New Zealand travel information Tourleader New Zealand

The landscape of New Zealand

Alpine landscape: Key Summit in Fiordland

You may have heard of the many natural wonders of New Zealand: the active volcanoes, deep fiords, high snowy mountains, ancient native forests, glaciers close to the beach, smelly geothermal areas, deep glowworm caves and spectacular beaches. In fact, there is nearly no other country on earth with such diverse and contrasting geological and ecological features, all within a relatively small area. No wonder it’s a great place for stunning film locations.

New Zealand itself has been on a long journey. Since its landmass parted from the ancient Gondwana continent 80 million years ago, many climate changes and tectonic movements have created today’s scenery. New Zealand lies not only above a collision zone of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates, these plates also subdue each other in opposite ways under the North and South Islands (the Pacific plate climbs over the Australian one in the south and gets pushed under in the north). These dynamics led to dozens of volcanoes in the north and a high alpine range in the south, a generally hilly landscape with only a few plains created from rivers. The movement of glaciers generated fiords and the sinking of whole mountain regions generated sounds and coasts dotted with peninsulas or offshore islands.

You will be able to see the resulting beauty up close, there are hundreds of well maintained walks which take you to the heart of the land.

The Department of Conservation alone manages 12,500 km of walking tracks (especially famous are New Zealand’s '9 Great Walks' through the most striking scenery, they need advance booking because they are so popular), and then there are many more regional council tracks.

New Zealand landscape facts:

  • One third of New Zealand's land area is protected by the Department of Conservation (DOC), in 14 National Parks (the first one, Tongariro, having been established in 1887 - the last one, Rakiura on Stewart Island, dates from 2002), 20 Forest Parks (13 in the North Island and 7 in the South Island), 3 World Heritage sites (Tongariro National Park, „Te Wahipounamu“ - South West New Zealand and the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand), over 30 marine reserves (7.6% of New Zealand’s territorial sea) and over 3,500 other scenic, scientific, recreational, historic or cultural reserves.
  • New Zealand has the 9th longest coast in the world, with a total length of over 15,000 kilometres. The Marlborough Sounds alone constitute 15% of this total length.Download the Tourleader New Zealand website!
  • There are also over 1,000 rivers and around 40 lakes with a surface over 10km2.
  • Because the mountains and rivers are comparably young, also waterfalls are very common (the highest at 580m being the Sutherland Falls near Milford Sound, rated 7th most scenic waterfall in the world by, but New Zealand’s most photographed ones are the Whangarei Falls), as well as exciting rapids.
  • Also many caves are accessible to visitors, 30 cave systems are longer than 3.5km (the longest with over 50km Bulmer Cavern in Mt Owen) and 30 are deeper than 200 metres!
  • Do you want to know why the beaches and walking tracks are so empty? 203 countries have a higher population density than New Zealand. There are only 15 people per km2, compared with over 240 in the UK, and over 60% of the population lives in the 10 biggest cities! 

Coastal landscape: Cathedral Cove in Coromandel

And where the landscape is not spectacular there is always fresh and green rolling farmland, with sheep and cows as far as the eye can see!

Map of the main North Island landscape features: 
Map of the main North Island landscape features
Map of the main South Island landscape features: 
Map of the main South Island landscape features

See our ebooks

The top 10 best New Zealand beaches! Maori language course - short introduction to the amazing and unique animals of New Zealand.

Travel in New Zealand - an introduction for travellers to Aotearoa, 'land of the long white cloud'.

New Zealand animals - short introduction to the amazing and unique animals of New Zealand.

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