World Heritage Walking Trails New Zealand

New Zealand is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites which are revered for their environmental, spiritual and cultural significance.

I think it’s fairly well acknowledged by now that New Zealand isn’t just an ordinary country. It is one of the best as far as stunning landscapes go and known for being packed with the most beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery in the world. It’s very difficult to summarize New Zealand, it’s a land with many diverse regions and landscapes stretching across two main and a myriad of small off-shore islands.

With its friendly and embracing culture as described by visiting travelers and adventurers. No wonder New Zealand’s outstanding natural and cultural value has been internationally recognized by UNESCO for it’s three World Heritage Sites. UNESCO World Heritage sites are described as “conservation areas of superb natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty with extraordinary cultural and environmental significance”. New Zealand is currently home to three UNESCO World Heritage Trails which are, the Tongariro National Park, Te Wahipounamu (meaning place of pounamu - or Greenstone) and the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands, a host to a wide range of sea birds, penguins and invertebrates.

These sites are protected by UNESCO World Heritage against the threat of damage so that their natural and cultural significance can be fully appreciated for centuries to come. There a also a myriad of walking tracks and trails criss crossing all World Heritage areas including the South Islands Fiordland, Mt Aspiring and Mt Coook National Parks.

Tongariro National Park

The Tongariro National was the first region to be recognized as a World Heritage site, in 1992, confirming the great natural and cultural significance of this area. It is situated in the central North Island, just south of Lake Taupo, and covers almost 80,000 hectares. The park offers an environment of stunning diversity with mountains such as Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro which reaches an impressive altitude of 500 to 1,500m.

Mount Pihanga and Mount Kakaramea lie 3km north of the main park on the far side of Lake Rotoaira. These mars like landscapes are formed by still active volcanoes and boast at their high points a series of emerald lakes, alpine meadows and in their lower regions natural hot springs. These mountains and volcanoes hold deep spiritual significance to the Maori people and represents a cultural and religious link between them, their environment, their traditions and beliefs.

Even though these volcanoes are still very much alive, with Mount Tongariro erupting as recently as August 2012, about 70,000 hikers walk the famous “Tongariro Alpine Crossing” every summer seeking an unforgettable wilderness experience.

Tongariro Activities

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing offers exceptional volcanic scenery and views of the Lake Taupo and Mt Taranaki. There are overnight hikes which include the four-day Northern Circuit and the six-day Round the Mountain track. Apart from walking activities, skiing and boarding at Mount Ruapehu's ski areas are also popular activities in the Whakapapa and Turoa areas beginning in July and running until late spring.

If skiing is not your thing, you can try tobogganing and tubing or simply take a drive up to the car park at Whakaapa for a spectacular view. Another feature of this areas is the Tongariro River which offers white water rafting and is also a popular destination for trout fishermen.

Getting to Tongariro Tongariro is easily accessible from a selection of neighboring towns. These towns are well established with good quality roads all offering stunning scenery no matter where visitors start their journey. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Whakapapa ski area both start at Mount Ruapehu, and the drive is about 20 to 35mins from National Park Village, 45mins to 1hr from Ohakune, Turangi or Taumarunui and between 1hr2 0 and 1hr 35 from Lake Taupo township.

Te Wahipounamu Since gaining World Heritage status in 1990, Te Wahipounamu has been standing as a truly spectacular testament to New Zealand most outstanding wilderness regions, incorporating several national parks in Southwest New Zealand Fiordland with Westland, Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook National Parks. Te Wahiponamu is situated in South-West New Zealand covering about 2.6 million hectares with the entire area being essentially a mountainous wilderness.

Neighboring rivers race each other on their short and wild journey to the sea.  Pounding ocean waves relentlessly sculpt the rugged coastline. About two-thirds of Te Wahiponamu is covered with southern beech and podocarp forest, with some specimens standing for over 800 years. It features a landscape of exceptional beauty shaped by successive glaciations creating glacial rivers traveling from the ice down into deep lakes.

