of the beholder. But we would all agree that our world is full of breathtaking views of lush valleys, spectacular mountain tops, pristine rivers and many more. It would be impossible to discount the natural beauty of the landscapes of the Grand Canyon in the U.S. where steep sides of layered bands of red rock, revealing millions of years of geological history, reveal the Colorado River or Montana’s Glacier National Park with its many and massive mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and of course, glaciers.
It has been possible to preserve most of these unique places by designating them as national parks. While different countries define national parks slightly differently, broadly speaking, national parks are areas used for conservation purposes. These areas are often a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a state declares or owns¹. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are over 6,500 national parks today¹ which is testament to the commitment of governments across continents to protect our world’s unique landscapes. While many other areas deserve to receive the same level of protection by being designated national parks, it is important to note that national parks may be the oldest way of legislating for the establishment of protected areas. In fact, the U.S. in particular has a very established history on national parks, having been the first country to establish a national park in 1872 – Yellowstone National Park². While some argue that the first national park was actually established over 100 years earlier in Mongolia, when in 1778 the government designated the area of Bogd Khan Uul, originally chartered by Ming Dynasty officials in the 1500s as an area to be kept off limits to extractive uses, protected for its beauty and sacred nature³, the U.S. most certainly picked up the national parks baton.
At least partly, this came about thanks to the persistence and sustained efforts of Scottish naturalist and conservation advocate John Muir considered the “father of national parks”. His commitment to protecting wilderness in the U.S. earned him the nickname “John of the Mountains” ⁴. He was also an environmental philosopher who among other things wrote essays and books about his adventures in nature in the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada. And while John Muir’s writings undoubtedly inspired many including U.S. Presidents and Congress representatives to protect wilderness, his followers today are continuing his work through organisations such as the Sierra Club or the John Muir Trust. The proliferation of national parks since the establishment of the first one in the U.S. underlines how appealing the idea was even back in the late 19th century. Other countries followed suit and soon enough national parks were appearing in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
But almost two centuries later, with such a great range of national parks to visit and enjoy, can we pick 5 that feature some of the most outstanding geographical landscapes as well as flora and fauna?
Most of our readers will know about the U.S.’s Grand Canyon or Rocky Mountains or indeed South Africa’s Krueger Park. But what are some of the lesser known hidden gems? The Greentumble team has had a look and here is our list of 5 most amazing national parks you need to add to your bucket list!
#1 The Etosha National Park, Namibia
Africa offers unique landscapes and rare sightings of species such as elephants, rhinos and zebras. This and much more comes together in Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Half the size of Switzerland, the Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s largest nature reserves, home to giraffes, zebras, lions, cheetahs and leopards, as well as a unique climate, unusual geography and interesting history⁵.
Etosha stands for ‘Great White Place’ in the Oshindonga language; it has been named in this way for its ashen appearance⁵. The national park’s main feature is a wide pan of glaring white mineral salts which is transformed briefly into a temporary lake during the rainy season. The lake and surrounding perennial springs attract thousands of living creatures, most notably huge flocks of flamingos and other wading birds. The rest of the park is covered with mopane woodlands flanked by grassy plains, ideal conditions for a wide variety of game species⁵.
#2 The Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
The Fiordland National Park in the South Island of New Zealand is one of the most stunning places in the world. It was established in 1952 and today covers over 1.2 million hectares in size, and encompasses mountain, lake, fjord and rainforests⁶. It boasts a diverse range of flora and fauna, a lot it particularly endemic as they have developed in relative isolation such as the world’s only flightless parrot the Kakapo⁷. The possibility of kayaking through the silent fjords amid towering peaks and rushing waterfalls is a truly life-changing adventure. It is only fitting that one of the Fiordland National Park’s sites in particular, Milford Sound, has been described by Rudyard Kipling as the Eighth Wonder of the World⁸ on account of its glacier formations dating back to the Ice Age.
#3 The Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Located in Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, this national park encompasses rugged rainforest, white-sand beaches and coral reefs. It’s renowned for its vast diversity of tropical plants and wildlife, from three-toed sloths and endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys to scarlet macaws. The species diversity is truly unique – just as an example 123 butterflies, 33 of ophidians and snakes, as well as 48 toads and frog have been discovered so far⁹.
The borders of the protected peninsula guard the beautiful beaches of Pan Dulce (Sweet Bread), Carate and Carbonara. Some of the other beaches, such as Espadilla Sur and Manuel Antonio, also offer very good snorkeling when the water is clear, which is best during the dry season.
#4 The Guilin and Lijang River National Park, China
China’s Guilin and Lijang River National Park offers one of the most evocative panoramas on Earth. The national park covers a huge region which is dominated by a maze of limestone cones, cylinders and hills known as karst peaks that have inspired Chinese poets and artists. The Li river which runs through the park is such an important part of Chinese culture that it is featured on the currency⁶. The area is central to Chinese heritage and includes a lot of cultural relics such as over two thousand stone carvings as well as the Imperial City of the Ming and Qing dynasties¹⁰.
#5 The Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands were coined as the “Tortoise Islands” shortly after their discovery, in honour of the emblematic species that inhabited it. In 1831, Charles Darwin arrived to the Galapagos Islands where he stayed for five years and whose observations during that time informed his theory about the evolution of species¹¹. Today, the Galapagos National Park off the coast of Ecuador is still home to one of the world’s most interesting and unique ecosystems. One such example is the world’s only ocean-swimming lizard, the Galapagos marine iguana.