Staying overnight in a New Zealand national park

In New Zealand’s national parks, accommodation options range from rustic huts to grand chalets. Here are five options for combining rest with stunning natural scenery.

Moonlight Tops Hut - Paparoa Track, West Coast, New Zealand
New Zealand is renowned for its rugged mountain ranges and golden beaches, native forests and unique wildlife. And because the people of New Zealand care deeply for their environment, significant portions of countryside have been designated areas for protection, with nearly 30 per cent of the land in public ownership or otherwise protected. 

For nature lovers eager to immerse themselves in Aotearoa’s great outdoors, it’s especially hard to beat a night in a national park, whether you choose to hike all day and sleep in a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut, or you prefer a luxury lodge where every comfort is considered. 

With so many options for resting your head, the only difficulty will be deciding where to go.

Moonlight Tops Hut, Paparoa National Park 

The Paparoa Track opened in December 2019 and is New Zealand’s newest Great Walk. Located on the west coast of the South Island, the Moonlight Tops Hut is one of the track’s highlights. Situated at the trail’s highest point, this 20-bed hut offers astonishing views of alpine landscapes, flourishing rainforest and the dramatic West Coast. The track takes three days to complete, and the highlights for hikers include towering limestone cliffs, steep gorges and lush vegetation, including beech forests and rainforests with glades of nīkau palms. Starting on the Croesus Track, it’s 20 kilometres from the Smoke-ho car park to Moonlight Tops Hut, where there are bunk beds, running water, toilets, communal cooking facilities and heating. As with all the accommodation on the Great Walks, hikers will need to reserve their places via the Department of Conservation (DOC) booking system.

Whare Kea Chalet, Mount Aspiring National Park 

In the South Island’s Southern Alps, Mount Aspiring National Park is part of the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area and its beauty is astonishing. The soaring mountains, winding rivers and native beech forest are nature at its most majestic. During the winter months it is covered in snow, but in summer expect tussock and pretty mountain blooms. Whatever the weather, it can be a challenging landscape, which means a little luxury is all the more welcome. Named for the cheeky alpine parrot, Whare Kea Chalet provides relaxed yet luxurious accommodation 1750 metres above sea level on top of the Albert Burn Saddle. Guests arrive by 20-minute helicopter ride from Wanaka. The epitome of alpine elegance, Whare Kea Chalet accommodates up to six guests. 

The Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park 

Nestled in the beautiful Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the romantic Hermitage Hotel at Mount Cook Alpine Village provides the perfect base for exploring the frozen wonders of the region. There are opportunities to visit glaciers, terminal lakes and mighty rivers, and you’ll also find New Zealand’s tallest peak, the towering Aoraki (Māori for “cloud piercer”) soaring above the landscape at 3724 metres. The Hermitage has been charming climbers and explorers since 1884 – although the current incarnation was built in the 1950s – and the views are out of this world. Because there is so little light pollution, the stargazing is especially impressive, so book a Big Sky Stargazing tour at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre’s planetarium, right next to the hotel.

Fiordland Jewel, Fiordland National Park 

Fiordland National Park is in the South Island’s south-west and is home to Milford Sound, one of the most remote and beautiful locations on earth. To experience this rugged wonderland without sacrificing comfort, spend a night or two or take a multi-day cruise aboard the luxurious Fiordland Jewel, a 24-metre custom-built catamaran. Cruise around the high-walled waterways, kayak with seals and dolphins, and maybe even catch a fish for your dinner. At the end of the day, contemplate nature while soaking in the hot tub on the top deck. 

Unique Whanganui River Experience, Whanganui National Park 

The North Island’s Whanganui River is more than just a scenic waterway, it’s a precious taonga (treasure), a source of life and, in Māori culture, it is recognised as a living, breathing entity. For visitors who take a tour with Unique Whanganui River Experience, a favourite overnight stop is Tieke Kainga hut, the home of Tieke Kainga Marae. If whānau (family) are present, visitors may be invited to participate in a pōwhiri (welcome ceremony) which is a very moving experience. By travelling with guides who love the river, the bush and the wildlife, guests will hear stories of people, culture and history. At the end of each day, sleeping in tents on comfortable air mattresses, the sounds of the river and night birds will lull you to sleep. 

