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New Zealand's National Parks - South Island

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New Zealand's South Island is home to no less than ten National Parks, and given the extent of the wild and rugged landscape it is perhaps a wonder that there are not more. If you ever wanted to experience a natural paradise where mountains, lakes, fjords and beaches are all within a few minutes of each other, New Zealand's South Island is the place to visit - it really has it all.

Beginning a short distance away from the regional airport at Nelson the most northerly (and the smallest) of the ten parks is Abel Tasman National Park. It is a park that combines coastal beauty with spectacular inland scenery and is perfect for a diverse range of activities, from sunbathing and sea kayaking to hiking and mountain biking. Tracking the granite and marble rock formations as they interchange with pure golden sands next to a warm transparent sea is an experience not to be missed.

Almost adjoining Abel Tasman on its western fringes is the much larger Kahurangi National Park. This park takes in the Tasman Mountains and the land to the west of the mountain range right down to the Tasman Sea coastline. It is a magical and mystical place that is highly prized by the Maori, its jagged rock formations attracting hikers and fossil hunters from around the globe. At its southern extent beyond Mt Owen is another small park area - Nelson Lakes National Park.

Sculpted by glaciers many thousands of years ago Nelson Lakes National Park comprises of a number of mountain ranges and associated valleys, along with two exquisite lakes - Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. Much of the area is forested with honeydew beech trees. Between January and April each year the honeydew sap oozes from the tree bark filling the air with a sweet scent. From a distance the forest can be seen to 'glisten' in the sun.

Between Westport and Greymouth along the South Island coastline resides the youngest National Park - Paparoa National Park. Created in 1987 Paparoa is a visual feast of rock, water and lowland rainforest. One of the most dramatic sights are the limestone 'Pancake Rocks' through which seawater periodically blasts itself up through blowholes.

Moving back inland to the south we find Arthur's Pass National Park, home to the highest pass over the Southern Alps. The landscape is wild and dramatic here, and in keeping with its drama you can spend time hiking across ancient braided river beds.

Following the spine of the Southern Alps further towards the southwest is Mt Cook National Park and nearby Westland National Park. Home to New Zealand's highest mountain and remotest beaches, these two national parks serve up some of the most spectacular scenery on the South Island.

Mount Aspiring and Fiordland further to the south are the largest National Parks in New Zealand. Mount Aspiring is a rugged wilderness in which hikers and mountaineers can enjoy the best of the Southern Alps. Fiordland is perhaps one of the most hauntingly beautiful places on Earth, where water, mountain, sky and forest come together in a natural crescendo that is like nowhere else in this world.

Stewart Island off the main New Zealand coastline is the location of the most southerly National Park in New Zealand - Rakiura National Park. Only 1500 miles north of Antarctica, Rakiura is a natural paradise of primitive landscapes unspolit by human influences. If you want to be at peace with nature Rakiura National Park is the place to be.
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