Story: Protected areas

Page 1. New Zealand’s protected areas

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What are protected areas?

Protected areas are places where natural or cultural resources and biodiversity are protected, maintained and managed, usually by law. New Zealand’s best known protected areas are its 13 national parks and a large number of reserves.

The country has more than 10,000 protected areas, covering more than 8.6 million hectares (around 32% of the total land area).

Plants, animals, landscapes

In 1974, scientist G. C. Kelly summed up the importance of national parks and reserves. He believed they were to ensure the survival of native plants and animals, and to preserve representative types of the natural landscape which originally gave New Zealand its distinctive character.

Developing a protected areas network

New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro, was formally established in 1894, after the central North Island peaks were gifted to the nation by chief Horonuku Te Heuheu in 1887. After that, a comprehensive network of national parks and reserves developed, mostly managed by the Department of Lands. A parallel system of forest reserves and parks was also introduced by the Forest Service.

In 1987 the government’s land management agencies were restructured, and the Department of Conservation was set up. It now manages most public protected areas.

Types of protected area

There are around 60 different types of protected area. The most important are:

  • national parks
  • conservation parks
  • nature reserves
  • scientific reserves
  • scenic reserves
  • historic reserves
  • other conservation land
  • recreation (and other) reserves.

These categories vary in their conservation value and the opportunities they provide for outdoor recreation. ‘Other conservation land’ includes over 7,000 protected areas, and ‘recreation (and other) reserves’ combines many of the smaller reserve classes.

New Zealand’s protected areas are managed under six main laws:

  • Conservation Act 1987
  • National Parks Act 1980
  • Reserves Act 1977
  • Wildlife Act 1953
  • Marine Reserves Act 1971
  • Marine Mammals Protection Act 1979.
How to cite this page:

Les Molloy, 'Protected areas - New Zealand’s protected areas', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/protected-areas/page-1 (accessed 18 December 2018)

Story by Les Molloy, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Sep 2015