Protected areas of New Zealand

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West Matukituki Valley and the Matukituki River seen from Cascade Saddle in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Protected areas of New Zealand receive protection to preserve their environmental, historical or cultural value. The method and aims of protection vary according to the importance of the resource and whether it has public or private status.

Nearly 30 percent of the land mass of New Zealand is in public ownership and has some degree of protection; these areas include conservation parks, mainland islands, island reserves, marine reserves, and national parks.


In 1840 Governor Hobson was instructed that some Crown land was to be, "reserved, for the use of the public at large, all tracts which are likely to be required for purposes of public health, utility, convenience, or enjoyment."[1]

The Public Reserves Act 1854 allowed the Crown to grant public utility reserves to provinces. The Public Domains Act 1860 covered domains in Auckland and Wellington and allowed the governor to buy other land.[2] The Public Reserves Act 1877 extended the powers, as did the Public Reserves Act 1881, the Public Reserves and Domains Act 1908, the Public Reserves, Domains and National Parks Act 1928, the Reserves and Domains Act 1953 and now the Reserves Act 1977.[3]

Types of protected areas[edit]

The Department of Conservation administers the majority of the publicly owned land in New Zealand that is protected for scenic, scientific, historic and cultural reasons, or set aside for recreational purposes. More than 80,000 km2 – nearly 30 percent of the nation's total area – is administered by the department. The main legislation controlling this is the Reserves Act 1977.

There are 13 national parks (excluding the disestablished Te Urewera National Park), covering almost 28,900 km2,[4] over 50 Conservation Parks covering some 18,000 km2[citation needed], about 3,500 reserves covering around 15,000 km2, and some 610 km2 of protected private land and covenants that have been set aside for scenic, scientific or ecological reasons. The department also has responsibility for the preservation and management of wildlife, and has a role in management of the coastal marine area with 19 marine reserves and two other protected marine areas from the Kermadec Islands to Fiordland.

Any development in Coastal Marine Areas, which extend up to the mean high water spring mark and up to a kilometre up rivers, require a Resource Consent under the Resource Management Act (RMA).[5]

Conservation parks[edit]

Conservation Parks defined in the Conservation Act 1987 to protect their natural and historic resources, and to facilitate public recreation and enjoyment. Prior to changes in 1987, many Conservation Parks were administered as Forest Parks, before the Conservation Act declared that all such parks would automatically become Conservation Parks in a legal sense.

Island reserves[edit]

Island reserves or island sanctuaries are off-shore islands have been set aside by the Government as reserves for endemic and native New Zealand species.

Mainland islands[edit]

Mainland islands are areas on the North Island and South Island, set aside as reserves for endemic and native species, in a similar way to island reserves. There are several in New Zealand, including five run by the Department of Conservation.

Marine reserves[edit]

New Zealand has over three dozen marine reserves spread around the North and South Islands, and two on outlying island groups. The first marine reserve was created in 1975.

National parks[edit]

There are 13 national parks, covering just under 25,000 km2.

National reserves[edit]

A national reserve is a reserve that has been designated as having national importance under section 16 of the Reserves Act 1977 due to their historical or ecological value.[6]

Regional parks[edit]

Regional parks of New Zealand are administered by regional councils.

Scenic reserves[edit]

Scenic reserves are the most common protected area in New Zealand and most are relatively small – many are less than 1 square kilometre, though some are more than 10 square kilometres. Most scenic reserves are visually attractive remnant areas of native forest close to roads.[7] Statutory control of scenic reserves was earlier provided by the Scenery Preservation Act 1903 and now by the Reserves Act 1977.

Esplanade Reserves[edit]

Esplanade Reserves are strips of land beside the sea, rivers and lakes. They were usually 20 m (0.99 ch) wide when created;[3] hence often known as the 'Queen's Chain'.[8] s.229 of the RMA requires that esplanade reserves contribute to the protection of conservation values, by supporting the natural functioning of an adjacent waterway, its water quality, aquatic habitats, natural values, mitigating natural hazards, or allowing public access, proving access is compatible with conservation values.[9] District Plans can set reserve widths and the size of subdivision for which they're required.[10]

Local reserves[edit]

Local reserves can be created for, "utility, road, street, access way, esplanade, service lane, playcentre, kindergarten, plunket room, or other like purpose"[11] They cover a wide range of purposes, many of them not for conservation, such as water reserves to protect reservoir catchments,[12] quarry reserves,[13] pilot reserves,[14] and aerodrome reserves.[15]


New Zealand is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, and as of 2008 there are six Ramsar-registered sites in New Zealand:

Travis Wetland is an ecological restoration project in Christchurch that was purchased by the city council as a nature reserve.

World Heritage sites[edit]

There are three World Heritage Sites in New Zealand:

Other protected areas[edit]

In the 1980s SSWIs (Sites of special wildlife interest) and WERIs (Wetlands of ecological and representative importance) were designated.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "No. 20. — Lord John Russell to Governor Hobson". Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  2. ^ "Public Domains Act 1860 (24 Victoriae 1860 No 32)". Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  3. ^ a b "Reserves Act Guide" (PDF). Department of Conservation. 2004.
  4. ^ "Data Table - Protected Areas - LINZ Data Service". Land Information New Zealand. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  5. ^ "Resource Management Act 1991 No 69 (as at 11 July 2018), Public Act Coastal marine area – New Zealand Legislation". Retrieved 2018-07-21.
  6. ^ "Submission to Local Government and Environment Committee" (PDF). The Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society. 17 September 2010. pp. 7–8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  7. ^ Molloy, Les (1 September 2015). "Protected areas – Scenic, historic, recreation and other reserves". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Access along rivers, lakes and the coast". Retrieved 2019-01-12.
  9. ^ "Resource Management Act 1991 No 69 (as at 12 November 2018), Public Act 229 Purposes of esplanade reserves and esplanade strips – New Zealand Legislation". Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  10. ^ "Esplanade reserves and esplanade strips". Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  11. ^ Reserves Act 1977 s.16
  12. ^ "Board of Inquiry into the Turitea Wind Farm Proposal" (PDF). September 2011.
  13. ^ "NGARUAWAHIA'S WATER, NEW ZEALAND HERALD". 23 Apr 1923. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  14. ^ "Reserves and other Lands Disposal Act 1939 No 23 (as at 16 December 1987), Public Act 12 Cancelling Orders in Council relating to the Pilot Reserve, and validating and amending Orders in Council relating to the Lighthouse and Signal-station Reserve in the Town of Napier". Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  15. ^ "A GUIDE FOR RESERVE ADMINISTERING BODIES" (PDF). Department of Conservation. 2 Nov 2016.
  16. ^ "Department of Conservation guidelines for assessing significant ecological values" (PDF). May 2016.

External links[edit]