New Zealand is one of the best countries you will ever visit. The incredible, diverse nature will surely take your breath away no matter where you go and the incredibly friendly people will make your trip to New Zealand even better.
I spent 10 days in New Zealand and even if that’s definitely not enough to see the best the country has to offer I can easily say this was the most spectacular country I’ve been to! One thing I feel like I haven’t seen enough of is New Zealand National Parks.
That’s why today I have a fellow blogger Christine from Travellers With Time talking about the best National Parks in New Zealand. This already makes me want to pack my bags and visit New Zealand again!
New Zealand is an incredible country, unlike any other I’ve seen. It has a sparse population with an open landscape comprised ofrolling lush green hills. There is its endless coastline, with sheer cliff faces and beaches that offer every color of sand you can imagine.
And New Zealand National Parks, endlessly varied and unique in their own right. From volcanoes to glaciers and forest to fiords, there’s enough to keep you traveling to New Zealand over and over.
Which are the best National Parks in New Zealand? After five weeks exploring them, these are our picks.
Table of contents
Tongariro National Park
Located in the center of New Zealand’s North Island, just south of Lake Taupo, Tongariro National Park is an unforgettable volcanic experience. Three active volcanoes, one of New Zealand’s most popular walks and the only commercial ski fields on the North Island make it worthy of its’s place on any list of New Zealand’s best national parks.
From open lava fields and volcanic terrain to alpine surroundings and waterfalls, Tongariro National Park as a unique and diverse natural environment. It is a dual UNESCO World Heritage area, being recognized both for its unique environment and its spiritual significance to Maori culture.
One of the greatest ways to witness the variety is to complete the very popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing which takes you across the base of Mount Ngauruhoe, over Mount Tongariro and past the Red Crater and spectacularly colored volcanic lakes.
See the panoramic views of the National Park as you descend the other side. While it is a 6 plus hour hike requiring some endurance, the rewards of completing the crossing are worth it.
The third volcano in Tongariro National Park is Mount Ruapehu. While you can explore it at any time from Whakapapa, a small village at the base of the Mountain, in winter it converts into beautiful ski fields.
A few small villages are scattered around the National Park including National Park Village, Turangi and Ohakune so there is plenty of accommodation and adventure activities that can be organized throughout the Park.
Abel Tasman National Park
What the Abel Tasman National Park lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in beauty. Located in the northwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island, the smallest of New Zealand’s National Parks is bursting with native forest, beautiful marble and granite cliffs and spectacular golden sand beaches with crystal blue water. It is one of the best National Parks in New Zealand for coastal adventures.
There are an endless number of ways to explore Abel Tasman. Take a Heli tour over the incredible landscape, or take a boat or sailing tour for an eye-level view of the coastline. Hire a kayak to move between the golden beaches or take one of the 6 hikes through the park.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s great walks. Taking 3-5 days to complete you’ll see all the best of this beautiful park. We joined the start of the track in Marahau town and walked a few hours out before turning around. It was one of our favorite walks in New Zealand.
Known for its native wildlife and marine animals, you’ll see plenty of birds and possibly fur seals and blue penguins as you explore the park surrounding the coast.
Getting to Abel Tasman National Park is easy, with buses running from Takata, Kaiteriteri and Motueka, the nearest large town. Buses also leave from Nelson, or you could make the journey via a water taxi.
Fiordland National Park
If you’re after dramatic, awe-inspiring landscapes, then Fiordland National Park is for you. Everything in Fiordland is enormous, including the park itself, which is the largest National Park in New Zealand.
Giant mountains, lakes, fiords, and rainforest provide an enthralling atmosphere and make Fiordland, and Milford Sound, New Zealand’s number one tourist attraction.
A boat cruise on Milford Sound is at the top of most people’s to-do lists when visiting New Zealand. This beautiful fiord, carved by glaciers over thousands of years and filled with sea water, is simply spectacular.
Relax on a boat as you float along the fiord, past steep forested rock faces and fast-flowing waterfalls, created by the exceptionally high rainfall in the area. Watch fur seals bask on the rocks near the outlet to the sea in this rugged portion of the country.
Doubtful Sound is also spectacular. The deepest of the sounds, boat tours of Doubtful sound can leave from Te Anau or Manapouri town. It would be easy to assume that both fiords are similar, however, they each have their own unique feel and atmosphere and if you can, both are worth a visit.
