National parks: taonga of the land

A popular holiday destination for New Zealanders over the coming weeks will be those beautiful and unspoiled natural havens – our national parks.

We have many far-sighted individuals to thank for the opportunity to visit these stunning pockets of wilderness. The first was a Tūwharetoa chief called Horonuku Te Heuheu. Concerned that an argument over ownership would lead to the splitting up of the central North Island volcanoes area, he gave the land to the Crown for a national park. In this way he preserved both the land and its tapu. It became Tongariro National Park in 1894.Book cover

Perhaps unsurprisingly the government’s early desire for national parks had less to do with preservation than with lucre. They were run mainly as tourist and recreational  areas in the hope of making the country money via tourism  – and with no regard for the native flora and fauna. Indeed various individuals introduced such great “improvements” as heather, lupins and deer to them, with official blessings.

Bad behaviour wasn’t confined to those little episodes either.  According to Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Arthur’s Pass National Park came into being as a result of the scandalous predations of visitors delivered there from Christchurch on excursion trains in the 1920s. They stripped the plants of  flowers, cut down trees and generally despoiled the place. However, by this time there were more conservationists around and both they and the locals lobbied until it became a park in 1926.

Thank goodness for the wisdom of those like Horonuku Te Heuheu and enthusiasts like  Harry Ell and his ilk.

We have some wonderful books to help you make the best of these precious places – coffee table books  for stay-at-homes, or visitor guides and tramping guides to take with you on your trip, or even mountaineering guides if you’re really feeling energetic.

What is your favourite national park?