Story: National parks

Page 8. Lower South Island parks

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Mount Aspiring National Park

Named for its most prominent peak, Mount Aspiring National Park straddles the southern end of the Southern Alps. Close to Wānaka, Queenstown, Glenorchy and Te Anau, the park covers 355,522 hectares. It is bounded by the Haast River in the north and the Humboldt Mountains in the south. The remnants of glaciers and glacier-carved valleys are notable features.

Vegetation and wildlife

Beech forest grows below the snowline, while above are snow tussock grasslands and alpine herb fields. In the Red Hills ‘mineral belt’ in the south-west part of the park, the soil contains so much magnesium that only a few plants can survive. Birds include the threatened rock wren, and the playful mountain parrot, the kea. There are also introduced species – white-tailed and red deer, and brown and rainbow trout.


The park is crossed by tracks, including the Routeburn Track (one of New Zealand’s Great Walks), which also passes through Fiordland National Park. Visitors enjoy tramping, mountaineering and jet boating.

Fiordland National Park

New Zealand’s largest national park at 1,260,288 hectares, Fiordland National Park is in the south-west of the South Island. This vast wilderness contains some of the country’s great scenic icons, including Milford Sound, the Sutherland Falls and Lakes Manapōuri and Te Anau.

The fiords that give the area its name are troughs carved by glaciers that have melted and been replaced by the sea. The Alpine Fault cuts through the snow-capped mountains, which are veined with glaciers and dotted with lakes.

Vegetation and wildlife

The steep terrain, isolation and wet climate have created a variety of habitats in which many ancient plants and animals have thrived undisturbed. The takahē, a flightless rail, was believed extinct until it was rediscovered in Fiordland in 1948. Fiordland was also the last refuge of the flightless parrot, the kākāpō, now the focus of a recovery programme.


The Milford Track, sometimes called ‘the finest walk in the world’, traverses the park. It is classified as a Great Walk, as are the Kepler and Routeburn tracks. The Hollyford Track is also well known. Other attractions include mountaineering, hunting, fishing and scenic flights. Visitors need insect repellent to cope with the many sandflies.

Night lights

Rakiura, the Māori name for Stewart Island, means ‘the land of glowing skies’. This may refer to the spectacular sunsets, or to the night-time displays of the Southern Lights, aurora australis.

Rakiura National Park

The most recent of New Zealand’s national parks, Rakiura National Park covers 139,960 hectares – about 85% of Stewart Island (known to Māori as Rakiura). Located off the southern tip of the South Island, the island is separated from the mainland by Foveaux Strait, and lies in the stormy Southern Ocean.

Landforms and vegetation

The northern part of the island has mountain ranges, covered by podocarp forest. The rest has shrubland, low forest, wetlands, grasslands and coastal dune lands. To the west are sea-swept cliffs and beaches, while the east coast has three sheltered bays: Paterson Inlet, Port Adventure and Port Pegasus.


The island was a refuge for the endangered flightless parrot, the kākāpō, but the birds have now been moved to nearby, predator-free Codfish Island, a nature reserve. The Stewart Island kiwi, or southern tokoeka, can be seen in the wild, along with South Island kākā and many other native birds.


With around 245 kilometres of walking tracks, Rakiura and nearby Ulva Island provide many opportunities for trampers and walkers. The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'National parks - Lower South Island parks', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 July 2024)

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