The Milford Track, another of New Zealand’s great walks, begins in Te Anau and finished up at Milford sound. This 3-day tramping track is tightly regulated in summer so make sure you book ahead if you want to walk it.
Whether you visit the towns of Manapouri or Te Anau, you’ll have beautiful views of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and ice-capped glaciers.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Part of the South Islands rugged west coastline, the Westland Tai Poutini National Park covers from the highest peaks of the Southern Alps all the way up to remote beaches along the west coast. You’ll find an incredible amount of variation here, from snow-capped mountains and glaciers to wetlands, waterways and beautiful beaches.
Westland Tai Poutini is the best National Park in New Zealand to see and climb, glaciers, with both Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier within its borders. These two spectacular glaciers are two of only three in the world that descend down into the temperate rainforest.
Walk one of the trails for a bird’s eye view from the top, or get more adventurous with a Heli hike. You’ll be dropped on the glacier by helicopter before waking up the ice, avoiding crevasses and observing ice cave formations.
At the base of Fox Glacier is Lake Matheson, a beautiful lake that, with its dark still waters, perfectly reflects both Mount Aoraki/Mount Cook, and Mount Tasman on its surface. Take the walk around the outside of the lake for a beautiful and relaxing one-and-a-half-hour stroll.
Not far from Franz Joseph Glacier is the old gold mining town of Okarito, a tiny village laying near New Zealand’s largest wetlands. The perfect place for bird watchers and nature lovers you’ll enjoy this unique New Zealand environment.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Not far from Fiordland National Park is the Mount Aspiring National Park, in the Southern Alps. Named for its main feature, the 3000-meter-high Mount Aspiring, the National Park is truly untouched wilderness.
Glaciers, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and native beech forests can all be enjoyed whether by hiking, scenic flights or by boat. While there are plenty of hikes on offer, the 2-4-day Routeburn track, which is one of New Zealand’s great walks, and the shorter Rob Roy track are two fantastic options. The area is also popular with climbers and for canyoning the many fast-flowing waterways.
In the northeastern corner of the Mount Aspiring National Park is the Haast Pass. Rated as one New Zealand’s most beautiful drives, this mountain pass crosses over the southern section of the Southern Alps and will take you from Wanaka, through the Mount Aspiring National Park to the coast with nothing but phenomenal views the whole way.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Home to the tallest mountain in New Zealand, Mount Cook, and 23 other peaks reaching over 3000 meters, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is truly an Alpine region. Reaching such heights, it’s no surprise that you’ll also find glaciers and permeant snowfields in alpine wonderland.
Known for its alpine activities such as skiing and mountaineering, there are plenty of other things to do such as explore the glaciers, or, like all of New Zealand’s National Parks, do one of the many hikes available. The most beautiful one is Hooker Valley – the most popular Mt. Cook hike.
One of the most fascinating things about Aoraki Mount Cook is that the majority of the National Park is within the Makenzie Dark Sky Reserve. One of only 8 Dark Sky Reserves in the world, artificial light pollution is strictly controlled in a 4300 square kilometer area, allowing for unbelievable star gazing.
Fantastic views of billions of stars and the constellations can be seen within the reserve and from the Mount John Observatory perched high above Lake Tekapo. If you’re there in winter, you may also be able to see the Southern Lights.
When is the best time to visit New Zealand’s National Parks?
New Zealand’s climate and landscape are so varied it can be difficult to plan your trip to include ideal weather for every activity.
Most of New Zealand National Parks are located on the South Island, which is quite a bit colder than the North Island. The South Island also receives more rainfall.
If it’s national parks and hikes you’re after, then summer, between December and February is ideal, with spring (September through November) and autumn (March through until May) being a close second.
During this time the weather will be warmest and it will rain the least, so conditional for hiking and outdoor activities are best. It is peak season, however, so prices are also higher and there are plenty of travelers around.
The winter months of June, July and August are great if you’re visiting for alpine and snow activities, which New Zealand is also known for. Many of the South Islands National Parks become winter wonderlands with good snow and plenty of adventure activities available.
About the author: Christine is the author at Travellers With Time. She and her partner Ben have been on the road for almost 18 months. They spent five glorious weeks traveling New Zealand in a camper van, freedom camping and enjoying New Zealand’s spectacular environment. They can be found on Facebook or on Instagram.
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