Story: National parks

From barren volcanic areas to towering snowy peaks, from lush rainforests to meadows of alpine flowers, from golden beaches to deep caves – some of New Zealand’s most iconic landscapes are preserved in its 13 national parks.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont), in Egmont National Park

Story summary

All images & media in this story

New Zealand has 13 national parks. They protect some of the country’s most scenic landscapes:

  • Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park – the highest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook
  • Westland Tai Poutini National Park – Fox and Franz Josef glaciers
  • Whanganui National Park – the Whanganui River
  • Kahurangi National Park – limestone landscapes and deep caves
  • Tongariro National Park – the volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngāuruhoe
  • Fiordland National Park – Milford Sound and many other fiords.

The parks are also home to many rare plants and animals. Visitors enjoy walking, mountain climbing, boating, snow sports and many other activities.

National park facts

  • Tongariro National Park was the first national park, set up in 1894.
  • Rakiura National Park is the most recent. It was created in 2002 and covers most of Stewart Island.
  • Fiordland National Park is the biggest national park – 1,260,288 hectares.
  • Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest – 23,703 hectares.

Creating national parks

The world’s first national park was Yellowstone, set up in the United States in 1872.

At that time in New Zealand, the native forest was being cleared for farms. Some people wanted to set up national parks to preserve beautiful scenery, and to save native plants and animals.

New Zealand’s first national parks

The volcanoes Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro are in the Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribal area, in the central North Island. In 1887, the tribe’s chief signed an agreement with the government. Tongariro National Park was set up by a law passed in 1894.

Egmont National Park was created in 1900 around Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont). Other land was set aside to be made into parks later.

Changing attitudes

At first, national parks were thought of as places for recreation and tourism. Deer and goats were released into parks to provide sport for hunters – but they damaged the trees and plants. Non-native plants were also introduced, and some spread and became pests. Later, people started to think that national parks should be used to protect native plants and animals.

From the 1960s, Māori began to have more say in how national parks were run. The views of conservationists and scientists influenced the choice of areas for national parks.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'National parks', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 September 2007, updated 1 August 2015