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Exploring The 13 National Parks Of New Zealand

A view of a mountain, one of the national parks of New Zealand.


The 13 national parks of New Zealand, which are all free to enter, reveal the country’s legendary beauty. We’re talking about various landscapes: Abel Tasman National Park’s golden beaches, the glacier-carved peaks of Aoraki/Mount Cook, and towering rainforests—you get the idea! But how much of New Zealand’s land is protected? It’s a whopping 30%—about 28,000 square miles (72,000 sq km).

Size-wise, these parks offer amazing variety. Fiordland National Park reigns as the giant, covering a mind-blowing 1.25 million hectares (3 million acres). On the other end of the spectrum is Abel Tasman, the smallest but still quite substantial at 22,530 hectares (55,673 acres). Let’s explore these towering peaks together.

1. Tongariro National Park

A person with arms outstretched stands in front of the snow-covered peaks of Tongariro National Park at sunrise.

Tongariro National Park has a special place in New Zealand’s history—it’s the oldest in the country, founded all the way back in 1887! It’s even recognized worldwide, holding dual World Heritage status for its dramatic volcanic landscapes and the cultural importance it has for the Māori people.

This is where you’ll find the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a challenging 19.4-kilometer (12-mile) hike across a landscape that looks like another planet. Think vibrant Emerald Lakes and steaming craters—it’s wild!

The trek takes about 7-8 hours, and if you’d like a guide, expect to pay around NZD 195. And here’s a cool tidbit: remember Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings? That was filmed right here in Tongariro!

2. Abel Tasman National Park

Tropical foliage frames a serene beach in Abel Tasman National Park, showcasing clear turquoise waters and a sandy shore.

If beaches are more your thing, Abel Tasman will steal your heart. This park tops the most visited national parks of New Zealand because of its crystal-clear water, shimmering golden sand, and forests spilling right onto the coast—it’s a postcard that comes to life.

The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks, is the best way to experience this paradise. It’s 60 kilometers (37 miles) long and takes 3-5 days, with huts and campsites along the way costing around NZD 100-200.

If you’re short on time, you can kayak parts of the coast or hop on a water taxi to explore hidden beaches—those start at about NZD 50. Keep your eyes peeled for the local wildlife—fur seals and little blue penguins call this park home!

3. Fiordland National Park

Sunbeams pierce through moody clouds over the rugged peaks and lush valleys of Fiordland National Park.

Ready for some raw, untamed wilderness? That’s Fiordland National Park. Imagine towering cliffs plunging into dark, mysterious waters and waterfalls tumbling down mossy slopes—the scenery here is truly dramatic.

The highlight is Milford Sound, a place Rudyard Kipling also known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” See why for yourself on a boat cruise (starting around NZD 50 for a quick one) or grab a kayak for a more adventurous experience (about NZD 200 for a full day).

Whatever you choose, watch out for the locals—seals, dolphins, and penguins all call this wild place home. Oh, and a heads up: Fiordland is famously rainy, with up to 8 meters (26 feet!) of rain a year—so pack accordingly!

4. Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

Tussock grassland with a backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

Calling all mountaineers and mountain lovers! Aoraki or Mount Cook National Park is the perfect spot to witness New Zealand’s most imposing peaks. Home to the country’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook, standing tall at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet), this park has adventures for everyone.

If you’re up for a challenge, there’s climbing galore. But even casual hikers will love the Hooker Valley Track, with those epic glacier views—and it’s free! This half-day gem is a round trip of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), taking around 3 hours. And hey, did you know Sir Edmund Hillary, the first guy to summit Everest, trained right here in Aoraki/Mount Cook?

5. Westland Tai Poutini National Park

National parks of New Zealand - Vast glacier fields and rugged peaks under a cloudy sky in Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

The Westland Tai Poutini National Park is a rugged gem on the South Island’s wild West Coast. This public park is all about the glaciers, especially the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. These aren’t your distant, icy peaks—you can practically touch them!

For a budget-friendly adventure, take a guided walk right up to the edge (starting around NZD 50). But if you want the truly epic experience, take a helicopter tour and land on the ice—that’ll set you back about NZD 500. Bonus fact: these glaciers move up to 4 meters (13 feet) a day, some of the fastest in the world!

6. Arthur’s Pass National Park

Aerial view of a winding river through a broad valley flanked by mountains in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Looking for stunning scenery with easy access? Arthur’s Pass fits the bill! This South Island gem, founded in 1929 as the oldest park on the island, has it all: think alpine meadows, old-growth beech forests, and the wild Waimakariri River.

Don’t miss the highlight—the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall, a 131-meter (430-foot) cascade that’ll leave you speechless. Want to arrive in style? Hop on the famous TranzAlpine train. For around NZD 199 one-way, you’ll get incredible views of the Southern Alps en route to the park. Bonus fact: Arthur’s Pass is the only national park in New Zealand you can travel by train!

7. Kahurangi National Park

Tall, narrow rock formations among green shrubs with mountainous terrain in the background at Kahurangi National Park.

The Kahurangi National Park, in the wild northwest of the South Island, is your ticket to get truly off the beaten path. This behemoth, New Zealand’s second-largest park, sprawls a whopping 452,002 hectares (or 1,116,921 acres!).

Here, it’s all about the contrasts: think of Tasman Sea beaches one minute and the rugged Tasman Mountains the next. Speaking of rugged, are you up for the Heaphy Track challenge? This iconic Great Walk offers coastal views and mountain climbs galore.

