Like national parks, New Zealand’s conservation parks are generally large areas (50,000–150,000 hectares).
Most are forest parks. They include the Ruahine and Remutaka forest parks in the North Island’s central ranges, and the Richmond, Victoria and Lake Sumner forest parks in the low-altitude ranges of the northern South Island. These parks were set aside to protect water and soil conservation values and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation.
High-country conservation parks
In the early 2000s, conservation parks were created in the high-country tussocklands of the eastern South Island. They included the 20,328-hectare Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park, near the Waimakariri River in Canterbury, and Te Papanui Conservation Park, 21,000 hectares of rolling tussock plateaus, patterned wetlands and string bogs in Otago’s Lammerlaw and Lammermoor ranges.
Parts of large high-country sheep runs leased to farmers by the Crown were seen to have high conservation value. Some were voluntarily retired from grazing through a process called tenure review, and added to the conservation estate. The government also bought some properties. There are plans to develop a network of parks in the high country east of the Southern Alps, from Marlborough to Southland.
Most conservation parks have a lower profile than national parks, and are less popular with tourists. Their tracks are often more rugged, and their huts more basic.
Nature reserves are generally smaller than conservation parks (mostly 100–1,000 hectares). They protect habitats of threatened plants and animals. Many nature reserves have access restrictions and permit systems.
Goodbye to pests
Kapiti Island became one of New Zealand’s first bird sanctuaries in 1897, and was later made a nature reserve. By the 1970s, however, it was overrun by possums and rats. A trapping and poisoning programme began in 1982, and by 1996 the rats were gone – a world first for such a large island. Possums were also eventually eradicated. Since then, the numbers of birds have increased markedly.
New Zealand’s nearshore and outlying islands are important for saving threatened species, because they are either free of introduced predators like rats, stoats and possums, or pest eradication programmes are under way.
The largely pristine and remote subantarctic islands (the Snares, Auckland, Antipodes, Bounty and Campbell groups) and the Kermadec Islands are nature reserves. So are many well-known nearshore island sanctuaries, including Little Barrier Island (Hauturu), the Poor Knights Islands, Kapiti Island, and Codfish Island (Whenuahou). Codfish Island is the most important sanctuary for the endangered flightless parrot, the kākāpō.
Some mainland nature reserves are quite large, such as Farewell Spit Nature Reserve (11,423 hectares), which protects the habitat of migratory and New Zealand wading birds. However, many are much smaller, often preserving isolated habitats. The 6-hectare Lance McCaskill Nature Reserve, in Canterbury’s Broken River basin, protects the habitat of the rare Castle Hill buttercup (Ranunculus crithmifolius paucifolius). In Central Otago, the 83-hectare Cromwell Chafer Beetle Nature Reserve is a sanctuary for the insect of the same name (Prodontria lewisii).
Scientific reserves are smaller still (10–100 hectares). They protect ecological groupings, plant or animal communities, soils and landforms for scientific study and education. They are similar to nature reserves, but are often used for intensive research or education programmes. Many have access restrictions and permit systems.
Turakirae Head and Waiohine Faulted Terraces scientific reserves both protect landforms that developed after earthquakes along the West Wairarapa Fault. Bankside and Eyrewell scientific reserves on the Canterbury Plains preserve small areas of original vegetation that survived when the surrounding land was turned into farms. The Wilderness Scientific Reserve protects the best surviving remnant of bog pine (Halocarpus bidwillii) in the Te Anau Basin.