Story: National parks

Page 2. Towards better management, 1900–1950s

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Parks for recreation and tourism

Until the 1940s, New Zealand’s national parks were managed as places for recreation and tourism.

In the early 20th century, axis and red deer were released in Tongariro National Park and wapiti in Fiordland to provide sport for hunters. Meanwhile, goats were allowed to roam the slopes of Taranaki (Mt Egmont). The damage these animals caused to native plants was a continuing problem. From about 1914 to 1920, heather and lupins were sown to ‘beautify’ Tongariro National Park. This horrified scientists such as Leonard Cockayne, who thought parks should be sanctuaries for native plants and animals.

Heather takeover

Around 1914 the commissioner of police, John Cullen, began a personal campaign to plant heather in Tongariro National Park, claiming it would improve the scenery and provide a habitat for imported game birds. He began sowing heather seed, and several tonnes were planted with public funding and support. The plant spread, and in 1996 the heather beetle was released to help control it.

Parks as sanctuaries

The idea that national parks should protect New Zealand species caught on, prompting conservationists to lobby for two more parks.

Arthur’s Pass National Park

In 1926, railway day trips from Christchurch to the Ōtira Gorge began. Soon the visitors were stripping the mountain slopes of native flowers, and even cutting down trees to obtain rātā blooms. Conservationists and locals pushed for national park status for the area, and Arthur’s Pass National Park was set up in 1929. However, lack of funds meant the vegetation was not fully protected for many years.

Abel Tasman National Park

In 1942 Abel Tasman National Park was set up west of Nelson after conservationist Pérrine Moncrieff lobbied the government. She was worried that the area would be devastated by logging, which was destroying much of the country’s native forest.

The National Parks Act

Boards were set up in the 1920s to manage Tongariro and Egmont national parks, but administrative and legislative arrangements for all national parks were not co-ordinated. In the 1940s groups such as the Forest and Bird Society and Federated Mountain Clubs argued for central control.

This movement led to the National Parks Act 1952. The new law set up the National Parks Authority to provide guidance and policy. Boards oversaw individual parks in conjunction with the Department of Lands and Survey, which provided day-to-day management through a park ranger service. The Act emphasised that native plants and animals would be preserved, and introduced species controlled or exterminated.

More national parks

In the 1950s and 1960s, more national parks were created:

  • Fiordland (1952)
  • Mount Cook (1953)
  • Urewera (1954)
  • Nelson Lakes (1956)
  • Westland (1960)
  • Mount Aspiring (1964).

Post-war prosperity was one reason for this boom; the increasing popularity of outdoor recreation was another. Outdoor organisations were strongly represented on national park boards.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'National parks - Towards better management, 1900–1950s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Aug 2015