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New Zealand Parks and Forests

About the Parks and other Wilderness Areas of New Zealand


Much of New Zealand is covered in parks and forests

Much of New Zealand is covered in parks and forests

Image Courtesy of New Zealand Tourism/Destination Northland
One of the things that makes New Zealand so unique is its vast areas of pristine and varied natural landscapes. More than a third of the country's land area is in public ownership and much of it is contained within parks and reserves. The sheer variety of scenery and terrain is incredible: there are beaches, ancient forests, volcanoes and geothermal springs, grassy plains, glaciers, lakes and rivers, often in close proximity to each other. It's not surprising that a visit to a park or reserve is high on the list of things to do for most visitors to New Zealand as well as New Zealanders themselves.

Many measures are taken to preserve the natural environment in New Zealand. One of the most important has been to classify the wilderness areas, with a different body responsible for administering each. This ensures the greatest possible protection for the areas, while still allowing the public to enjoy them. There are several main classifications:

Regional Parks

These are relatively small parks, administered by local government regional councils. Most of these parks are close to cities (mainly Auckland and Wellington) and offer walks and sometimes overnight camping facilities. There is a variety of terrains, including bush and forest, beaches and even farmland.

Forest Parks

There are 20 forest parks in New Zealand. They are under the direction of the New Zealand Government Department of Conservation and cover many of the large forest areas of the country. They are very popular for a wide range of leisure activities (and also including some commercial activities such as logging and mining).

National Parks

The 14 National Parks are the most important and protected regions of New Zealand. They include some of the most pristine and stunning environments in the country. Two of them are also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites (see below). Four of the parks are in the North Island, nine are in the South Island and one is on Stewart Island in the far south of the country.

The National Parks contain many of New Zealand's mountain areas including large parts of the Southern Alps. They are also home to the country's best walking tracks, including the world-famous Milford Track and Routeburn Track. The many huts and walking trails, all maintained by the Department of Conservation, help to make tramping and hiking through these areas a very special experience.

Marine Reserves

With such a large coastline, the New Zealand marine environment is of special importance. As a result, there are more than thirty marine reserves spread throughout the country (including some around New Zealand's remote offshore islands). All marine life is protected in the reserves, so there is a ban on any fishing. With the abundance of fish in the reserves, however, they are often very popular for diving, snorkeling and even glass-bottomed boats.

The best known and most popular marine reserves are the areas around the Poor Knights Islands in Northland, Goat Island (north of Auckland) and Milford Sound in the South Island.


More than 90% of the wetlands surrounding New Zealand have disappeared since the arrival of Europeans. This was mainly due to them having been drained to create farmland. However, there are many important areas that remain. Six have been designated as especially significant and are ratified under the international wetland agreement, the Rasmar Convention.

World Heritage Sites

Three areas of New Zealand are designated as World Heritage sites due to their exceptional natural significance. They are the Tongariro National Park (North Island), Te Wahipounamu (South Island; encompasses four National Parks) and five groups of remote islands far to the south of the mainland and known as the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands.

Mainland Islands

Also known as 'ecological islands' these are not islands in the sense of being surrounded by water. Rather they are land areas on the mainland which have been given an artificial border in which native plant and animal species are maintained free of pests. New Zealand has five of these mainland islands, all maintained by the Department of Conservation.

More information about New Zealand's parks and forests:

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