New Zealand National Parks – South Island

Fiordland National Park

New Zealand National Parks – South Island

Famous world-­over for its untouched natural environment, it’s no surprise 10 out of 14 New Zealand national parks are found in the South Island. This is kiwi wilderness at its best; we’ve been obsessed with the hiking trails, lakes, mountains and beaches of the New Zealand National Parks – South Island for as long as we can remember. Below, we review what we think are their finest features – warning – after reading this, you may want to explore all of them.

Map of the South Islands National Parks

Abel Tasman National Park

At the tip of the South Island, Abel Tasman National Park blends adrenalin-pumping fun with chilled coastal vibes. Make the most the stunning seascape by kayaking the cobalt coastline, seeing how much of the abundant local marine life you can spot. For a different perspective, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, a New Zealand Great Walk, guides you through pretty forests, around shimmering coves and climbs great headlands commanding panoramic vistas over this coastal paradise.  

Tours that visit Abel Tasman National Park

Self Drive Tour: A Relaxing New Zealand Journey (the South Island)
Small Group Tour: Ultimate South Island - A Premium NZ Tour
Hiking/Kayaking Tour: 5 Day Abel Tasman Relaxed Adventure

National Park Abel Tasman

Kahurangi National Park

Kahurangi means “treasured possession” in Maori and, as home to New Zealand’s oldest fossil – 540 million years old – as well as subterranean tunnels, rivers emerging from nowhere and marble mountains, Kahurangi National Park quickly lives up to its name. Follow the footsteps of ancient Maori on the famous Heaphy Track, a 3-­5-­day exploration of sub-­tropical rainforest, rugged wilderness, and river gorges, echoing by the melody of 18 species of native birds. For those in search of adventure, a caving expedition could be on the cards.

Tours that visit Kahurangi National Park

Mountain Biking: 4 Days Biking The Heaphy Track
Hiking Tour: Heaphy Track Hike - Guided/Catered

Kahurangi National Park

Nelson Lakes National Park

Where the spectacular Southern Alps start and a glacial ecosystem thrives is the setting for the enthralling Nelson Lakes National Park. Legend has it that Chief Rakaihaitu dug two holes with his ko (digging stick), forming the two glistening lakes of Rotorua and Rotoiti, the heart of the park today. A handful of walking tracks allows you to experience Nelson Lakes at your own pace, from a leisurely stroll aside a mountain-­mirroring lake to a heart­pumping cliff-­face traverse above the honeydew beech forests.

Tours that visit Nelson Lakes National Park

Self Drive Tour: Lake District, Wild Rivers & Coastal Treats
Group Coach Tour: Southern Discovery Tour

Hiking Adventure Tour: Kiwi Classic Adventure Tour

Nelson Lakes National Park

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Arthur’s Pass National Park encompasses the highest pass over the Southern Alps. The Southern Alps separates the dry climate and cloud-­piercing beech of the east and the rainforest and flourishing riverbeds of the west. As well as a number of tramping tracks, there are more relaxing ways to take in this contrasting wonderland. The TranzAlpine scenic railway passes through the park, offering a leisurely, luxurious journey and a photographer’s dream-come-true, where one minute you are surrounded by paddocks of lambs and the next you are crossing an ice-­fed river with cascading waterfalls in your view.

Tours that visit Arthur’s Pass National Park  

Self Drive Tour: 7 Day Southern Alps Circuit
Group Coach Tour: Ultimate South Island Escape

Guided Adventure Tour: South Island World Heritage Hike

Arthurs Pass National Park

Paparoa National Park

This limestone-­clad national park covers the northern-­most end of the South Island’s west coast, from the Paparoa Ranges to the Tasman Sea. A guided caving adventure is the perfect way to appreciate Paparoa National Park’s inner beauty, but don’t miss the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Here, stacks of pancake-­shaped limestone and underground channels have emerged from millions of years of nature’s finesse, putting on a striking geyser-­like display as the tide finishes its ascent.

