the Tama Lakes whose track starts at the Whakapapa village. This stunning 6-hour hike will take you to the Taranaki falls before heading to the lower and upper Tama Lakes. If you’re looking for a stunning crowd-free hike, opt for this one.
Hiking is obviously one of the main activities at the park, but you can also try other activities at the Tongariro National park like rafting, snowboarding or biking the Old Coach Road.
5. Mount Aspiring National Park
Mount Aspiring National Park is situated in Otago, near the town of Wanaka. With its pristine Blue Pools and untouched beech forest, Mount Aspiring National Park is definitely worth a visit.
A short walk will take you to the crystal clear Blue Pools, or if you’re up for a challenge, take a half-day walk to the Rob Roy Glacier. You’ll be amazed by the spectacular glacier flanked by waterfalls. You can also hike one of New Zealand’s greatest alpine track, the Routeburn track. The world-renowned 32km tramp track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It goes through both Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park.
Don’t worry though, if you’re not up for a long hike, there are other things to do in Mount Aspiring. Actually, you can enjoy a jet boat tour in the beautiful Matukituki Valley and see the spectacular hanging glaciers, or you can discover the film locations from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies with a short wilderness walk.
6. Arthur’s Pass National Park
Located on the South Island, Arthur’s Pass National Park lies in the heart of the Southern Alps. It is one of the most popular stops on the Tranzalpine train.
Arthur’s Pass National Park offers a wide range of beautiful hikes. From the short walk to the Devil’s Punchbowl falls or Arthur’s pass walkway to the longer hike to beautiful views at the Temple Basin, nature lovers will love this stunning national park.
Full-day options include the Bealey Spur track and the hike to the summit of Avalanche Peak. On a good day, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. You might even spot a Kea, the famous alpine parrot of New Zealand.
7. Nelson Lakes National Park
Nelson Lakes National park is located on the South Island, near Nelson. It was named after its two large lakes, Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. In this national park, you’ll find everything you could be looking for. From easy lakeside hikes to more challenging alpine tracks, the Nelson Lakes National Park is also home to stunning glaciers.
Covering 102,000 hectares, the Nelson Lakes National Park offers lush beech forest, lakes, and stunning mountains. The park is also home to many birds, including kiwis, fantails, and robins.
You can enjoy many beautiful walks around the two main lakes. From the Bellbird walk to the Black Valley walk, you can enjoy short tramps around Lake Rotoiti. From Lake Rotoroa, try the Braeburn walk which will take you through stunning beach forest before leading to a beautiful waterfall.
8. Paparoa National Park
Established in 1987, the Paparoa National Park is located on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It’s well-known for its Pancake Rocks (Punakaiki), but also for its stunning limestone canyons and beech forest.
Popular short walks include the easy Truman track (30 minutes return) and the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes walk (20 minutes return). Both those walks are family-friendly, and you will be impressed by the spectacular rock formations and incredible blowholes.
Other activities at the park include river kayaking, horse trekking on the beautiful beaches, and glowworm caving at the Nile River cave.
9. Whanganui National Park
Whanganui National Park is an area of lush forest bordering the Whanganui River, which is New Zealand’s longest navigable river. Established in 1986, Whanganui is New Zealand’s 11th national park. Famous for its abandoned bridge to nowhere, this national park has a lot more to offer.
Whether you want to bike the Mountains to Sea trail, or simply hike to the stunning Kaiwhakauka Waterfall, there is no lack of things to do in Whanganui National Park. You can also explore the scenic beautify of the Whanganui journey, and paddle up the river in a canoe or kayak.
If you’re looking for a unique experience in New Zealand, you can stay at Tieke Kainga, which is the only Department of Conservation hut that is also used as a mare (Maori Temple).
10. Kahurangi National Park
Home to New Zealand’s longest great walk, the Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park is a stunning reserve with dense forest, waterfalls, and caves.
Kahurangi National Park is also famous for being one of the Lord Of The Rings film locations. Not only that but, the reserve is also a natural habitat for the many animals that call the park home, including the largest population of great spotted kiwis.
Many visitors challenge themselves on the Heaphy Track, an 82km tramping track that traverses a variety of beautiful landscapes, going through alpine meadows and along a stunning coastline. The track can be completed in 5-6 days. However, for those who are short on time, you can choose one of the short walk options like Scott’s Beach walk or the Nikau walk.
A visit to New Zealand without seeing the national parks would be incomplete. The country’s incredible natural wonders will let you speechless. Whether you’re a nature lover or not, you’ll enjoy hiking, camping, biking or jet boating in New Zealand’s heritage areas. Have you ever visited New Zealand’s national parks? Let me know in the comments below!
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