National Parks in New Zealand: Naturally wild down under

New Zealand’s diverse landscape opens up a world of wild extremes. One day you're swimming with swirling schools of red moki fish. The next you'll find yourself gazing at a geyser, or swooning to the sulphurous hissing sounds of still-active volcanoes. You can scan Abel Tasman National Park’s turquoise waters for fur seals or snap waddling penguins on Stewart Island’s beaches. Save time to ski and tramp in the Southern Alps, the towering snow-capped mountains that form the South Island's rugged backbone.

North Island parks and reserves

Steaming geothermal sites hubble and bubble in reserves all around Rotorua and Taupo. An even more surreal sight awaits on the North Island’s southern coast, New Zealand's very own 'badlands'. Size up the 30-metre-high Putangirua Pinnacles, natural pillars formed of molten rock and jagged boulders. Hike the dry riverbed to these weather-beaten monoliths, better known to Lord of the Rings movie geeks as the 'Paths of the Dead'.

Volcanic craters and cones lend Tongariro National Park the eerie feel of a lunar landscape. Lace up your moonboots and climb the steep trails that crisscross this other-worldly park. Steaming rock fissures, old lava flows, smoking craters and aquamarine thermal lakes reveal a world still under construction.

South Island parks and reserves

In a land jam-packed with vast national parks, Fiordland is the daddy of them all. Tramp through moss-covered rainforests set against magnificent purple mountains, and pick alpine wildflowers in summer. Cruise boats slip through dark fiords, passing waterfalls hundreds of metres high. Grab a kayak and a paddle for your very own close-up view, and watch for the telltale splashes of curious dolphins.

New Zealand’s smallest national park, Abel Tasman is a nature lover’s paradise of turquoise waters and golden beaches. Hop in a water taxi for a wind-blown trip along Tasman Bay then hike back along beach-lined tracks shaded by lush sub-tropical forest. Tramp the trails of Nelson Lakes National Park in autumn. You’ll discover honeydew beech forests, along with honey-eating birds with a taste for tree trunks coated in the sweet, glistening nectar.

Underwater reserves

Slip beneath gentle waves at Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve off the Northland coast to discover one of the world’s most spectacular dive sites. In underwater caves and crags you’ll come face to face with fierce-looking mosaic moray eels, their tiny teeth bared. Churning schools of blue cod and giant snapper look somewhat friendlier. Further south at Goat Island Marine Reserve, blue maomao and red goatfish crowd round to get a closer look at you.

Explore the watery world of Tonga Island Marine Reserve, on the coast of Abel Tasman National Park. Perky blue penguins and curious fur seals lead the way to favourite snorkelling sites. A peek beneath the surface reveals pink sea algae and wary crayfish peering from beneath the rocks.

Stewart Island/Rakiura National Park

Rakiura is no small fry in the national park stakes, especially when you consider that it covers around 85 per cent of verdant Stewart Island. You can't get much further south than this. Not without an Antarctic icebreaker and a good compass, anyway. Luckily, there’s easy tramping to be had along the Rakiura Track, a 37km route taking in remote beaches, rimu forest and prolific birdlife. Look out for penguins and speckled brown weka. You might even spot an elusive kiwi.

Rakiura's southerly location means some of the most spectacular sunsets – and sunrises – anywhere on the planet. Linger outside after nightfall to catch a glimpse of the glowing Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, bright flashes of colour that illuminate the night sky.