See for yourself why so many call this the most beautiful place in the world.
It’s undeniable that New Zealand has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, much of which is found in its 13 national parks that span over 11,000 square miles. Any of these parks will have you recharging your camera battery (or phone) at the end of a full day. Each has its own personality, story, and landscape; there’s something for everyone, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
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Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound
If you’re a fan of the landscapes featured in any of the Lord of the Rings films, Fiordland National Park will be visual candy for you. The country’s biggest park sees scores of visitors each year, who embark on scenic boat trips throughout the area’s two main sounds: Milford and Doubtful. The road throughout Fiordland is windy and potentially treacherous, so it’s best to take either a guided bus tour or travel with someone who knows the roads well. Give yourself a day to take the road into Milford Sound, so you can visit the Mirror Lakes and fresh streams along the way. The endless mountain ranges in the park also offer great hikes, including the most famous of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Milford Track.
Egmont National Park—Mt. Taranaki
Located on the west side of the North Island, Egmont National Park is named after the volcano that looms at its core, Mt. Taranaki. The volcano has two names: “Taranaki” being its original Māori name, while Mt. Egmont was what Captain Cook called it when he first came to the region. It is more than 120,000 years old and is New Zealand’s most hiked volcano. There are several different short walks and more arduous hikes you can do, as well as many scenic drives. The popular Pouakai Circuit can be hiked in about three days, but other various day trips will take you throughout the park’s forests, pools, lava gorges, and waterfalls. Actually climbing Taranaki should only be done by the most experienced climbers. The park has high annual rainfall, so bring a raincoat.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Another Lord of the Rings filming location and New Zealand’s third largest national park, Mount Aspiring is a hiker’s paradise, with some of the most breathtaking landscapes around. You can take a drive through the mountains (mind the livestock!) or try out several day walks. There are options to explore river valleys, deep wilderness, or hike on the mountain itself. The area is filled with pounamu (jade). If you’re staying in Wanaka, the park is right at your doorstep. If you’re exploring the park’s trails, be sure to appoint a responsible leader, and inform someone in town of your adventure so they can note your safe return.
Abel Tasman National Park
At the top of the South Island, Abel Tasman provides visitors with a beautiful beach landscape, several species of birds, and opportunities to see fur seals, dolphins, and penguins. As New Zealand’s smallest park, it’s the best of both worlds in terms of relaxation and adventure. There are single and multiday trips where you can explore the park via kayaking, walking, or overnight camping trips. Daredevils can even choose to go skydiving. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track provides walks throughout the sandy coast and granite cliffs, winding up and throughout the landscape. This park is conducive to visits year-round, with crisp morning walks in the winter and sunbathing on the beach in the summer.
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
In the heart of the South Island lies New Zealand’s largest mountain, Aoraki (or Mt. Cook as it was dubbed by colonizers), looming 12,349 feet above the rest of the park. Forty percent of this land is covered in glaciers, so if you’re going for a trek, make sure you read the weather advisories; the most popular excursions take you to the Tasman Glacier. The park also has many alpine areas, as well as more than 400 species of flora and fauna. In addition, there are airplane and helicopter rides available for sightseeing, which take you over the vastness of the Southern Alps. If you’re staying nearby, Twizel and Mount Cook Village are the closest towns.
Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s oldest national park, Tongariro is ripe with Māori culture and the home to three spectacular volcanoes: Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe (used as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies). There are red craters, green and blue lakes, and open countryside. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the country’s best day hikes, and there are dozens of other activities, such as river rafting, kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, skiing, and various guided tours. There are many places to reside within the park, including luxury lodges and chalets for those who want to make the most of their stay.
Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Stewart Island is inhabited by just approximately 400 people over an area of 674 square miles, while its national park, Rakiura, is itself 606 of those square miles. If you care to visit the southernmost part of the world and see some kiwi birds and the southern lights if you’re lucky, spend a good several days exploring the park. There are multiple day walks to take, but also treks that can take from three to six days. There are huts to sleep in at night along the way, but it’s always essential to bring camping gear. There are unique flora and fauna in the park, but none of it is poisonous. The island is known for the variety of bird species that call this place home, and is the best place in New Zealand to see a famed kiwi bird; read up on bird species before you go, so you can identify those that cross your path.
Located on the South Island of New Zealand, Nelson Lakes National Park is focused around two lakes: Rotoiti and Rotoroa. With lakeside forests nestled in between the mountain ranges, this park offers casual walking tracks as well as challenging hikes. The highlights of this park are the remnants of glacial landforms. The landscape was formed during the Ice Age, and the two lakes are some of the last remaining examples of the leftover formations. The park is also suitable for camping, tramping, and fishing.
Kahurangi National Park
At the northern part of the South Island lies Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand’s second largest park. It holds some of the country’s most interesting rock formations, as well as a variety of rare bird life. The famous Heaphy Track resides within the park and provides a 48-mile trek over rain forest, coastlines, and river valleys. The common activities in this area are caving and fossil hunting as it is a geological playground.
Whanganui National Park
In the North Island, Whanganui National Park is home to the beautiful Whanganui River. The river winds its way through the landscape and provides an array of activities from canoeing, kayaking, or simply biking along the river’s edge. Visit the historical Bridge To Nowhere, take any of the simple day walks, or hike the multiday walks. The tramping tracks through the lowlands can get a bit muddy since they are close to the river’s edge. The park is ripe with Māori history and tradition since the Whanganui River has long been a big source of trading and transportation in the area.