All of the 14 national parks in New Zealand are worth seeing. They are stunning and awe inspiring in their own right. However, if you are limited by time, there are three that you really should experience.
Fiordland National Park (Te Wahipounamu)
Over the millenniums, the Ice Ages have carved this masterpiece. At the top of the “must see” list is Fiordland National Park, the largest of all of New Zealand’s parks and probably the most dramatic. The fourteen fiords contained within the park are outstanding examples of glacial activity. Mountains that tower over thick virgin forests of podocasts and beech, the lush tracts of ancient forests, and the fiords provide habitat for many of New Zealand’s native flora and fauna. Some of the most endangered indigenous birds call this rugged and wild landscape home.
Three of the Great Walks are in this breathtaking park; Milford Track (53.5km), Routeburn Track (32km), Kepler Track (60km). The tracks that make up the Great Walks are well-maintained popular walking tracks that take you through some of the best landscape in the country. In addition, many of the Great Walks have hiker huts that can be booked in advance.
Abel Tasman National Park
In sharp contrast to Fiordland National Park, Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of the parks in New Zealand. Because of past exploitation, the need for preservation was widely sought and the park was finally created in 1942. At the top of South Island, this park is a coastal playground set in paradise. Incredibly beautiful cliffs of granite, stunning beaches, and teeming wetlands provide an exceptional vista that draws visitors from near and far. Swimming, snorkeling, sailing, sea kayaking, and trekking are the most popular activities by far. There are restrictions in place so, be prepared and research what is allowed before you go.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track (52km) is one of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks. This is a popular 3-5 day walk with DOC huts along the way. As with all Great Walk huts, these must be booked in advance. The walk takes you along the coast exposing you to phenomenal vistas of the picturesque coast. A less crowded second trail, the Inland Track (37.5km), is about a 3-day walk taking you through the regenerating forests and up to Evans Ridge, the highest point in the park. As with other walks, there are a few huts along the way that can be booked.
Egmont National Park
North Island’s Egmont National Park is the second oldest national park in New Zealand. Established in 1900, the park has Mt Egmont, or Taranaki, as its central feature. This volcano has become known as the most climbed mountain in New Zealand. Almost perfectly formed with a stunning snow cap, this volcano provides visitors with stunning vistas of the landscape below.
Skiing, mountain climbing, and walking are the activities of choice here. While there are mountaineering huts and hikers huts, you might want to sleep out under the stars or stay in relative comfort at one of the lodges inside of the park.
Although you may think of your dog as family. they are not welcome in national parks, most conservation areas and reserves. By and large, dogs disturb the wildlife and that is one thing that is frowned upon. When planning your trip to a park, make plans for someone to look after your animal family members.
All three of these parks will capture your heart and leave you wanting to explore more of this South Pacific diamond called New Zealand.