Mountains (New Zealand)

Where can I find information about New Zealand mountains?

Entry last updated: 19/12/19


Aotearoa New Zealand is a mountainous country made up of the North and South Islands, with 60% of the South Island being covered in mountains. These mountains formed because New Zealand straddles two tectonic plates. The plates push up the land, forming mountains. The distinctive shape of volcanic mountains can be seen in the North Island, as a result of thick lava having flowed out of vents which formed high cones.

Famous mountains

Here are some of the more well-known mountains of New Zealand, along with some interesting facts.

Mount Māngere: A volcano which last erupted about 20,000 years ago. This was the site of a major pā (fortified Maori settlement), with many of the pā's earthworks still obvious.

Mount Tongariro : This volcano last erupted in 2012 spreading a layer of ash over many miles.

Mount Taranaki (Mount Egmont) : Because of its resemblance to Mount Fuji, Mount Taranaki provided the backdrop for the movie 'The Last Samurai', in which Tom Cruise was the main actor.

Aoraki/Mount Cook: This is the highest mountain in New Zealand measuring 3,754 metres high.

Mount Ruapehu: The largest active volcano in New Zealand, which also has the largest ski field in New Zealand called Whakapapa.

Mount Tarawera: The eruption of this volcano in 1886 lasted for 6 hours and destroyed several villages, along with the famous silica hot springs known as the Pink and White Terraces.

Mount Rangitoto: This volcano emerged unexpectedly from the sea about 600 years ago, and is a favourite destination for hikers and day-trippers.

Mountains in New Zealand

There are some great websites on New Zealand mountains in general and on individual mountains. If you are looking for facts or pictures these websites will help as well.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

  • To find information about New Zealand mountains scroll down the page to Sections, then click on The Bush.
  • From here click on Landscapes which will bring up a list of stories that includes Mountains.
  • You will find lots of information on New Zealand mountains here including mountain ranges, and how mountains form.
Tips: Many web pages have links to further information or to other recommended sites. Following these links is a great way to find out more. This searching method is called 'pearl growing' because you are picking up pieces of sand to make a beautiful pearl!


DigitalNZ is a search site that focuses on New Zealand history and brings together results from lots of different websites.

  • Type the keyword 'mountains' into the search box at the top of the page.
  • You can use other keywords such as 'Mount Ruapehu', or 'Mt Cook' if you are looking for information on a specific mountain.
  • Something to be aware of when searching is that sometimes the word mount is shortened to mt.
  • To narrow down the results of your search, at the top of the page you can chose to limit to images, videos, books, newspapers, along with other types of media.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre

This is one of the databases in EPIC, a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. You may need a password from your school or local library to access it.

This database searches newspaper and magazine articles from New Zealand and Australian titles. You can find information on specific mountains here, and general information including sports or activities that can happen on mountains.

  • Think about what keywords to use in the search box. Are you looking for information on a specific mountain, or perhaps something on mountain geology or mountaineering (climbing mountains)?
  • For example, from using the keywords 'Mt Tarawera', we found an article telling us that the pink and white terraces may not have been totally destroyed in the 1886 volcanic eruption.

New Zealand Geographic

Another one of the EPIC databases which gives online access to the entire archive of the New Zealand Geographic magazine.

  • By doing a general search using the keyword 'mountains' we found a great article called The Noble Mountain Aoraki. It tells the story of the first attempts and successes of people who climbed Aoraki/Mt Cook.
  • You can also find information on conservation in the mountains here. We typed the keywords 'mountain conservation' into the search box and found the article The Also Wren. This is about one of two surviving species of New Zealand wren located in the South Island's remote subalpine regions (the word subalpine means on the higher slopes of mountains just below the treeline).
Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

Volcanic mountains

New Zealand has many volcanoes - they can be extinct, dormant or still active. An active volcano shows signs of unrest or is currently erupting. White Island is New Zealand's most active volcano, and has been built up by continuous volcanic activity over thousands of years. Most volcanoes in New Zealand are in the North Island.

Department of Conservation

The Department of Conservation (DOC for short) is the government website about preserving the natural and historical sites of New Zealand. You can see it’s a government site by looking at the About us or Contact links at the top of the page.

  • To find information on New Zealand volcanoes, type 'volcanoes' into the search box at the top of the page.
  • Click on Central North Island Volcanoes to find information on the activity of the Tongariro National Park volcanoes.


This is an excellent website to keep up to date with natural disasters around New Zealand. Many of New Zealand's mountains are volcanoes, and you can find information on this site about recent volcanic activity.

  1. Go to volcano on the menu bar at the top of the homepage.
  2. You can then choose the volcano, or region, you would like to know more about.
Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.

Mountain ranges

There are many mountain ranges in New Zealand - the longest being the Southern Alps, which stretch down most of the South Island. Within this mountain range are popular tourist destinations such as the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, and Aoraki/Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand.


Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, designed to bring information together with input from many people, called a wiki. This site can be a good starting point for all sorts of topics. By following the links at the bottom of articles, you can expand your search to find related websites and information.

Tips: Don't forget that this information is contributed by lots of different people. If you are using this site, it always pays to check the information against that on other sites or in books from the library.

100% pure New Zealand

This is the official website that has been put together for tourists coming to New Zealand to help them with their travels, and showcase this beautiful country. You can find some good information here on the Southern Alps.

  • Type the keywords 'Southern Alps' into the search box at the top of the page. This will bring up a list of results that you can look through.
  • Here we found the Ministry for Culture & Heritage's audio guide to the Southern Alps, Towering Southern Alps - Roadside Stories.

Significance to Māori

Mountains can have special meaning for Māori, and central North Island mountains in particular have spiritual significance in Māori culture. According to legend, some mountains were gods and warriors whose battles formed the landscape.

100% pure New Zealand

Not just a great website for tourists, this site has useful information on New Zealand in general, including New Zealand's sacred mountains.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara in Māori means ‘the pathway’, and this site is a pathway to excellent and reliable information on New Zealand, including the country’s peoples and culture. We found some good information on Mountains in the Maori world, along with the legend Battle of the mountains.

Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre

You can find some interesting articles here that relate to Māori and mountains. By using the keywords 'Māori legends mountains', we found an article called The Maori legend behind Aoraki.

Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

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