Expect to hike for 4-6 days, paying around NZD 32 per night at the track’s huts. Oh, and a major perk for wildlife lovers: with about 30,000 birds, Kahurangi hosts the country’s biggest population of great spotted kiwi!

8. Paparoa National Park

New Zealand national parks - Rocky cliffs and unique stone pillars overlook the blue sea at Paparoa National Park.

Geology geeks, this one’s for you! Paparoa National Park is a West Coast wonderland of limestone formations that could make any sculptor jealous. Here, you’ll find cliffs, caves, and the absolutely iconic Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki.

These curious layers look like nature made a giant breakfast—it’s been in the works for over 30 million years! Ready for more exploring? Hit the trails, including the brand-new Paparoa Track. This 55-km (34-mile) beauty traverses the Paparoa Range and overlooks the Tasman Sea.

Plan on 3-4 days, and expect to pay roughly NZD 45 per night for those cozy huts. Bonus fact: Those Pancake Rocks are made up of layers upon layers of limestone, mudstone, and sandstone, all laid down on the ocean floor a mind-boggling 30 million years ago.

9. Nelson Lakes National Park

A wooden dock extends into a tranquil lake surrounded by steep mountains at Nelson Lakes National Park.

Nelson Lakes National Park in the South Island’s north offers a quieter experience, with two real stunners: Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. These lakes are surrounded by classic New Zealand landscapes—old-growth beech forests and the rugged peaks of the St Arnaud Range.

Do you feel like a longer trek? The Travers-Sabine Circuit is a 5-7 day adventure into the park’s heart, with incredible views guaranteed—and it’s pretty budget-friendly at about NZD 15 a night for huts or campsites. Wildlife bonus: this park is home to a rare critter, the endangered long-tailed bat, one of only two native land mammals in the whole country!

10. Rakiura National Park

A hiker looks out over the stunning coastal view of Rakiura National Park, featuring lush greenery, a vibrant blue ocean, and a secluded beach.

The Rakiura National Park, covering 85% of Stewart Island (New Zealand’s third-largest!), is your ticket to pristine beauty. You’ll find dramatic coastlines and lush rainforest—the whole package.

Hikers, get excited about the Rakiura Track! This 32-kilometer (20-mile) trek takes about 3 days and offers something special—a chance to glimpse the iconic kiwi bird in the wild! In fact, with around 20,000 birds, Stewart Island is basically their kingdom.

Expect to pay roughly NZD 22 a night for huts. Now, here’s an interesting fact: “Rakiura” in Māori means “glowing skies”—think epic sunrises, sunsets, and even the chance to spot the aurora australis (southern lights)!

11. Egmont National Park

Lush vegetation surrounds the prominent volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki in Egmont National Park, under a clear blue sky.

Egmont National Park is all about one thing: the mighty Mount Taranaki. This majestic 2,518-meter (8,261-foot) dormant volcano dominates the landscape.

Ready for a hiking challenge? The Pouakai Circuit is a 2-3 day trek that circles the mountain, offering views you’ll never forget—and it’s quite cheap at NZD 15 a night for huts.

For a shorter and sweeter option, head to Dawson Falls. This 18-meter (59-foot) cascade is perfect for a picnic or a quick, scenic stroll. Movie buff alert: Remember those Mount Fuji scenes in “The Last Samurai”? They were filmed on Mount Taranaki!

12. Whanganui National Park

A winding river flows through a lush, hilly landscape under a partly cloudy sky in Whanganui National Park.

Explore the North Island’s Whanganui National Park, home to the heart and soul of the region: the Whanganui River. This isn’t just any waterway—it’s the longest navigable river in New Zealand and holds deep spiritual significance for the Māori people, who consider it an ancestor.

In fact, the river made history in 2017 by becoming the first in the world to gain the same legal rights as a person! You can paddle this living legend by canoe or kayak or get your adrenaline pumping with a jet boat ride.

Want to stay on land? There are trails galore through the lush native bush. Don’t miss the Bridge to Nowhere, a haunting relic from the 1930s now surrounded by the forest—perfect for anyone who loves history with a side of the unexpected. Here’s something cool: locals call the Whanganui the “Rhine of New Zealand”—think dramatic beauty and centuries of stories.

13. Te Urewera National Park

A powerful waterfall cascades through lush, green foliage into a rocky riverbed in Te Urewera National Park.

Ready for a wild adventure? Te Urewera National Park delivers! This massive public park on the North Island’s east coast holds the title of the largest untouched native forest on the North Island. It’s a haven for rare wildlife, including the kōkako, a beautiful bird with a hauntingly beautiful song.

If you’re up for a serious trek, try the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk—a stunning 3-4-day journey around the lake with unforgettable mountain and forest views. Expect to pay around NZD 32 per night for a cozy hut.

Would you prefer a truly remote experience? Then challenge yourself with the Te Urewera Treks—this network of trails will transport you off the beaten track. History fact: Europeans didn’t fully map Te Urewera until the 1930s.

National Parks of New Zealand: A Legacy of Conservation

And that’s your comprehensive guide to the incredible national parks of New Zealand! These public parks showcase the best of New Zealand’s wilderness, from golden beaches like in Abel Tasman to the rugged challenge of a peak like Aoraki/Mount Cook. They’re proof of the country’s extraordinary commitment to protecting nature. So, gear up and explore new destinations and experiences!

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