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New Zealand's National Parks

New Zealand is a land of awe-inspiring beauty. Sea, sky and mountain come together in a visual collage that is both breathtaking and humbling - it makes you glad to be alive! Humans have been present in New Zealand for less than a thousand years. The amazing landscapes of this country are therefore relatively untouched by mankind, offering visitors the opportunity to commune with nature.

New Zealand's natural heritage is preserved for all to see in 14 different national parks across the country. On the North Island there are four parks, with the remaining ten being present on the more mountainous South Island.

Te Urewera is the largest of the parks on the North Island, and is the country's fourth largest park overall. At a height of 3000ft above sea level it straddles the Huiarau Range - a northeast-southwest alignment of mountains that runs through the heart of the North Island. The park protects a vast swath of ancient forest, which is dominated by native trees such as red beech, rata, tawa and rimu. It is a sanctuary for wildlife too, kiwi, blue duck and the great New Zealand Falcon (karearea) being resident in the mist-shrouded mountains.

In the south of the Te Urewera National Park is Lake Waikaremoana - a beautiful inland lake that resembles a Norwegian Fjord. It was formed more than 2000 years ago and is 800ft deep in places. The lake is now a centre for nature tourism as well as for inland watersports.

Travelling on westwards past Lake Taupo we find arguably the most exhilarating of all the National Parks on the North Island - Tongariro National Park. Located roughly in the centre of the island, Tongariro consists of a series of active volcanoes - Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Snow covered for most of the winter, the volcanoes provide a unique skiing and snowboarding experience during the winter months, enthusiasts having to pick their way around steaming vents and geysers. During the summer the snow recedes to reveal a delightful network of paths offering hikers some exquisite views of the park.

Close by to Tongariro is the Whanganui National Park. It encompasses one of New Zealand's longest navigable rivers - the Whanganui River - and offers spectacular countryside views that take in forest, snow capped mountains and razor-edged ridges. You can book a cruise down the river in a paddleboat, or for the more adventurous there is the opportunity to navigate the waters by canoe.

Further west again we arrive at the magnificent Egmont National Park, the last of our park quartet. Egmont is undoubtedly one of New Zealand's finest gems, its centrepiece being the 8250ft high volcano - Mt Taranaki. With its perfectly formed cone shape Mt Taranaki is one of the most impressive sights on the North Island. Often snow-capped the mountain is a huge draw for hikers and mountaineers alike. The lowland forest that surround the mountain's lower slopes and the enchanting 'Goblin Forest' on the volcano's mid-slope area are also not to be missed. To enjoy the splendour of the National Parks on New Zealand's North Island it is recommended that visitors hire a vehicle, preferably a 4x4. Car hire can be booked in advance to pick up from Auckland International Airport, or from the regional airports at Taupo and New Plymouth. There is plenty to see and do in New Zealand's National Parks.

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