Story: National parks

Page 7. Western and central South Island parks

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Paparoa National Park

On the northern West Coast of the South Island, the 39,037-hectare Paparoa National Park covers the western side of the Paparoa Range. Limestone underlies most of the park and forms towering coastal cliffs, deep river canyons, caves and stacked coastal rocks. The Pancake Rocks at Dolomite Point, near Punakaiki, are the best known feature – a spectacular sight when the sea surges through three blowholes at high tide.

Vegetation and wildlife

The mild climate and fertile soils allow a wide variety of plants to grow. Near the coast, there are broadleaf trees, rātā and nīkau palms. Inland, hard, red and silver beech grow alongside rimu and other podocarps. There are forest birds, and the world’s only breeding colony of Westland petrels, south of the Punakaiki River.

Recreation

Canoeing and caving are popular in the park. There are some easy coastal walks and challenging inland tracks.

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Arthur’s Pass National Park (118,472 hectares) was set aside to protect the mountain landscapes around Arthur’s Pass, with their scree slopes, steep gorges and braided rivers. The pass cuts through the Southern Alps, connecting North Canterbury with the West Coast. A historic highway and railway run through it.

Vegetation and wildlife

There are strikingly different habitats on each side of the main divide of the Alps. On the eastern side, mountain beech grows. Mixed podocarp rainforest and rātā are found on the west. Above the bushline are areas of snow tussock and alpine meadows. As well as common forest birds, the park contains the endangered great spotted kiwi and the kea (an alpine parrot). Wrybills and black-fronted terns nest near the open braided rivers.

Recreation

Mountaineering, mountain biking and tramping are popular in the park.

A bird saves a forest

In 1976 there were plans to log rimu and miro trees around the Ōkārito Lagoon, home to many wetland bird species. Conservationists protested, but without success. Then rowi, a rare subspecies of South Island brown kiwi, were discovered there. A 10-year ban on logging south of the Ōkārito River was imposed in 1979, and in 1981 the area became part of Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Located halfway down the West Coast of the South Island, Westland Tai Poutini National Park covers 131,978 hectares. Its magnificent sights include snow-capped mountains and glaciers, and wild beaches.

Landforms and vegetation

The park’s mountains have permanent snow fields that feed many glaciers, including the famous Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. The lowlands are covered by dense rainforest, mainly rimu. Near the coast are lakes, wide river mouths and wetlands.

Wildlife

Alpine moths, black alpine cicadas and the mountain ringlet butterfly live in the higher areas, and there are endangered rowi (Ōkārito brown kiwi) in the lowland forest. The coastal wetlands, notably the Ōkārito Lagoon, are home to wading birds including the kōtuku (white heron). Lake Māpōurika is a refuge for the threatened crested grebe (kāmana).

Recreation

Walking tracks allow visitors to get close to the glaciers and see views of the mountains and sea. At Welcome Flat, on the way to Copland Pass, there are hot springs. Mountaineering and ski touring are drawcards, and there are also scenic flights.

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is New Zealand’s great alpine national park. Covering 72,164 hectares, it contains 19 peaks along the eastern side of the Southern Alps, including New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook (3,754 metres) and nearby Mt Tasman (3,498 metres). Like all the South Island’s national parks, the area is significant to the Ngāi Tahu tribe. Aoraki/Mt Cook in particular is revered as an ancestor.

Landforms and vegetation

The park includes the headwaters of two of the great glacial lakes of the Mackenzie basin, Pūkaki and Tekapo. Glaciers – including the mighty Tasman and Hooker – cover 40% of the park. There is virtually no forest, but alpine plants abound, among them the famous Mt Cook buttercup, Ranunculus lyallii.

Recreation

Tracks and walks, skiing, mountain biking and scenic flights are all available to visitors. However, the park is best known for mountaineering. Climbers come from around the world to tackle its challenging peaks, which should be attempted only by experienced mountaineers.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'National parks - Western and central South Island parks', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/national-parks/page-7 (accessed 14 November 2019)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Aug 2015