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National Parks and Reserves

Source: New Zealand Official Yearbook 2000. Please note, this information may now be out of date.

The Department of Conservation administers the majority of the publicly owned land in New Zealand that is protected for scenic, scientific, historic and cultural reasons, or set aside for recreational purposes. More than 8 million ha – nearly 30 percent of the nation's total area – are administered by the department.

There are 13 national parks, covering just under 2.5 million ha, 20 forest parks covering some 1.8 million ha, about 3,500 reserves covering around 1.5 million ha, and some 61,000 ha of protected private land and covenants that have been set aside for scenic, scientific or ecological reasons. The department also has responsibility for the preservation and management of wildlife, and has a role in management of the coastal marine area with 16 marine reserves and two other protected marine areas from the Kermadec Islands to Fiordland.

Department of Conservation

National parks

The National Parks Act 1980 provides for the establishment of national parks or reserves in areas where the scenery is of such distinctive quality, or the natural features or ecological systems so important scientifically that their preservation is in the national interest. The act also provides for the public to have freedom of entry and access to the parks, though this is subject to such conditions and restrictions as are necessary for the preservation of native plants and animals or for the welfare of the parks in general. Access to specially protected areas (55,000 ha) constituted under the act is by permit only.

The act states that national parks are to be maintained as far as possible in their natural state so that their value as soil, water and forest conservation areas is maintained. Native plants and animals are to be preserved and introduced plants and animals are to be removed if their presence is seen to conflict with the aims of the act. Development in wilderness areas established under the act is restricted to foot tracks and huts essential for wild animal control or scientific research. The act allows the Department of Conservation to provide hostels, huts, camping grounds, ski tows and similar facilities, parking areas, roading and tracks within the parks. Accommodation, transport and other services at entry points to the parks are provided by the department, other government agencies, voluntary organisations and private enterprise. Some services within the parks, such as guided walks and skiing instruction, are provided by private firms under concessions from the department.

New Zealand's national parks (from north to south) are:

Tongariro National Park

(79,598 ha, established in 1887) was New Zealand's first national park. It includes the three active volcanoes, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.

Urewera National Park

(212,675 ha, established 1954) together with neighbouring Whirinaki Forest Park, is the largest remaining area of native forest in the North Island. Lake Waikaremoana which is within the park is noted for its scenic shoreline.

Egmont National Park

(33,543 ha, established 1900) comprises all the land in a 9-kilometre radius of the Taranaki/Mount Egmont summit and some outlying areas to the north. The symmetrical cone of the dormant volcano is a provincial landmark.

Whanganui National Park

(74,231 ha, established 1986) borders the Whanganui River. It incorporates areas of Crown land, former state forest and a number of former reserves. The river itself is not part of the park.

Kahurangi National Park

(452,000 ha, established 1996) situated in the north-west of the South Island comprises spectacular and remote country and includes the Heaphy Track. It has ancient landforms and unique flora and fauna. It is the second largest national park.

Abel Tasman National Park

(22,541 ha, established 1942) has numerous tidal inlets and beaches of golden sand along the shores of Tasman Bay. It is New Zealand's smallest national park.

Nelson Lakes National Park

(101,753 ha, established 1956) is a rugged, mountainous area in Nelson Region. It extends southwards from the forested shores of Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa to the Lewis Pass National Reserve.

Paparoa National Park

(30,560 ha, established 1987) is on the West Coast of the South Island between Westport and Greymouth. It includes the celebrated Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki.

Arthur's Pass National Park

(114,357 ha, established 1929) is a rugged and mountainous area straddling the main divide of the Southern Alps.

Westland National Park

(117,547 ha, established 1960) extends from the highest peaks of the Southern Alps to a wild remote coastline. Included in the park are glaciers, scenic lakes and dense rainforest, plus remains of old gold mining towns along the coast.

Mount Cook National Park

(70,728 ha, established 1953) is an alpine park, containing New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook (3,754m), and longest glacier, Tasman Glacier (29 km). A focus for mountaineering, ski touring and scenic flights, the park is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The Mount Cook and Westland National Parks have together been declared a world heritage area.

Mount Aspiring National Park

(355,531 ha, established 1964) is a complex of impressively glaciated mountain scenery centred on Mount Aspiring (3,036 m), which is New Zealand's highest peak outside Mount Cook National Park.

Fiordland National Park

(1,251,924 ha, established 1952) is the largest national park in New Zealand and one of the largest in the world. The grandeur of its scenery, with its deep fiords, its lakes of glacial origin, its mountains and waterfalls, has earned it international recognition as a world heritage area.

World heritage areas

World heritage areas consist of 440 sites listed under UNESCO's World Heritage Convention as the most outstanding natural and cultural places on the globe. New Zealand has three world heritage area sites, Te Wahipounamu (south-west New Zealand), Tongariro National Park and New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands.

Forest parks

The Department of Conservation administers 20 forest parks whose primary purpose, in most cases, is to protect the catchments of forested mountain ranges throughout the country. They provide a less restricted range of recreational activities than national parks and reserves, including tramping, camping, fishing, and shooting for a variety of game.


Reserve land includes scenic, nature, scientific, historic, national, recreation and wildlife reserves, protected private land and land protected under various conservation and open space covenants.

Marine reserves and parks

There are 16 marine reserves. The Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve is the largest at 748,000 ha. Located approximately 400 nautical miles north-east of Auckland, the area has an interesting mix of subtropical, temperate and endemic species. A further marine reserve between Cable Bay and the Glen, north of Nelson, was approved by the Minister of Conservation in 1999. When gazetted, it will bring the total number of reserves to 17.

There are two marine parks, Mimiwhangata and Tawharanui, protected by fisheries regulations. The Sugar Loaf Islands, previously a marine park, are now protected under their own act as a marine protected area.

Fire control

The Department of Conservation is responsible for fire control in state areas, which include national parks and reserves, forest parks, and unalienated Crown land, together with a 1 km fire safety margin adjoining all these lands.

Protected Natural Areas Programme

The Department of Conservation is responsible for augmenting the network of protected areas through the Protected Natural Areas Programme. The programme operates in two phases. First there are district surveys to identify the unprotected areas that best represent the range of natural ecological diversity characteristic of the district. This is followed by an implementation phase, which involves work towards effective protection of these areas, under public or private ownership.

Quick Facts - Land and Environment

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