The island nation of New Zealand or “Aotearoa” is about 103,750 square miles of incredibly diverse landscape. Made up of about 700 or so islands of varying sizes, it was pushed up from the ocean around 23 million years old by volcanic activity. Today, there are about 50 volcanoes in New Zealand, as well as sandy shores, rolling hills, fiords, plains and, of course, mountains.
About a third of New Zealand is mountainous, with most of its peaks located on the South Island, one of its two main islands. The centre of the North Island meanwhile is home to a large volcanic plateau. So, what are the highest mountains in New Zealand? For that, we travel to the range known as the Southern Alps. Stretched over approximately 310 miles on the South Island, this is home to 18 mountains exceeding 9,800 feet in height. This includes New Zealand’s highest peak.
1. Aoraki / Mount Cook: The Biggest Mountain in New Zealand
Height: 12,218 feet | Range: Southern Alps
At 12,218 feet above sea level, Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest point in New Zealand. Aside from its High Peak, Aoraki / Mount Cook has two further summits, the Middle Peak at 12,195 feet and Low Peak at 11,788 feet high. It’s a highly glaciated mountain with somewhat unpredictable weather. What’s more, sitting atop the active Alpine Fault, its height continues to rise by about seven millimetres every year.
The Maori named it Aoraki around the 14th century. This was a traditional first name amongst the South Island tribe or “iwi” of Ngāi Tahu. The name Mount Cook, after Captain James Cook, was given to it in the 19th century. And it was in 1998 that the two names were brought together under an agreement between the Maori and the Crown. The mountain lends this name to its home, Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, established in 1953 in the Canterbury Region.
2. Mount Tasman
Height: 11,473 feet | Range: Southern Alps
Mount Tasman, also known as Horokoau, is the second tallest mountain in New Zealand. Rising to 11,473 feet, it’s located just 2.5 miles north of Aoraki / Mount Cook in the Southern Alps. It straddles the two national parks of Aoraki / Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini.
3. Mount Dampier
Height: 11,290 feet | Range: Southern Alps
Neighbouring Aoraki / Mount Cook, Mount Dampier is 11,290 feet high. The third highest point in New Zealand was named Rangiroa or ‘long sky’ by the Māori. Its English name was originally Mount Hector, after the geologist James Hector. However, this was changed to name it after 16-17th century explorer William Dampier.
4. Mount Vancouver
Height: 10,856 feet | Range: Southern Alps
Located on a ridge just north of Aoraki / Mount Cook, the peak of Mount Vancouver is the fourth on the list of highest mountains in New Zealand. In 1953, the New Zealand Geographic Board named it after Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver, commander of the Vancouver Expedition, an 18th century voyage of discovery, exploration and diplomacy. It rises to a height of 10,856 feet.
Height: 10,800 feet | Range: Southern Alps
It’s thought that the marine scientist William Spotswood Green named the fifth tallest mountain in New Zealand. Seeing a resemblance to Silberhorn in the Swiss Alps, he called it Silberhorn. This translates from German as “silver horn”, while the mountain’s Maori name, Rangirua, means ‘second sky’.
North Island Peaks
Mountain ranges on the North Island include Tararua, whose highest peak is Pukeamoamo / Mitre at 5,150 feet, and the Kaimanawas, which have a maximum elevation of 5,666 feet. The highest volcano in New Zealand is also on the North Island. This is the 9,177-foot high Mount Ruapehu.
The Highest Mountains in New Zealand
And so, while New Zealand’s highest peaks, including the tallest mountain in New Zealand, are concentrated on its South Island, this geologically varied country has various mountain ranges and volcanoes. Plenty to “peak” one’s interest.