Travel Tips: National Park Stays

Moonlight Tops Hut, Paparoa National Park 
  • On the South Island’s West Coast, this 55-kilometre long hike starts on the Croesus Track, 250 kilometres north-west of Christchurch
  • There are just 20 beds in this new accommodation, so you’ll need to book Moonlight Tops Hut with the Department of Conservation 
  • The trail takes three days to complete; mountain bikers are welcome on portions of the trail
ABOUT: Paparoa National Park 
The region around Paparoa National Park is bursting with wonders. Drive along the rugged West Coast and visit Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks. Cycling is also popular, with mountain bikes welcome on parts of the newly created Paparoa Track – although at Advanced: Grade 4, if you’re not overly confident on two wheels, perhaps a tour of Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth is more your speed. Canoeing trips, horse treks and glow-worm tours in the area are also excellent.

Whare Kea Chalet, Mount Aspiring National Park 
  • Mount Aspiring National Park is one of three national parks that make up the massive Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area
  • At 1750 metres above sea level, Whare Kea is only accessible by helicopter
  • In the warmer months, hiking is popular and in winter, heli-skiing is excellent 

ABOUT: Mount Aspiring National Park 

Visitors to South Island’s Mount Aspiring National Park love driving through Haast Pass, a scenic route that takes motorists from Wanaka to the West Coast. Along the way there are numerous scenic walks: Blue Pools is a mostly flat one-hour loop and Fantail Falls is a short stroll to a gorgeous 10-metre cascade. Jet boating is another option for experiencing the dramatic landscape as you race down the glacier-fed Matukituki and Makarora rivers.

The Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki/Mount Cook 
  • The mountain’s Māori name, Aoraki, means “cloud piercer”
  • The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre features a planetarium, 2D and 3D cinema experiences and a small museum

ABOUT: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park 

The Tasman Glacier is New Zealand’s largest and visitors can admire this icy marvel by taking a cruise on the glacier’s terminal lake or set off on a guided heli-hike adventure on the ice. There are also several delightful walks in the area, including the easy Bowen Bush Walk, the 30-minute Glencoe Walk through forest to a lookout, or the four-hour return Hooker Valley Track. 

Fiordland Jewel, Fiordland National Park 
  • Fiordland National Park is in the South Island’s south-west, home to the majestic Milford Sound
  • Fiordland has several Great Walks, including the Kepler, Routeburn and Milford tracks, as well as the accessible year-round Hollyford Track
  • The luxurious Fiordland Jewel is a custom-built 24-metre catamaran

ABOUT: Fiordland National Park 

Walking in the 12,607-square-kilometre Fiordland National Park is world-class. Try the Kepler and Hollyford tracks, or maybe the gorgeous Key Summit hike, a leisurely seven-kilometre return. Jet boating down the Grade 3 rapids of the Wairaurahiri River is another exhilarating way to explore. 

Unique Whanganui River Experience, Whanganui National Park 
  • Whanganui River carves its way through New Zealand’s North Island from the slopes of Mt Tongariro to the Tasman Sea
  • In Māori culture, the river is recognised as a living, breathing entity
  • Unique Whanganui River Experience hosts overnight canoeing trips, camping on riverbanks, and the emphasis is on comfort

ABOUT: Whanganui National Park 

There’s excellent cycling in Whanganui National Park and the Mountains to Sea trail is a beauty. Starting in Ohakune and ending in Whanganui, the 199-kilometre ride takes two to six days and includes a 32-kilometre river transfer. Lauren’s Lavender Farm, complete with cafe, is an aromatic delight especially when the plants are in bloom from December through March, and the best way to arrive is on a tour with Forgotten World Jet.

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