Kōrero: National parks

Whārangi 6. Upper South Island parks

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Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park (23,703 hectares) is in the north-west Nelson region, on the northern part of the Pikikiruna Range, between Tasman Bay and Golden Bay. It was established in 1942, after Nelson conservationist Pérrine Moncrieff lobbied to have 15,000 hectares protected. It is named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. He and his men were the first Europeans to visit New Zealand, in 1642.

Landforms and vegetation

Though small, the park has some remarkable contrasting landscapes. There are many bays with golden beaches, some with large sandspits. The granite rocks along the coastline have weathered into wave-cut platforms and distinctive landmarks.

The rugged interior rises to 1,000 metres above sea level, with beech forests and an area of red tussock called Moa Park. In the south-west corner, granite gives way to marble and a karst landscape. Streams disappear into sinkholes and resurge around Tākaka Hill, outside the park boundaries. Harwoods Hole is the largest sinkhole in the park.

Keeping it clean

Abel Tasman National Park is one of New Zealand’s most popular – around 160,000 people visit each year. To help maintain its pristine environment, traditional ‘long drop’ toilets have been replaced by systems with containment tanks. Sewage is pumped out annually and taken by barge to nearby Rabbit Island, where it is used to fertilise a pine forest.


The park is home to forest and sea birds. There are wading birds in the estuaries, and little penguins, which feed in the sea and return to burrows on the park’s islands at night. Native fish, seals, and marine plants and animals are found along the coastline, part of which is in Tonga Island Marine Reserve.


The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, is an easy three- to five-day tramp. The Abel Tasman Inland Track leads through forest, and has spectacular coastal views. The park can also be explored by sea kayaking and sailing.

Kahurangi National Park

Kahurangi National Park, in the north-west South Island, is one of the most recently established parks and at 517,335 hectares, also one of the largest. Ecologically rich, it was established in 1996 largely because of a new emphasis on preserving biodiversity and geodiversity.


Kahurangi has the highest number of endemic plants (those unique to New Zealand) of any national park. Nearly half of all New Zealand's native plant species (around 1,200 species) are represented in the park, including over a third of all native trees, shrubs and climbers, and 80% of alpine plants. The park has at least 38 species of nationally threatened plants. Beech forest dominates in the east, with conifer–broadleaf forest in the west and alpine plants in the highest areas.


Threatened wildlife in the park includes the great spotted kiwi, New Zealand’s largest cave spider and its smallest giant wētā. There are 29 species of carnivorous land snail.


Kahurangi National Park is a geologically complex area. A distinctive coarse-grained pink granite is found in the west. There are also limestone and marble features, including bluffs, natural arches, sinkholes and some of the world’s deepest caves.


The wild rivers attract kayakers, and the Karamea River is famous for its trout fishing. Caving is also popular. However, walking and tramping are the main attraction, with over 570 kilometres of tracks. The best known is the 82-kilometre Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

Nelson Lakes National Park

Located between Nelson and Marlborough, just south of St Arnaud village, Nelson Lakes National Park (101,880 hectares) is dominated by a 75-kilometre band of mountains, and is bounded to the south-east by the Spencer Mountains.

The park is named after the lakes that lie in glacier-gouged troughs in the mountains. Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa are the largest.

Vegetation and wildlife

The forest is mainly beech, with red and silver beech at lower, warmer sites and mountain beech at higher altitudes. Above the bushline are a variety of alpine plants. Birdlife includes the South Island kākā, tomtits, robins and New Zealand’s smallest bird, the rifleman. The Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project is creating a predator-free ‘mainland island’ in 825 hectares beside Lake Rotoiti.


The park is popular for walking, tramping, and mountaineering, and for boating and fishing on the lakes.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'National parks - Upper South Island parks', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/national-parks/page-6 (accessed 25 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Nancy Swarbrick, i tāngia i te 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Aug 2015