Along the way the rivers travel through unbroken forests, down waterfalls to lakes and  work their way out to rocky coasts with towering cliffs. It possesses some of the best modern representations of the original flora and fauna in Gondwanaland. The still virgin landforms, animals and plants were once found on the ancient Gondwanaland and are much the same as they were thousands or even millions of years ago.

Here you can also find the only alpine parrot in the world - the kea, and the endangered takahe, a large and flightless bird. There are also kiwis, giant carnivorous Powelliphanta land snails and many marine animals including the hectors Dolphin, the worlds only fresh water dolphin.

Activities in Te Wahipounamu

From scenic flights to River jet boat safaris, there are so many activities and ways to explore this amazing part of the world. The short walks and overnight hiking trails are managed by the Department of Conservation. There are also multi-day hikes that will lead you deep into many forested valleys and over craggy mountain passes, like what you will discover on the Routeburn, Hollyford and Milford tracks.

There are also several walking tracks near the village at Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak which includes a one-hour trail to view the stunning Tasman Glacier. There also also several short walks which lead to the terminal faces of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers from the west coast with longer guided walks or heli hikes onto the glaciers themselves.

New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands are wild and beautiful. Located in the Southern Ocean southeast of New Zealand. This heritage area combines six groups of islands extending about 12 nautical miles from the coast of each island group - which are known as the Bounty Islands, the Antipodes, the Snares, the Auckland Islands, and Campbell Island.

These islands serve as a habitat for some of the most unique wildlife on earth with the world's rarest sea lion making its home here. Also notable is the range and large number of seabirds and penguins nesting in these islands as well as a host of coastal plants and invertebrates. Some of the species of seabirds are not found anywhere else in the world. It is a very rare privilege to visit these islands and their lack of human inhabitation goes a long way to ensuring that their unique ecosystems remain unchanged.

The guided expeditions available on purpose-built vessels control visitor numbers to ensure the habitat continues to be protected.

World Heritage Walking Tour Highlights Enjoy the very best of New Zealand in the World Heritage Walking Tour with guided walking trips on New Zealand’s best hiking trails. The Milford, Routeburn and Hollyford tracks, Arthur’s Pass and Aoraki Mt Cook National Parks offer a sample of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand’s South Islansd. Visitors can also enjoy cycling trips alongside tree lines rivers or guided kayaking on tranquil Okarito Lagoon and cruises at the Lake Wanaka cruise and island wildlife encounter.

There is also:

  • Guided Hiking at Fox Glacier.
  • Gibbston Valley wine country and Queenstown walks.
  • Enjoy stunning scenery with helicopter flights from Milford Sound to Martins Bay including overnight stays in Milford Sound and secluded Martins Bay Lodge.
  • Fiordland back country jet boats
  • Guided star gazing and planetarium at Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.

Key Tips to consider for a World Heritage Walking Tour

  • Before departing on a walk, it’s important to check at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre for any new information on weather, volcanic activity and track conditions.
  • Be sure to fill in an intention form at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre when planning to stay overnight in a hikers' hut.
  • Prepare yourself with adequate clothing, equipment and experience, anyone is welcome at any of these parks at any time of year.
  • Come rain, come shine, summer or winter, make sure you take along your sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • When preparing for an adventure in any of these World Heritage Walking Trails, make sure you are well prepared and equipped for all weather eventualities.
  • If you are short on time and want to see the “highlight reel” or the cream of New Zealand’s best scenery so to speak, then you may wish to consider traveling with an all inclusive small group tour. This way you can enjoy the pick of the best of New Zealand’s sights without having to think about where to stay, eat or how and where to travel.
  • If you are considering whether you should walk New Zealand World Heritage parks to travel with a walking tour company - here are some considerations and walking trail options you might like to think about to ensure an amazing experience.

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