Defined as being places with cultural and/or national significance by the World Heritage Committee, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are protected against the threat of damage in our rapidly developing world, keeping them reserved for generations to enjoy and learn from in the future. With its rich history, ancient Maori culture and breath-taking natural scenery, you won’t find it hard to believe that New Zealand boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites – Te Wahipounamu, Tongariro National Park, and the Sub Antarctic Islands.
Located in South West New Zealand, this area was first granted World Heritage status in 1990 and incorporates the Fiordland, Westland, Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook National Parks. Featuring a dramatic landscape, Te Wahipounamu offers some truly breath-taking scenery and was shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. It boasts a rich natural history, and two thirds of the area is covered with southern beech and podocarp forest, with trees that are more than 800 years old!
The area is also home to the only alpine parrot in the world – the kea – as well as the rare and endangered takahe – a large flightless bird. Administered by the Southland Conservancy, this scenic area covers around 1.9 million hectares.
Tongariro National Park
Located in the centre of the North Island, the Tongariro National Park became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under revised cultural criteria in 1993. The park has a huge cultural and religious significance for the Maori people, with its mountains symbolising spiritual links between the community and the environment around it. Only the fourth National Park to be established in the world (after the USA’s Yellowstone National Park), Tongaririo houses all kinds of flora and unique natural scenery including peaceful lakes, herb fields, dense forests, desert-like plateaux and active volcanoes.
Sub Antarctic Islands
Situated in the Southern Ocean, just south-east of New Zealand, the country’s Sub Antarctic Islands are comprised of the Auckland, Campbell, Snares, Antipodes and Bounty islands, which are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The islands are also home to 126 different species of birds and penguins and are particularly famous for housing 40 species of seabird, five of which are completely unique to the Sub Antarctic Islands.
New World Heritage Sites
New Zealand is so rich in natural beauty and culture, that it seems hard to believe that only three sites have currently been granted World Heritage status. Many people also feel the same way, and there are constantly plans and bids to transform other areas of importance into World Heritage Sites. Currently there is a bid underway to get a section of the skies above Aorangi Mt Cook declared a World Heritage Site, a move which would see the declaration of the world’s first starlight heritage site in the world.
The Department of Conservation has also developed a tentative list of the country’s future World Heritage sites which includes Auckland Volcanic Field, Kermadec Islands and marine reserve, Kahurangi National Park and Whakarua Moutere amongst others. See them all for yourself. Start planning your Kiwi vacation.