Just ask anyone who has been there: New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Currently, it boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Te Wahipounamu, Tongariro National Park, and the Subantarctic Islands...
Te Wahipounamu - South Island
Te Wahipounamu was induced as a World Heritage Site in 1990 - incorporating the Fiordland, Westland, Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook National Parks. It was its dramatic landscape, which was shaped by successive glaciations, that earned it its spot on the UNESCO list.
The area is made up of countless fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls that make it a prize to the country. Over two-thirds of this beautiful area is covered with beech and podocarp forests, some of the specimens within date back more than 800 years. This area is also the only place where both the kea, the only alpine species parrot in the world, as well as the endangered flightless takahe bird live.
This area takes up nearly 10 percent of New Zealand's total landmass and provides an immeasurable amount of beautiful sights to visitors. Around every corner there is wilderness that looks like it was plucked right off a National Geographic cover. There is not much information available for those that wish to wander the back country, but that has never stopped avid back country explorers from flocking there from around the world.
Tongariro National Park - North Island
Tongariro National Park is located in the central part of New Zealand's North Island. It was inducted to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1993 and became the first site in the world to be inscribed to the World Heritage List under the revised cultural criteria.
The mountains situated in the middle of the park are not only beautiful, but have a cultural and religious significance to the native Maori people. Today, they continue to symbolize the spiritual link between the community and the environment around it. The national park itself was the fourth national park created in the world, created just after Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Tongariro encompasses landscapes that range from herb fields to forests and from tranquil lakes to desert-like plateaus and active volcanoes.
While Tongariro National Park has always attracted eager hikers, climbers, skiers, snowboarders and fishermen, more recently it has seen an influx of movie-minded tourist. Mount Tongariro in the centre of the park was one of many natural sights in New Zealand used by Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This has also lead to a number of movie-themed tours in the area, but many chose to explore the park on their own. However, while the Maori eventually handed their sacred sites over to European rulers, the summits of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu mountains are still considered sacred and visitors should treat them with respect.
Subantarctic Islands - South East New Zealand
The Subantarctic Islands off the coast of New Zealand's South Island include the Auckland, Snares, Campbell Bounty and Antipodes Islands. These islands are all rich in a large variety of wildlife, including birds, plants and invertebrates that are found nowhere else in the world. The islands have become famous for the particularly notable large numbers of seabirds and penguins that nest there. Of the 126 species of birds on the island, 40 species are seabirds - five of which breed nowhere else in the world.
The only way to get to these islands is by boat; they are beyond the range of land-launched helicopters and they lack an airstrip. All of the islands require that visitors obtain a permit and be accompanied by a government official. The islands are a highly fragile environment and demand a certain amount of protection. However, jumping through all the hoops in order to travel there makes lucky visitors able to say they have been somewhere that is truly off the beaten track.