For the fourth year in a row, New Zealand has earned the title of “best country in the world.” More than 75,000 readers voted in the Telegraph Travel Awards to bestow the highest honor on the country based on its landscapes, culture, wildlife and more. Need proof? Take a look at these gorgeous images of national parks and other spectacular places scattered throughout the country, like Westland Tai Poutini National Park at image above. You’ll understand why travelers admire this beautiful island land.
Considered by many to be New Zealand’s most famous walk, the Milford Track earned accolades more than a century ago when New Zealand poet Blanche Baughan told the London Spectator that the Milford Track was “the finest walk in the world.” The 33-mile trail starts at Lake Te Anau and crosses boardwalks, suspension bridges and a mountain pass. Hikers who explore the track also will discover Sutherland Falls, one of New Zealand’s tallest waterfalls.
Nelson Lakes National Park
At the center of this 250,000-acre national park are two large alpine lakes, Rotoiti and Rotoroa, that were formed by massive glaciers during the most recent ice ages. Nelson Lakes is in the South Island and is home to the beginning of the Southern Alps. The forests in the park are dominated by beech trees, with a nature recovery project working to restore beech along the shores. The nearby village of St. Arnaud is a popular base for visitors to the park.
Located between the Seaward Kaikoura Range and the Pacific Ocean, the village of Kaikoura is about a two-hour drive from Christchurch. Kaikoura was once a whaling town, but today it’s the perfect place for marine mammal encounters because fur seals and dolphins live in the waters and opportunities for whale-watching are plentiful. Hungry? You’ll want to eat crayfish in Kaikoura. (In the Maori language “kai” means food and “koura” means crayfish.)
Tongariro National Park
The oldest national park in New Zealand, Tongariro has been awarded dual World Heritage Site status as a cultural and natural site. Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro are active volcanic mountains at the center of the park, surrounded by lakes, meadows and hot springs. The mountains have cultural and spiritual significance for the Maori people. The park’s most popular activity is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a one-day trek that traverses the slopes of all three mountains.
At the northern tip of the North Island, the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean at Cape Reinga. From the lighthouse, it’s possible to watch the two seas clash. The area is significant to the Maori people because it was the leaping off point from which spirits returned to their final journey. It was believed that the spirits leapt from a gnarled pohutukawa tree, believed to be over 800 years old and which sits at the northernmost tip of the cape.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Named for one of New Zealand’s highest peaks, Mount Aspiring National Park is “a dreamland of mountains, glaciers, river valleys and alpine lakes,” according to New Zealand Tourism. A popular place for hikers, the park offers an ever-changing array of landscapes as well as a lively mix of flora and fauna, including kea, the mischievous mountain parrots that are known for being a bit too curious about visitors’ personal belongings.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Known for its glaciers, this national park is located on the western coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Westland Tai Poutini extends from the highest peak of the Southern Alps all the way to the remote beaches of the coastline. The fast-moving Fox glacier and Franz Josef glacier move up to 13 feet each day, making them popular with tourists. You can hear the crunching, grinding sounds as the ice moves down the valleys.
These earth pillars, also known as hoodoos, were created after thousands of years of erosion. The Putangirua Pinnacles formed in the valley of the Aorangi Range as parts of the mountains were slowly washed down the coast. Although they look incredibly ancient, the pinnacles are thought to be less than 125,000 years old. Because of the area’s unique and otherworldly appearance, it’s no surprise it was used in a scene for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand’s smallest national park is known for its beaches, granite cliffs and amazing views. Abel Tasman’s famous coastal track — classed as one of the country’s “Great Walks” — takes between three and five days to complete. It winds through golden beaches, headlands and native forests. A trail leads from Te Puketea Bay to an ancient Maori pā site. The views are spectacular from this former fort.