10 Forest Parks and National Parks in New Zealand for International Students to Explore This Summer
With over 10 million hectares of forests and 30,000 square km of National Parks to explore, New Zealand is a fantastic place to go if you want to enjoy nature and see native or exotic flora and fauna. Here we have compiled a list of some of New Zealand’s lesser-known national and forest parks to explore.
All of New Zealand’s National Parks are culturally significant and environmentally diverse. The National Parks Act 1980 was established to ensure that the public now have freedom of entry and access to the parks. The parks are administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Nelson Lakes National Park – Nelson region
With Mountain ranges and forest valleys, this spectacular park was shaped by massive glaciers that melted after the most recent ice ages. The alpine lakes Rotoroa (large waters) and Rotoiti (small waters) were said to be created by chief Rakaihaitu in Māori mythology. The park spans 102,000 hectares and is home to many native trees and animals. Currently the Department of Conservation are trying to set-up a pest-free refuge that will house kākā, kākāriki, giant snails and bats. Activities include trout fishing, day-trips or overnight hikes with a stay in one of the huts, and/or a tour of one of the lakes.
Egmont National Park – New Plymouth
Centred around the magnificent dormant volcano Mount Taranaki (2,518m above sea level), there are short and long walks around the mountain, as well as the summit climb that can be done in 6-8 hours (return trip) from the car park (986m above sea level). The mountain is almost perfectly symmetrical, with a small vent known as Fantham’s peak the only bump. There are three entry points to the park via car - Manaia Road, Egmont Road and Pembroke Road. There are thirteen ways to enter the park if you are looking to walk up or around the mountain and many different tracks to choose from. This area is famous for its changeable conditions (even in summer) and sun can quickly turn to wind and rain, so make sure to plan and pack for this if you are planning a summit hike or overnight trip. Within the park there are eight hikers’ huts, two types of rainforest and sub-alpine scrub.
Whanganui National Park - Whanganui
Created to protect the upper reaches of the Whanganui River, this park can be enjoyed on land or using a kayak/canoe to undertake the ‘Whanganui journey’, classed as one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ despite being water-based. The Whanganui River is a Grade 2, which means gentle currents and beginner friendly waters. There are three Great Walk hikers’ huts and multiple campsites along the path of the journey. Bookings are required from October 1st to April 30th. Popular walks include the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’; and Atene Skyline Track, which both can be done in a day. If kayaking or canoeing isn’t your thing, you can take a jet boat instead.
Kahurangi National Park - Nelson
While the Heaphy track is the most popular walk here, the Kahurangi National Park is full of other areas that can be explored. The forest is mostly beech to the east, while the west side is made up of mainly native ferns and shrubs. From the river, to caving, to Lord of the Rings scene spotting, there are many other parts of this park that are potential highlights. There are 18 different species of native New Zealand birds that live in the park, NZ’s oldest fossil (540 million years old) was found here and if you go caving, you might be lucky enough to see one of the rarest spiders in the world, the Kahurangi/Nelson Cave spider, which has a leg span of 13cm and eats cave wētā.
Paparoa National Park – West Coast
The pancake rocks of Punakaiki are the highlight of this park, but there are plenty of other features that stand out. The Inland Pack Track, blowholes, rocks, caves, walking tracks and bird-watching are all the other things you can do in this epic part of the country. It is recommended that you stay on the walking paths when winding your way through this rugged part of the South Island as there are dangerous sink holes in the undergrowth. You can also walk or mountain bike the Paparoa Track, which has been classified a Great Walk of NZ. This is a three-day hike or a two-day mountain bike.
Located on public land and administered by the Department of Conservation, New Zealand’s Forest Parks are less protected than National Parks, but are still vast and stunning places to visit. Sometimes they are also called ‘Conservation Parks’.
Tararua Forest Park - Wellington
Established in 1954 as New Zealand’s first Forest Park, it covers an area of 1,150 square km and its highest peak, known as Mitre, is 1,571m above sea level. The park covers more than three-quarters of the Tararua Range. You can get there one of three ways; via Holdsworth, Waiohine Gorge or Otaki Forks. You can get to the entrance by train, taxi, bus or car, depending on which direction you choose. The entrance to the park is just over an hour and a half drive from Wellington.
Kaweka Forest park – Hawkes Bay
Kaweka parks 594 square km area has multiple peaks, with the highest being Kaweka at 1,724 metres. The Mangatutu Hot Springs, in the vicinity of the Mohaka River, are also located in the park. After originally being cleared by settlers as an area for farming in the 1800’s, by the 1900’s farming had ceased, and the park was replanted with exotic pine trees. It became a Forest Park officially in 1972.
Pirongia Forest Park - Waikato
Established in 1971, here you can find the tallest recorded native tree in New Zealand, Kahikatea, which stands at a whopping 66.5m tall. The forest covers 167 square km, is full of native birds and receives over 2,000m of rainfall a year on average. Mount Pirongia, the highest peak in the Waikato region, is 959 metres tall, and it is an extinct volcano. It should take around seven hours to get to the summit from the most direct route. It is a rough track and a tough climbing at times, so it is essential that you take the right equipment for the trip (a day pack, hiking boots or quality walking shoes or cross-trainers). Though a tough walk, the beautiful summit views and walk up through the native bush is worth the trip. Pirongia Forest Park is 25 km south east of Hamilton. In the area, there is also the Nikau Walk and Kaniwhaniwha Caves.
Pureora Forest Park - Waikato
Established in 1978, this 78,000-hectare national park is a rich rain forest that has podocarp trees that are over 1,000 years old. The forest still stands thanks to anti-logging protests in the late 1970’s. This area is popular for mountain biking, swimming, camping, walking and bird-watching. It’s a great place to go if you want some peace and quiet in an idyllic setting, and only an hour’s drive from Taupo and an hour and a half from National Park Village, near the base of Mount Ruapehu.
Victoria Forest Park – West Coast
New Zealand’s largest forest park at 206,000 square km, this was set-up as a Forest park in 1981. This area contains the largest remaining indigenous forest type in New Zealand; beech forest. It is in this area where you can explore the Big River Quartz Mine, which operated from 1882 to 1942, DOC have reconstructed the engine house (which houses the winding plant) and poppet head. The area was registered as a Category 1 Historic Place.
Please remember that conditions can change quickly when tramping or visiting these natural areas, especially in higher, exposed parts of the terrain. Make sure to carry a map, compass, take a personal locator beacon and ensure you have at least one experienced member in your company. Many of these areas cover alpine terrain, which may not be suitable to visit outside of summer.
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