A regional park is a large area of open space intended for the use of town and city dwellers in a particular region. Regional parks are larger than the city-based parks managed by city and district councils, and smaller than the vast national parks managed by the Department of Conservation. They accommodate a wide range of functions, including recreation, farming, forestry, water management, heritage and conservation.
From the late 1950s, councils recognised a need for large, open green spaces beyond city boundaries. Planners, particularly in Auckland and Wellington, were concerned that coastal and rural land would be subdivided and swallowed up by urban sprawl. Regional parks were established, often in areas that had some history of public recreational use.
Until 2002, only the Auckland and Wellington regional councils were authorised to own and manage regional parks. The Local Government Act 2002 changed this, and regional parks began to appear in other parts of the country.
Through its network of parks, the Auckland Regional Council is not only the region’s largest landowner, but also the largest farmer. It has 8,400 sheep and 950 cattle in its parks, most notably in Awhitu Regional Park, which is a working farm.
Auckland was the first area to develop a network of regional parks. When the Auckland Regional Authority (predecessor of the Auckland Regional Council) was formed in 1963, it borrowed money to buy land for this purpose.
The 556-hectare Centennial Memorial Park in the Waitākere Ranges, established in 1940 to mark Auckland city’s centenary, was transferred to the authority in 1964. This forms part of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, a 16,000-hectare reserve of native forest and coastline.
The authority’s first purchase was the Wenderholm estate on the east coast north of Auckland in 1965. Auckland now has 25 regional parks – 42,000 hectares in total. Four to five million people visit the parks annually, three-quarters of them Auckland residents.
Battle Hill Farm Forest Park, north of Wellington, was the site of a clash between Ngāti Toa and British troops in 1846. After a period of Māori resistance to New Zealand Company attempts to buy land, Crown forces besieged the hilltop pā of Ngāti Toa chief Te Rangihaeata for several days. Te Rangihaeata and his depleted forces escaped north. He spent the rest of his life at Poroutawhao, near Levin.
In the 1960s and 1970s, rapid population growth was predicted for the Wellington region. As in Auckland, a network of regional parks was planned to address potential problems.
Planning took many years, and Belmont Regional Park, Wellington’s first, opened in 1989. The region has four other regional parks and two forests, all managed by the Greater Wellington Regional Council. These cover 35,000 hectares and receive about 800,000 visitors per year. Half of the regional population visits the parks annually.
Bay of Plenty
The first regional park outside Auckland and Wellington opened in the Bay of Plenty in 2004. The Papamoa Hills Regional Park, owned and managed by Environment Bay of Plenty, contains many Māori archaeological sites stretching back to the 14th century. Conservation of these sites is its main focus, but it also provides recreational opportunities, while other parts are run as a working farm.
In 2008, Canterbury contained two regional parks. The Waimakariri River Regional Park, based around the braided river and managed by Environment Canterbury, is opening in stages. It will accommodate recreation, conservation and flood protection activities, and when completed will be 11,000 hectares in size.
Environment Canterbury approved the establishment of Lake Tekapo Regional Park in 2008. The park, on the shores of the lake to the east of the village, was originally a 165-hectare soil conservation area, first planted with various exotic pine species in 1963.