Tours that visit Paparoa National Park

 Self Drive Tour: 13 Day Naturally New Zealand Self Drive Tour
Group Coach Tour: Inspiring NZ - A Premium NZ Tour
Guided Walking Tour: NZ World Heritage Hike (Premium)


Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

 Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home to New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook, as well as stretching glaciers, powdery snowfields, and ice-­fed azure lakes – it is the epitome of alpine ambiance. See the extent of Sir Edmund Hillary’s training ground from the sky on a scenic helicopter flight, where you can even land on a glacier.

Tours that visit Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Self Drive Tour: 8 Day Stunning LoTR NZ Self Drive Itinerary
Group Coach Tour: 19 Day New Zealand Showcase Tour
Walking Tour: 9 Day The South Islands Ultimate Day Hikes

Mt Cook National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park

The dynamic environment of Mount Aspiring National Park, with mighty ranges, colorful alpine vegetation, sapphire glacial lakes, and never-­ending river valleys, is a hiker’s fairytale. Use a day to explore some of the best New Zealand scenery on the Routeburn Track, another Great Walk, or take the short walk through beech forests, over a swing bridge to the crystal-­clear Blue Pools.

Tours that visit Mount Aspiring National Park

Self Drive Tour: 12 Day Relaxed Adventure in the Scenic South
Group Coach Tour: 9 Day Southern Spotlight
Walking Tour: 13 Day The Routeburn Track and Other Iconic Walks


Mt Aspiring National Park

Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Stretching from “glacier country” all the way to the Tasman shores, Westland Tai Poutini National Park offers the ‘best of both worlds.’ Most venture here for the fast-­moving Fox and Franz-­Josef Glaciers. You can hike to the terminus of each glacier where you will hear the creaking and crushing of the ice as it urges forward up to four meters every day, which is uniquely fast as most glaciers move only a few hundred millimeters.

Tours that visit Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Self Drive Tour: 12 Day Best of Both Islands - via the West Coast
Independent Coach Tour: 9 Day Experience the South Independent Tour
Walking Tour: 12 Day Milford Track & World Heritage Westland
Group Coach Tour: 9 Day Contrasts of New Zealand Coach Tour

West Coast New Zealand

Fiordland National Park

Thousands of years of glacial carving, ample rainfall, and copious flooding forged 14 fiords on the south-­west of South Island resulting in Fiordland or, as some have described, the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’ To truly feel the enormity and serenity of this dreamland, take a boat or kayak tour – navigate the dark, mystical waters of Milford Sound as cascading waterfalls spray your face , bush-­clad granite pinnacles tower hundreds of meters above you and, if you’re lucky, some penguins, seals or even a pod of whales or dolphins pop up to say hi.

Tours that visit Fiordland National Park

Self Drive Tour: 5 Day Fiordland - In Depth
Independent Coach Tour: The10 Day Southern Wild
Walking Tour: 14 Day Kiwi Classic Adventure Tour
Group Coach Tour: 16 Day 
Ultimate Explorer - A luxury tour

Fiordland National Park

Rakiura National Park

Most think of New Zealand as two islands, but 30km south of the South Island lies Stewart Island, our unofficial third island, 85% of which forms Rakiura National Park. Use the hours after dark wisely; translating to “the land of the glowing skies” Rakiura’s clear starry night’s sky is one of the best for watching the glowing Southern Lights. There is also a high chance you will see a kiwi in its natural habitat – a rare occurrence.

Tours that visit Rakiura National Park

Self Drive Tour: 18 Day South Island Birding and Wildlife Tour
Independent Coach Tour: 31 Day Journey through a Southern Land
Walking Tour: 3 Day Rakiura Track Stewart Island

Rakiura National Park:

For Further Reading & Information

Great Walks in New Zealand
Best Day Hikes in the South Island
Best New Zealand Day Hikes – North Island
New Zealand National Parks – North Island

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Last updated on the 17th  November 2019 by Kirsten 

First Light Travel's Hiking Tours


Kirst Thorp
Kirsten Thorp
: 25 Oct 2015 (Last updated: 18 May 2021)

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